Four years ago, few people had heard of MySpace, but by 2005, it was the new next. Then, it became the target of a corporation with ambitious plans to transform it. Now, it's a challenge for MySpace to be part of a huge corporation while still striving to remain cutting-edge. Unfortunately, it currently feels at best like the New Now; at worst, it's struggling to avoid becoming the New Last.
Several weeks ago, we spoke with groups of 18- to 24-year-olds from the east and west coasts while researching youth skate culture. At one point, someone made a comment that summed up our feeling: "MySpace is now CorporateSpace."
Last year, MySpace co-founder Chris DeWolfe told the media that the "users govern the site." But do they? Fox has said it wants to use MySpace as a distribution arm, which indicates that Fox plans to at least partly shift the creation of content from the consumers' hands to the corporation's. Also, in April, the company briefly blocked content from the third-party site PhotoBucket from member profiles.
These developments, paired with an over-saturation of marketers on MySpace, are leaving consumers jaded.
Too many times we have heard marketers say, "Let's make a MySpace page," or "We have to get on that Second Life; that's really hot right now." It's easy to latch onto a trend - even more so to one that millions of people are keen on. But most MySpace pages that brands build are simply that - pages. They don't give users anything that they can't find somewhere else. Are they stopping to think about why they are buying into it? Or the big idea driving the buy?
Consumers are beginning to express resentment at the presence of marketers on some of their favorite sites. This year, the "Second Life Liberation Army" bombed virtual American Apparel and Reebok stores, symbolic of the tension between early Second Lifers and corporations who have come along for the ride. A recent study by Hamburg-based research firm Komjuniti found that 72 percent of Second Lifers are disappointed with marketers' efforts in the virtual world. A successful presence in online communities like Second Life depends on a long-term commitment. But some companies are simply erecting buildings with their names on them, without providing any other sort of experience for users.
Those marketers who use a channel in smart and relevant ways, though, end up successful and highly regarded. Promotional efforts for the movies 300 and Transformers succeeded in using MySpace smartly. In each case, the film studio partnered with the site to introduce new features that users could have fun with. Before 300 came along, MySpace users could only upload 12 user pictures to their profiles. The film helped increase the picture limit to 300, which was an instant hit. 300 did surprisingly well at the box office too. Could this be partially attributed to its philosophy of marketing?
Transformers brought us "Transform your photos," allowing users to rearrange the order of their photographs and organize them into customized albums. A few days after "Transform your photos" launched, it temporarily went down for maintenance. There was an outpouring of activity on MySpace's forums, everyone panicking about the feature being gone forever. They only had it for a week and already couldn't live without it.
As for Second Life, one of the more successful brands to exist in its space has been Reuters. They assigned a staffer to basically live there, reporting the world's (real and virtual) news to its users. When the Second Life bombings occurred, "Adam Reuters" was the first to give the story to fellow avatars. Rather than just attach their name to a trend, Reuters added value by providing a useful service.
Trendy media channels can be marketer-friendly - provided you don't assume that if you build something, people will come. As one of the hipsters we recently spoke with said, "We have too short of an attention span - everything is disposable to us." The problem that a lot of marketers have when they buy new media is that they don't see the bigger picture. Think about how people use it. Understand their behavior and pay attention to what they want. This could make your brand - if not more relevant - be seen in a positive light because you would be giving people something they can actually use.
Written by Johanna Beyenbach, associate strategist, and curated by Paul Woolmington, Naked Communications. (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org)