10 Ways MySpace Can Avoid Oblivion-An Open Letter to MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta

Dear Owen,

Since you moved over from COO of Facebook to become CEO of MySpace, you’ve certainly made a lot of changes to the company. You’ve let one-third of the staff go. Your entire executive team is new.

Reports are that you’re removing walls between cubicles and hanging white boards.

That’s all well and good, but the problem with your network is with your network. It’s not the sales person, or the cubicle walls. We need to see physical changes to the way your network works. As a marketer that represents large brands who use social networks (and often pay handsomely to do so), here are my ten suggestions for reinventing MySpace–before it’s too late.

1) Put the “social” back in the network; improve the news feed.


On Facebook, if I comment on a photo or a video, or like it, or write something on a wall, or take a poll, these things are all likely to show up in the news feeds of my friends. In fact, the number one way that fan pages grow is exactly that–a friend sees an interaction and goes to the page to join too. On MySpace, interactions are much more limited (wall posts, status updates). As a marketer, I love how Facebook allows any number of interactions between person A and person (or brand) B to appear in the news feeds of hundreds of person A’s friends. You need to re-examine how much “social” is in your social network and allow much more viral spread.

2) Open functionality like widgets and get an app approval process.


Because of spam and phishing, one of your predecessors decided to block any links in flash based widgets. Disastrous idea. Now widgets, apps and tools that work on every other social network don’t work on MySpace. If I want to do a Wildfire contest, for example, I can run it on Facebook, I can run it on a landing page. I used to be able to run it on MySpace. Now, I can’t run it on your site. You’re not influential enough anymore for me to do anything but leave you out of the contest all together. That hurts you, not me. If you’re worried about spam/viruses/phishing, set up an app approval process.

3) Offer more than banner ads.


Your reps sell banner ads and virtually nothing else. I don’t want your banner ads. Your click-thru rates are ridiculously low anyway. What I want is engagement (and I’m not alone). Engagement is the new marketing currency, and budgets are moving to it in a big way. Gather does a great job of offering programs that offer engagement. Spend a little time over there and copy them.

4) Make pages free. Make more with flexible ad offers.


To have a corporate page, I’m supposed to purchase a very large ad buy for at least three months. A) I don’t want your ads and B) that discourages even the largest of brands from having an ongoing, permanent presence on your site. In July 2007, when you served up 12% of all Internet traffic, people were racing to give you money for banner ads. Not today. Instead of getting 100 marketers giving you big bucks for 90 day periods, get hundreds of thousands of marketers with pages that they are supporting with a wide array of media budgets year round. You’ll make more. And the line between who can have a free page and who can’t has always been murky.

5) Serve interactive banner ads that update status.

For those who do want banner ads (like new movie releases), do some interesting things with your ads. Put “like” and “comment” and “RSVP” functionality right inside these rich media banners. Then when I like a movie ad, for example, it tells my whole network (see #1) in your newly improved news feeds. I’m advertising on your page over a standard website because I’m looking for viral spread. Give it to me, please.

6) Sell a limited number of paid news feed inclusions.


Once the news feed becomes the place everyone checks, you can sell a very limited number of paid news feed inclusions for relevant paid content. (Serve movie buffs info on the latest release, for example.) Clearly you can’t abuse this, but do it well and users will value it while marketers will pay for it.

7) Make the current ugly pages a tab like on a fan page.


Much has been made about the hideously ugly pages that some MySpace folks have made, and you can’t just turn MySpace into Facebook. But you can copy their tabbed approach, and make the “open design” page one of the tabs on someone’s now enhanced MySpace profile. This would be like a Facebook fan page, where I’ve got an FBML landing page, but I still have a wall and a highly prominent news feed as the centerpiece of the site.

8) Focus on music, movies, video games, theater and books.


This one we seem to agree on. MySpace has always been more about entertainment than general lifestreaming. However, don’t forget that people love to share the music, movies, games, shows and books that they like. While you’ve declared your intent in this area, you haven’t made any functionality changes yet that would support the exchange of that sort of dialogue. Change the way your network works to make it a better place to share.

9) Integrate with Facebook


You don’t compete with Facebook. Maybe you did two years ago, but you don’t anymore–at least from a user perspective. Take another tip from Gather, and make it easy to share status updates on Facebook. (You already did this for Twitter.) Gather realized that people don’t use Gather instead of Facebook, they use Gather differently than they use Facebook. That’s the same for you.

10) Make it Easier to Interact with MySpace

We’re currently in the midst of designing a fairly major program that we wanted to integrate with Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. For the first two, we’d be able to confirm someone’s fan/follower status with one click of a button. For you? It’s a 3-step process that will be tough to explain to the user. Right now, we’re actively discussing just leaving your network off the list. Everyone from the iPhone to Twitter has seen explosive growth by making integration easy. You joined the Open Social Initiative way back when, but that’s gone nowhere. Move on and improve your network.

It’s Not Too Late, But It’s Almost Too Late

Owen, you’ve still got time to fix things. Not a lot of time, but some time. You’re a fading force (55% decline in market share in the last 12 months), but you’re still a force. Consider this:

  • Of the top 5 social networks in the U.S., you’re in second place, with 30% market share. Your next closest competitor (Tagged) has a 2.38% market share. Twitter is climbing fast, but is only at 1.84% market share.
  • Of the top 5 social networks in the U.S., you’re number one in time spent on site, at 25:56, just ahead of Tagged (25:17) and Facebook (23:00).
  • You still dominate among 18-24 year olds, with 15.46% of your user base in that age group (versus 10.27% of Facebook users and 9.51% of Twitter users). Reinvigorate them, and you have a shot at being cool again.

In sum, you’ve got your new team in place, you’ve cut your expenses. You’re projected to make $495 million this year (down 15% from 2008), so you’ve got money coming in. Now we need to see changes to the network itself, not just the ad sales force, if we’re still going to be talking about you at all in 2010. Best of luck.

~Jim

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2 Comments
  • Justin Williams
    Posted at 17:20h, 20 October

    Great points here however I don’t think Myspace should be more like Facebook, we already have a Facebook site. Myspace lets face it is for Teens and adults who don’t want Facebook. I do like your point on focusing more on Myspace strengths which is Music & Entertainment. Hopefully the new CEO of Myspace will listen 🙂

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