Social Media Strategy, Social Media Tools, Facebook

6 Lessons Learned From the Demise of MySpace

Once the undisputed king of social media (at least in the U.S.), MySpace last week declared what amounts to a post-modern armistice, announcing that they will integrate status updates with Facebook (and Twitter).

MySpace used to be Janet, and now it’s LaToya – at best.

lessons learned from the demise of myspace 6 Lessons Learned From the Demise of MySpaceWhile the erosion of the MySpace user base has been ongoing for years, the fact that it was purchased for $580 million just five years ago says all you need to know about the vagaries of online leadership. Coincidental timing too, as Yahoo! gave up their search engine duties in U.S. and Canada to Microsoft’s Bing last week. Approximately 10 years after having 67% of the search market, Yahoo! is now out of the business entirely. Ouch.

But back to MySpace. Where did it all go so wrong? What can we learn from its death spiral?

1. Authenticity is Important

When MySpace was growing rapidly, the Web was a different place. Stemming from the IRC and discussion forums of old, it was routine (accepted and expected even) to have an online pseudonym. “BunnyBoy213″ was your handle. That’s how people knew you on instant messenger, AOL chat rooms and a host of other places, including MySpace.

We easily forget that Facebook was one of the first social networks that insisted that we use REAL names, and policed personal profiles accordingly. Even during Twitter’s short life, I’ve seen a significant shift toward real names, and away from “@TwitGurlPower” and accounts of that nature. Haven’t you?

The success of Facebook – and the corresponding demise of MySpace – is partially due to real names adding an aura of legitimacy while removing a layer of creepiness.

2. Standardization is Better Than Free-Range

Similarly, the MySpace era was one of self-expression. Recall that MySpace was the logical heir to the online profile/social network world pioneered by Geocities, Tripod, and Angelfire. (Historical footnote: Yahoo! finally shut down Geocities last year, a decade after buying it for $3.5 BILLION)

smiley 6 Lessons Learned From the Demise of MySpaceThe attraction of these early social networks wasn’t the connectivity, is was the homesteading. For no money at all, you could have your own page on the World Wide Web, and when even small Web hosting packages were $250/month, a free page was a big deal.

MySpace adopted that spirit of personal scrapbooking, and let its members commit unspeakable crimes against HTML, fonts, color schemes, and animation.

Facebook is the Model T of social networks. As Henry Ford once said, “you can get this car in any color, as long as it’s black.” Facebook allows minimal customization in terms of overall layout, look and feel. The fact that essentially every major corporation in the U.S. has agreed to allow their brand to be represented online in a way that conforms with Facebook’s unilateral set of rules speaks directly to the power of the Facebook user base.

Apparently, once we were given the opportunity to completely screw up our own Web pages, we decided that maybe we were better off if social networks removed some of the sources of our own visual and layout demise.

3. Mobile is Critical

MySpace was slow to adopt mobile technology, and the lack of MySpace in your pocket was part of what killed them. Facebook has been mobile-focused since it was even marginally practical to be so, and the most recent estimates I’ve seen show that upwards of 65 million Americans access Facebook from a mobile device monthly. Further, mobile users actually spend more time on Facebook, not less.

Facebook rolled out their iPhone app in August, 2007. MySpace answered in July, 2008 – almost a full year later. During that period, approximately 12 million iPhones were sold.

4. Think Beyond Your Website

MySpace has always been about myspace.com, which was a tremendous cash cow. Before advanced contextual and retargeting capabilities became the norm, MySpace’s ability to target banner ads based on members’ interests was a huge edge. I remember quite clearly being told that one of my regional clients couldn’t advertise on MySpace.com because we didn’t have a budget of at least $25,000/month. I wonder if that policy is still in effect?

There has never been any sort of major effort to distribute MySpace broadly across the Web by baking it into other sites, applications or circumstances. Facebook realized at least two years ago that the future was not Facebook.com per se, but in making Facebook the plumbing of the Web. Facebook Connect was the first step toward becoming the single digital passport for all of our lives. The Open Graph API was a giant leap past that.

5. Be Business-Friendly

It wasn’t that long ago that MySpace wasn’t just big, it was positively cool. Cutting edge. MySpace’s roots in the Southern California music scene gave it real-world credibility that other social networks have never enjoyed – and MySpace is still a major player in the music world. But because of its roots – and possibly due to conscious decision-making by its founders and early management – MySpace has always been user-focused, rather than business-focused.

MySpace has rarely created features specifically for business, or done much to make MySpace a safer, more controllable venue within which corporations can participate. By way of example, here’s a search for “Snapple” on MySpace and Facebook. MySpace has 107,000 search results for “snapple” including dozens or hundreds of member profiles claiming to be various beverage flavors. Facebook has 423 search results, and the first one shown is the official Snapple page.
myspace facebook 6 Lessons Learned From the Demise of MySpace

While Facebook’s unceasing carousel of changes to specific aspects of pages, status updates and the rest is maddening, those tweaks typically make Facebook better and more valuable for business.

Don’t Sell Too Early

Many of the missteps that contributed to MySpace’s decay were based on the company not moving beyond its core proposition. It’s understandable on one hand. In 2006, you have a veritable ATM machine, with companies begging you to put banner ads on your site. You’re the number one social network in the world. You sell for $580 million to Rubert Murdoch and Fox.

But then the trouble begins. Fox wants to recoup their investment, not by doing new things, but by squeezing the turnip and doing the old things better, using Fox’s sales team as the vise. Meanwhile, Facebook comes along and sees a revenue model that’s not based on the banner ad, but rather on Google’s pay-per-click model (which businesses prefer because it mitigates financial risk). They recognize that the future is not in dot coms at all, but in deconstructing content and making it mobile and portable. Facebook sees that long-term, it’s about being a dandelion not a rose.

But it was a lot easier for Facebook to pursue that path, because somebody hadn’t paid a truckload of cash for them and wanted to see a return on that investment. It’s a familiar tale. Nearly all the once mighty, now defunct social network or community sites unfurled and died after being purchased. The goals shift. The founders leave.

The tools of social media always change. And that’s why your social media strategy must be tools-agnostic. The next time you start thinking too hard about your Twitter “strategy” remember MySpace. Will you do that for me please?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/internetmarketingnickstamoulis Nick Stamoulis

    A big problem with MySpace is that they didn’t keep up with the times, and the changes necessary to keep up with the likes of other social networks, now they are forced to take measures to keep afloat.

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    I think another factor is the one you mention in your very first sentence, Jay. They were very US-centric. Over in Europe, bands thought it was cool, but everyone else? Meh. And they never really pushed into the huge Asian market either.

    Big business pointer – there’s no such thing as a local business anymore. MySpace should have realized that and made their options viable to non-US users.

  • http://twitter.com/GrrAargh .

    No, I haven’t seen a shift towards real names on Twitter, the vast majority of the non-celebs, I follow use pseudonyms. Perhaps it’s different for those *working* in social media, whose real name is therefore relevant, to the majority of people who just use it?

  • http://twitter.com/GrrAargh .

    No, I haven’t seen a shift towards real names on Twitter, the vast majority of the non-celebs, I follow use pseudonyms. Perhaps it’s different for those *working* in social media, whose real name is therefore relevant, to the majority of people who just use it?

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    Also, spam.

    I’m rarely spammed on Facebook, except with friends’ Farmville updates and surveys. Meanwhile, MySpace allowed their spam vulnerabilities to be endlessly exploited, driving away most users (like me) who might never have needed Facebook if MySpace hadn’t let spammers render itself functionally unusable.

  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    A 3-day Labor Day festival occurred here over the weekend, and the organizer — because the event included many musical acts — set up a MySpace URL advertising its activities, artists, and times. Not Facebook; MySpace.

  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    A 3-day Labor Day festival occurred here over the weekend, and the organizer — because the event included many musical acts — set up a MySpace URL advertising its activities, artists, and times. Not Facebook; MySpace.

  • http://www.wheatleytimmons.com robertwheatley

    I think you landed on the most important item in the laundry list when you hit Rupert and the buy-out. Internet brands, and other businesses for that matter that do well, can become acquisition targets as business investors see cash flow, profit performance and what they believe will be a way to tweak (mess with) the formula to secure more of the same.

    Inevitably the cash spent to get the deal done reorients the view everyone has of their new golden goose. To your point there’s pressure to recoup the investment cost and prove to the Street that the geniuses who did this deal were exactly that, geniuses. And in doing so this great leveler of risk comes to the helm: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Thus the periodic requirement to blow up your business model and reinvent goes out the window (and door sometimes) with declining contributions or presence from the brains that founded the place. Thus a challenge: how do investors invest without screwing up their investment — often by weighing in to anchor the original business model to balance sheet expectations. Not an easy thing to figure out.

  • http://localworkmarketing.com/ SEOPHX

    I think one of the major problems that myspace had was that it was looked at as a thing little kids use not adults. It was all about little kids saying whatever they wanted without their parents being able to see it but then people grew up and in college everyone was using Facebook for some reason and myspace just got lame…. I remember about 3 years ago I always checked myspace but now all I want to do is delete it and I can’t because I can’t remember the password from the fake email I set up to sign up with myspace because I didn’t want anyone really knowing it was me on myspace. dam I am sick of writing myspace in this post.

    • Riccabob

      Totally agree with you. When it all comes down to it. Myspace isn’t trendy anymore and Facebook is. At Myspace’s height it was at its ugliest and the design didn’t hinder anyone from using it. If people want to use it they will… now every one of my friends uses facebook instead of myspace so why would I post to a ghost town.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dmurrow Dave Murrow

    “MySpace adopted that spirit of personal scrapbooking, and let its members commit unspeakable crimes against HTML, fonts, color schemes, and animation.”

    HA! Best sentence ever!

  • http://www.shermanunkefer.net/ Sherman Unkefer

    MySpace didn’t change with the times and became the place for bands to promote their business for a while. It never captured the social media market. Sad.

  • http://www.skypulsemedia.com/ Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    Hi Jay

    I agree with most things you posit here. But I am positing that Facebook is doing exactly what Myspace did, and worse they are going to have major investors fleeced. I disagree with your view all these changes and additions are good for Brands or Marketers. It is making things much worse. The Live Feed and Social Graph is what they are selling marketers on. And its a failure. Not saying the idea isn’t great. But its not working as intended. So much clutter. 95% of all posts to the live feed (twitter too) are never seen. I have studied and proven this. Now with the Graph and the Places etc there is so much going into the feed good luck being seen. And over 50% of profiles are locked down private.

    I have studied many fan pages with 100k+ to millions of fans that get only from 100-5000 people engaging with Brand posts. On average less than 0.05% engagement rate. Its not because people are shunning brands. Its because they don’t see their posts!

    And 75% of the people who log into Facebook do nothing (unless they are social gaming) I get that from the stats page. For every 2 logins there is only 1 action. Assuming people never do more than one action (update, like, fan etc).

    I bring this up because all these lessons Facebook is experiencing too. So think of this. If people tricked out their Myspace pages (your less is more point) with photos, blogs, videos, nusic etc and then left at the drop of a hat, why would they stay with FB who everyone doesn’t trust and only hosts our photos?

    I agree Myspace sold too early, but I think FB is going to sell too late. I think Myspace is a great case study but I don’t think FB has learned from the mistakes.

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com davinabrewer

    Jay, I never joined and barely surfed MySpace and #2 is why; it was big jumbled mess. Hard to read, follow, share.. get the point. LiveJournal and Geocities sites had a better navigation IMO. Other good comments here, about thinking globally and commercially. I’ll add that FB gave more, even those annoying spamming games. Not sure if it’s really dead, or just downsizing to a better niche (which could be a good thing). “Your social media strategy must be tools-agnostic.” Agreed.

  • http://twitter.com/StickyStimuli Yael Davidowitz-Neu

    Great post – the line “used to be Janet now Latoya at best” is particularly fantastic :)

    I think an additional challenge for MySpace was that its primary purpose wasn’t really building a community or connecting people. While this was a secondary goal – the network was called MySpace – not “MyFriends”.The main objective was creating a place for the individual to showcase themselves and their personal content – not connecting or sharing. Conversely, Facebook – created for college students to connect with one another – was all about relationships. It grew to accommodate other activities – interactive gaming, quizzes and status updates — but always, connectivity has remained its central purpose. And it seems the goal of connecting (vs. creating and showcasing) has a far broader mass market appeal – both to users and the marketers that wish to reach them.

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    Excellent point as always Yael. Indeed, MySpace was always more about scrapbooking, and less about connection. The needs of online consumers changed, and they either didn’t see it coming, or chose not to believe it.

  • Anonymous

    This post is AWESOME! Trying to think about this from a user perspective and not from a social media practitioner/marketing perspective… Why did I quit Myspace? Something about the customization of it lends itself to a particularly annoying, dramatic, emo environment that I found to be negative senior year of high school/freshman year of college, I think. But then my friend made a profile for me a few years later that I haven’t signed into for over a year now, ha. What’s interesting to me is how people find Twitter confusing and overwhelming but somehow I didn’t usually hear that complaint about Myspace.

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  • http://www.mitash.com/blog/ Raj – SEO Australia

    Great research on every point! Reliability is one of the great assets facebook has that makes it one and only one best social network site online! Now as Google trying to bring out a rival for facebook, I hope facebook should plan something to compete with Google! What do you think?

  • Jim peterson

    Great insights in this post. Thank you.

  • http://www.therisetothetop.com David Siteman Garland

    Simple. Simple. Simple. Simple. When Facebook was “The Facebook” it was extremely basic (I remember it well as an undergrad). One photo. No status updates. Simple profiles. And you could friend people at your school that was it. Then, of course they scaled up.

    Look at Twitter as well. Simple. Simple. Simple. 140 chars. Then they started adding features like lists, etc.

    Great lessons and article, Jay.

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    Twitter’s only genius is refusing to do more.

  • http://twitter.com/Anklebuster Mitchell Allen

    I know we are supposed to add value in the comments, but I can’t stop laughing about this deftly turned phrase:

    “MySpace adopted that spirit of personal scrapbooking, and let its members commit unspeakable crimes against HTML, fonts, color schemes, and animation.”

    It pretty much sums up what I hated about MySpace. Also, at the time, I had low tolerance for steep learning curves. It kept me off Facebook as well. The only reason I embraced Facebook is that so many of my family members are on there.

    The Twitter/Blog tandem is my favorite networking glue. You see what you see or you miss it. Great! Life goes on. With Facebook, you log in and see a week’s worth of inane babble. Whatever. Now, I use it to say hi to the kids and share links to cool stuff, like this post.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  • Liberty

    I am going to have to disagree with you here. Think of what originally was the spawn of MySpace – music, local bands, etc. They haven’t failed. They have just rearranged their path to go back to their roots. They are now an excellent resource for targeting audiences in entertainment and music. A younger more niche audience can be found here if you are looking for the Twilight Saga junkies or upcoming artist groupies. I think MySpace deserves a bit more credit than just comparing them to Facebook when in reality, Facebook didn’t know they would turn out like Facebook so we can’t be so harsh to say MySpace failed at becoming Facebook.

    We never really know the true objectives and goals of companies unless we are working side by side them. We are quick to speculate and criticize when we don’t always know what is behind closed doors. And, especially with new media technologies evolving every day we may not be as quick to evolve or adapt as we’d like to be.

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    Is your niche Twilight community worth $580 million now, it culturally
    relevant on a broad scale?

    Having a modicum of success after you’ve given up a dominant market
    position isn’t half a loaf – it’s crumbs.

  • http://www.upsidedownlabs.com Cassie Rice

    Totally agree! The UI is easy to understand right away in both places. On Myspace, it’s always been difficult to find information about your friends b/c each profile is so different. The simplicity is definitely a key differentiator.

  • http://twitter.com/PRJoeKovacs Joe Kovacs

    I don’t know that I’ve ever read a history of social media networks quite as succinctly as yours. I remember first signing up for MySpace four or five years ago; eventually I did move over to Facebook, which I continue using to this day. Great insights on how the game and the players have changed.

  • ajmsocial

    I have to agree with davina..i remember that i opened a Myspace account years ago and i found it so confusing and then realized that the members were mostly teenagers. Did not find it useful. Then signed up for FB and found it so simple to interact with other people and friends and very useful for businesses. I also want to agree that FB is about connectivity and My space was not.

  • ajmsocial

    I have to agree with davina..i remember that i opened a Myspace account years ago and i found it so confusing and then realized that the members were mostly teenagers. Did not find it useful. Then signed up for FB and found it so simple to interact with other people and friends and very useful for businesses. I also want to agree that FB is about connectivity and My space was not.

  • ajmsocial

    I have to agree with davina..i remember that i opened a Myspace account years ago and i found it so confusing and then realized that the members were mostly teenagers. Did not find it useful. Then signed up for FB and found it so simple to interact with other people and friends and very useful for businesses. I also want to agree that FB is about connectivity and My space was not.

  • Arthurdent

    Let us not forget that all the social media gurus were once so sure of MySpace that they told us our companies would be irrelevant if we didn’t get on this site. MySpace got it wrong, and a lot of experts screwed the pooch. Only tells us to make sure we keep a plate of crow ready to serve up to the gurus after they bill us for their expert advice. Thanks (not) for all the FUD you sell at hefty prices.

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    Fair point. For the record, I never once advised a client to get on
    MySpace.

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  • Anonymous

    As some others have mentioned, Facebook also was drowned by the spammers. Another thing is that Facebook became racially segregated (yes, it is possible for this to happen in social media too). There were so many factors involved in Facebooks’s downfall it’s hard to put your finger on which ones were most important.

  • Anonymous

    As some commentators have noted, Facebook was also drowned in spam. Also, Facebook became racially segregated (yes, this can happen in social media too).

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  • http://www.roxics.com roxics

    Facebook really isn’t all that either. It will probably be around for a while, but something better will come along. That learns from both those sites. Working on it. ;)

  • Eccentricity

    Except that Facebook is now turning into MySpace. Can’t wait until it too goes down the pan..

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