After the SXSW Teen Panel in which I discovered that teen boys were using MySpace to promote and discover new music, and teen girls weren’t using it at all, I found myself in a discussion with Directors of Emerging Media Dan Shust and David Berkowitz about how MySpace needs to position itself in relation to Facebook and Twitter.
Over the past 7 (or so) years, the social networking space has shifted. As Dan noted, clients used to want to have a presence on MySpace, now it’s all about Facebook. In a web design meeting I recently attended for the Denver Roller Dolls Roller Derby League, one committee member declared “MySpace is dying”.
I don’t believe it has to be so: I think that MySpace can serve an important niche that Facebook can’t.
The teen panelists commonly stated that their MySpace activities were creative: they designed layouts or shared or found new music. Their activities weren’t necessarily geared towards actually socializing with existing friends. Many members on MySpace don’t use their real names, and mySpace pages for people, companies, products and venues are undifferentiated. I see MySpace as a platform for creative expression that may or may not be shortlived, much like the handful of webpages I created on the Geocities platform back in the late ’90s. I created pages for bands I liked or organizations I was a part of. There was no question that these were unofficial and really meant for entertainment purposes only; there was no clear way to identify that I was the creator thereof.
Compare this to Facebook, where you register with your real name (and initially what was a verified school email address). Setting up a fan page or group is a different process than another type of account. There is a certain air of legitimacy with Facebook profiles that isn’t apparent with MySpace pages.
So how does this help MySpace? As Facebook becomes increasingly common as a way to seek out and connect with current, past and potential professional contacts, I think that the possible obscurity and casual nature of MySpace will regain its appeal.
Personal branding has individuals using their real name and personally identifying information on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. But do you really want your possible future employer to know your secret obsession with twilight or boy bands? As for the Roller Derby girls, each player has an alter ego – I like the fact that I can “get to know” fictional Angela Death on MySpace, but I wouldn’t consider her a “friend” to add to my network on Facebook.
The MySpace platform offers an added level of dimension to media: when the WB looked to promote the online-only series Sorority Forever, they first aired the show on MySpace, and viewers could learn more and “friend” series heroine Julie Gold and the other Phi Chi girls via their MySpace pages.
MySpace got its start as an entertainment platform: a way for independent artists to promote their music. It now houses the profiles for more than 6 million bands. Contrast this to Facebook, which still does not have an integrated music player for profile pages. It appears that Facebook has respected the stronghold MySpace has in the music space, and it only makes sense that MySpace itself would continue to focus on what it does best: entertainment and fostering creativity.
One of the major issues social networks are grappling with right now is data portability and online identity. Google, Facebook and MySpace have all introduced their own solutions for allowing information to pass into and out of networks. But as online privacy is ever a concern, is this perhaps an opportunity for MySpace to focus on what its users really want: a place to create, discover and share. Perhaps there are merits in MySpace NOT tying a users’ behavior on the site with activities they do elsewhere: with literally hundreds of social networking sites to choose from, perhaps the brand distinction is in allowing visitors to be creative in a safe space, unconstrained by suspected association with a “professional” brand.