What a dozen branded profiles reveal about this monster of youth media.
Rupert Murdoch was quoted last week in "The Hollywood Reporter" as saying "In a sense, we say we've got 30 million portals." If you've spent any time playing around with News Corp.'s MySpace social networking site, you know the remark is accurate.
A shoddy palace of amateur content, the site is built entirely on personality and personalization. Buttons, MP3s and viral videos are easily cut and pasted from profile to profile and wrapped around a CGM core of photos, blogs and music.
It's vast and growing fast, boasting 37 million registered users and ranking third in pageviews among all domains, according to comScore. It now pulls in four million new members a month.
As you can imagine, many marketers have stepped up to try and harness this tangle of human relationships for the purposes of brand building and lead generation. They're mostly in the entertainment vertical, but other sectors abound: book publishers, automakers, cause marketers, even CPGs.
A roundup of their tactics follows.
It's About the Music
MySpace is driven by music, with 660,000 musicians and bands among its user profiles, not to mention a fledgling record label. It's no surprise then that the first marketers to rush in have been the labels themselves. Record producers have discovered setting up a profile for even their best-known artists draws more youth traffic than an official band Web site.
"Nobody's going to the Warner Bros. main page for their band," said Eric Valk Peterson, Agency.com's VP of media services. "Communities are going to sprout up where they can be unedited and democratic. Entertainment will lead."
Case in point: Madonna's extensive MySpace campaign to promote her new album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor." She posts "confessions" to her profile, describing how she loves to paw through people's bags while they're not looking and do other naughty things. Fans can dial in their own confessions, some of which are fed into a podcast that's promoted on the profile.
Additionally, users can listen to songs and watch the video, "Hung Up," right on Madonna's profile. They can even copy and paste the video right into their own profile using a simple HTML grab feature. Other media giveaways are available: site banners, buddy icons, song downloads and wallpaper. All are commonplace across many branded MySpace profiles.
TV and Movies
One step removed from artist profiles like Madonna's are profiles set up for video entertainment brands. Many TV shows have a MySpace presence, including Family Guy, The Man Show and Kitchen Confidential. Also common are Movies (Walk the Line, Saw II), and even cable networks.
Fuse, a music-focused TV network with a harder edge than MTV and VH1, recently issued a call to MySpace users who are in bands to submit their video content for a shot at being featured on its VOD offering. The move was an interesting mode of pulling in content while spreading awareness.
"Audience acquisition is always on our minds," said Joe Glennon, VP of distribution for Fuse. "The people we want to reach, they're on sites like MySpace. We wanted to tap into the youth music scene they have."
The Fuse profile was created by Brooklyn agency Deep Focus, which has worked with MySpace from both an advertising and promotional standpoint.
"We manage the profile and make sure we respond to people," said Deep Focus' Sabrina Caluori, who manages the Fuse account. "When people comment, we comment back. It's great branding. There's Fuse on their profile, and it continues the word-of-mouth."
Book publishers are also jumping in. Random House imprints Knopf and Pantheon have created MySpace profiles for authors and their characters.
Farah Miller, manager of new media for the Knopf Publishing Group, says MySpace is good for research as well as promotion. "The director of publicity was stunned to discover how easy it was to discover how many people say someone is their favorite novelist," she said.
Miller is now trying to use MySpace to support sales for a book facing a huge challenge: its target market no longer exists. "Triksta: Life and Death and New Orleans Rap" was released this month, but most of the artists and their fans aren't in a city whose very survival is in doubt. It's hoped a call-to-action among MySpace's rap and hip-hop influencers will boost sales.
"The author has produced a CD of the rappers he talks about and we own the rights to this music," Miller said. "With MySpace, I was able to put up a page with four of the tracks in less than an hour. I just did that and I'm going to try to do a bunch of outreach to hip-hop and rap fans [on MySpace]."
PETA on MySpace
Cause marketing is an obvious natural for MySpace users. PETA has had extraordinary success leveraging its relationships with various bands on MySpace to build its community of animal rights activism.
The group set up a profile for its youth campaign, called PETA2.
"We've used that for two [purposes]," said Joel Bartlett, PETA's marketing manager. "One, as a gateway into the campaign for people who are surging around MySpace. Two, as a resource center for people who are into MySpace and PETA. They can get banners, streaming videos. For a year we've had all our documentaries [on our profile]."
The group has 32,000 friends and posts frequent bulletins that go out to all those members. These are similar to the email channel, ported to a less cluttered environment. Likewise, bands that support PETA often post their own bulletins about the group. Popular bands like Fallout Boys, with huge fan bases, send bulletins to their friends about PETA events and promotions.
Such musician referrals brought as many as 40,000 entries to one recent PETA contest. In another instance, a video about the Chinese fur industry had 100,000 views in its first day and 350,000 in a week, largely due to viral dissemination on MySpace.
"A half million people or so have watched this video, basically just because of one bulletin that hit the viral stream," said Bartlett. "There's no question MySpace has facilitated our viral effort in a major way."
A Fit for CPG and Automotive?
One can see how a sponsorship model could use the same approach that PETA has, working with well-known musicians to advance a message. Secret has done so, creating a branded profile for diva Rihanna, whose fall tour it's sponsoring.
Other companies are more direct. Honda set up a profile for its Element SUV, where MySpacers can create and upload wallpapers. And Nike has a US Soccer profile with 30,000 friends, where people can download wallpapers and view photos of soccer stars and game action.
Logistics and Risks
A branded profile certainly isn't the only way to market to MySpacers. The site offers direct ad sales. Madonna currently has ads all over the site, as does the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line." Strangely, these are currently interspersed with a large number of garish hit-themailbox type ads.
There are certainly risks to creating a branded profile. You can't control comments left by users, or guarantee you'll find an audience.
"It's this huge place where a hard to reach demographic communicates," said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus. "The flipside of it is that depending on the product you have to advertise, it's a very cynical audience. They don't necessarily want to respond to... advertising. You need to create integrated and engaging promotions."
As Agency.com's Valk Peterson puts it, "Entertainment companies are realizing... if you suck, you suck. Word of mouth works both ways. Even starting a few years back with mobile phones, a bad movie could be killed by Saturday" of the opening weekend, as teens text each other from their movie seats.
There's also a brand adjacency issue to consider, he says. The site has a good bit of cursing, nudity and vulgarity, which many brands won't have the stomach for. "With entertainment, you're going to get a little bit longer leash, he said. "CPGs tend to be a little more image-conscious. It's a tougher fit to determine there."
Given the decline of Friendster, the question must be raised: can MySpace retain market share? Social networking, by its nature, is fiercely generational. That the site's growth will slow is inevitable, and whether it can appeal to a new generation of teens in three years, or 10, is unanswerable.
For now, there's no question MySpace is a good place to find young influencers, and many marketers have jumped in.
"They're trying to plant the seeds with some of the more passionate folks, because inherently people who go to these sites like to speak their mind and share their opinion," said Valk Peterson. "They're trying to create little mini focus groups."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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