MySpace Ads and the Big Leap

I wrote you a poem:

I thought I knew well this space
Said the media planner, with a long face
But I want to target
Niches that won’t forget
So I guess have to reconsider MySpace

MySpace burst onto the scene a few years back, taking all of the wind out of the sails of some of the early social networking tall ships — namely Friendster. A quick check of Compete.com tells us that Friendster’s unique visitor count is about 1/50th of MySpace’s. MySpace turned a site that’s totally dedicated to allowing people to connect and share with one another into a solid part of the Web experience.

Of course, advertisers were intrigued. As soon as traffic started climbing, interest multiplied. Here was a site where people went frequently and stayed for hours at a time. From the advertiser’s standpoint, MySpace appeared to be the nearly perfect site.

Then, of course, a few people actually placed some ads there. More than a few companies put their ads there (or, their media agency put their ads there) only to discover that they were advertising on a page that advocated oddball religions, in the profiles of conspiracy nuts, or on a plain old ugly page. A small-scale backlash began, and too many advertisers decided that MySpace just represented way too much chaos for them. Best to just leave the impressions to the aspiring punk bands and teen-slasher-movies on DVD.

Enter the Data

That was a while ago. MySpace has long been a part of Fox Interactive Media, a subsidiary of News Corp., one of the most serious media organizations in the world. They’ve done a lot to clean up MySpace and attract real advertisers with real campaigns. But nothing is as savvy as what they did last week, opening up MySpace Ads, an extremely elegant and simple way to tap into social networks most valuable resource: data.

That’s the turn in the (short) history of advertising on social networks. At first we (advertisers) were enamored by the reach and frequency numbers of these sites — what we used to call “eyeballs.” But that was something of a mirage. Yes, people went to these sites often and with extreme vigor, but that’s because they knew they could find their friends there, not because they were dying to see ads.

What no one really paid attention to — or at least had any real sense of how to leverage — was the fantastic amount of personal data that consumers poured into these services.

Consumers make the social network experience better for themselves by adding information about themselves. If you sign onto a social network with absolutely no information — say, just your name — you don’t really have a lot to do.

But if you add in a few interests, then you can find people who are also interested in those things. Add in a few friends and suddenly you can communicate with them, plus meet their friends. Tell people what you’re doing at that moment and you can maybe hook up with others. The list goes on and on.

Information beats eyeballs every time. Trouble was, what, as an advertiser, could you easily do with that data?

MySpace Ads and the Big Leap

Certainly, there have been ways to leverage data inside social networks about people before last week. But MySpace Ads allows you to create, target and traffic an ad at the speed of…well…Google AdWords.

To test out the service, I created a fake ad using the service and took it all the way to the point of having it launched. The ads are graphical, but MySpace provides you with a series of point-and-click templates that allow you to create an ad extremely easily. But that isn’t the exciting part.

After you’ve built an ad, you’re taken to a targeting page where, with just a few clicks, I specified that my ad should only be shown to people who are fans of the author C.S. Lewis (evidently, on MySpace, there are over 218,000 of these people). Click, click, and a credit card later and the ad can go live.

There are a few problems. The most notable is that, although you can add multiple interests for the targeting, it appears that these are additive, not combining. That is, I can also add “boating” as an interest to my ad, but the ad would then be served to people who are into boating and C.S. Lewis.

Opening Up the Data

You get the feeling using this system that it isn’t rocket science. Facebook’s interface operates somewhat similarly, but uses keywords rather than a point-and-click interface.

The big ah-ha here is that we have finally arrived at a point where consumers, publishers, and advertisers can feel comfortable about the availability of personal data. Consumers feel good that they’re making their experience better by inputting their information. The publisher can make people on their network directly available to advertisers without any data mining or sneaky behavior. And advertisers have a good sense that the ads they serve will be relevant to their audience.

Finally! This whole social networking thing is beginning to make some sense.

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