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How to save MySpace

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MySpace is in trouble. Membership is dropping and people are leaving in droves. Some people assert that the mass exodus started when News Corp bought the social network and others say it is simply a sign of how fast fashion changes online.

The real truth is that the owners of MySpace failed to clearly understand what they had acquired. They are used to managing newspapers and TV networks and the social media space has started to look more like a threat.

So here is a simple concept, explained in more familiar terms, that could help save MySpace and help start the next big jump in social networks.

The problem with MySpace, and many other social networks for that matter, is that they are built on two assumptions: 1) that fame alone will be motivation enough for users to create content; and 2) that this is sufficient to create a successful business. The millions of MySpace pages, YouTube videos and Flickr photos have proven that while this is true, it is not enough to keep quality content streaming in that will underpin a successful business model. Think of it this way: if MySpace was a TV network, it would be a free-to-air network with bad advertising and programs created by people who will never get paid for them. Doesn’t sound like anything most of us would want to invest in.

If you want a good TV station, you need to have quality programming with a good adverting strategy and the revenues must be shared among owners, programmers and content providers. Currently, MySpace is being treated more like a community notice board than a content network. For this to change, the people generating the content need to be able to share in the advertising revenue. The more popular their MySpace page, the more they earn. A simple pay-per-click model could work.

This idea will meet resistance. Why would they give away a percentage of the advertising revenue when it is already on the decline? But if they had invested in a TV channel that was failing, they would be implementing a turnaround plan to lift the quality of content and attract more, high-value advertising.

Currently the people doing the best out of MySpace are musicians. It helps them connect with their fan base, they can sell songs and mechanise directly – thereby cutting out the record label – and it is a wonderful promotion tool. But to be successful they need to keep generating quality content on a regular basis. The way they monetise this content is through the sale of merchandise and tickets. They use it as a springboard to larger mainstream fame.

Obviously, not all people are in bands. But there is a huge pool of global talent, in every field imaginable, that is yet to be successfully tapped into. This is why I’m suggesting sharing adverting revenue with these content creators. Anybody passionate and motivated enough can develop a niche market. And they should be able to get paid for it. The big idea here is that, with a simple change in policy and little additional investment, MySpace would no longer be the place where people simply try and get famous enough to make it to TV or newspapers. It could become the destination. Just give the MySpace users a model to work with.

For all of MySpace’s faults, it is well positioned to do this. There are things it needs to improve, like restricting its customisability to improve and standardise the user experience. But it is a very simple platform. It already has access to a large online population and it can leverage the video and image networks to reduce its server requirements. Why pay for the cost of hosting video when someone is willing to do that for you? Let other social networks connect in. Stop treating your content providers as free labour and realise everyone wants to get paid for their work. Allow interest groups to connect in a better way. Market to these groups. Let them come up with ways to market to each other that you may never think of. Get smarter.

It’s time for social networks to grow up. There is a lot of money to be made if everybody learns to share. Big business needs to get behind them and stop running scared.

If you want to monetise social networks successfully, then give the people creating the content the ability and the framework to do the same.

Mark Cameron is the creative director and a partner at Working Three. He has been developing digital strategy for a range of clients for the last eight years. More articles from him are on the Working Three blog.

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