Elephants and Mountains: notes from MySpace’s Next Chapter of Social Media

MySpace_conf_1 and we're off…  Tim Burrowes chairs MySpace's Next Chapter in Social Media

there was only one word of the day last week, when MySpace Australia hosted their Next Chapter in Social Media event in deepest darkest Alexandria.  that word was Discovery.  MySpace is about discovery, and being discovered.  and about discovering stuff.  "MySpace will be the best tool for Discovery" was the assertion of the social network's International Co-President Mike Jones, who in his keynote speech highlighted projects from the network that are "allowing people to get Discovered".

Mike_Jones_MySPace Jones made the point that 'social' is no longer a USP…  every web property has or will soon have social elements as an integral part of their offering.  being a network that is social isn't enough.  hence 'Discovery', and MySpace's intended positioning as the internet's 'Discovery Engine'.  they're nothing if not bold.

Jones discussed a range of MySpace innovations, from allowing realtime commenting on the site to integration with Twitter; and he talked about the site's new AdStream unit, which allows advertisers to "push ads into the stream", the "consumer-activated pop-up" for which delivers "incredible impact".

we have a problem here.  well actually we have two.

firstly, the innovations aren't.  innovative.  my Twitter has been linked to my Facebook for as long as I can remember (which in realtime isn't I admit that long but long enough given the pace of change in social media network evolution).  nor is commenting on content in real time revolutionary, to pretend that it is may do more damage than good.  ditto MySpace Music's developing an algorithm to recommend music based on what you're listening to.  we've been there and we've done that, nothing new is being brought to the table.

the second problem is of more concern because it gives visibility to the mentality behind the direction in which MySpace is going.  Jones' comments – that "ads" can be "pushed" and deliver "impact" – is a broadcast mentality, a mentality that has no place as a core proposition within an online social network.  while the rest of the comms community discuss engagement, content, utility and ways in which brands can make our lives more intuitive, MySpace find themselves talking about ads that deliver more impact.

there's a disconnect between the MySpace product and the role of brands here…  the primary role of brands is not IMHO to fund MySpace.  that comes as an important and necessary result of brands engaging with and providing utility for MySpace users.  for MySpace themselves not to be leading this intellectual charge should, in the month that saw AOL give up on Bebo, be of concern.

there's a genuine sense that MySpace are playing catch-up.  even the acknowledgment by Jones that "sometimes what you Discover on MySpace may not be on MySpace, and we're OK with that" sounds more like the waving of a white flag rather than a confident forging of partnerships to grow, activate and engage the MySpace user-base.

the danger is that 'Discovery' becomes nothing more than an interesting but unownable concept for which product simply doesn't follow through.  Jones may assert that "Discovery is the one thing we really have to nail", but the one question that everyone at MySpace should be asking themselves…  'how do we bring utility to how people discover stuff on the internet?' doesn't seem to be being asked, at least in last week's public forum.

I Tweeted at the event #myspaceevent wondering what myspace would have done differently if they could replay the last five years over again?

Tim picked it up and put the question to Jones, who was honest and candid.  MySpace couldn't keep pace with its own growth.  resources were diverted to infrastructure and sales, rather than product; "for five years they [MySpace] were so busy keeping the site up that they had no visibility on what users were doing".  Jones has his work cut out.

MySpace_conf_2 wise words from  Dan Pankraz of DDB

next up at the event was Dan Pankraz, a Youth Planning Specialist at DDB who gave an overview on Generation C.  the content was or should be very familiar to those of us who have been negotiating the future of media and communications for a while, but some solid observations were made:

  • for the 'connected collective', happiness = being part of the tribe
  • successful ideas aren't necessarily the biggest but the fastest moving
  • we need to create stuff for the swarm to pick up and run with
  • conversations never end
  • mobiles = social oxygen
  • 82% of young people rely on peer approval for decision making
  • brand relevance is determined in the moment
  • online identities are different from our real ones; the online version being the 'wanname'
  • gen-C are pluralistic with sub-cultures, and avoid perceptions of one-dimensionality

one observation that caused some chatter on the day was a stat from FastCompany claiming that in 9 hours of media consumption, gen-C take in 13 hours of content.  personally I thought that sounded conservative – multitasking alone potentially doubles the amount of media a content-hungry gen-C can  devour, with their attention span decreasing accordingly of course.

Pankraz shared a plethora of examples of who's out there doing interesting stuff in this space…  broadly aligned along three pillars; Collaboration, Purposeful Platforms and Play…

on Collaboration: "agencies talk too much about the tools and not enough about how brands can be more social and what content they have to share" … "the best brands allow people to morph ideas" … "do stuff with and for gen-C not at them" … gen-C are not a destination and can't be targeted, rather they are a partner in production.

Kypski's One Frame of Fame Project encourages all of us to be in their music video, which us updated every hour based on contributions from, well, anyone…

attracting 14 million unique visits within 8 weeks, Draft FCB Stockholm's campaign for Sweden's TV licensing body allowed anyone to create a video clip where anybody could be the hero of the clip…

on Purposeful Platforms: Pankraz cited Coke's Expedition 206, for which three ambassadors take a journey to all 206 countries where Coca-Cola is sold, interestingly thats 14 more countries than are represented by the United nations…

on Play: "…a key marketing paradigm to engage audiences", Pankraz described Cabbie-oke, DDB's project for Telstra which see's Cabbie-oke cabs offering free cab rides every weekend; so all you have to do is belt out a tune for your free ride…

Cabbie-oke_telstra

he described RedBull as "probably the most playful brand in the world" citing their 'secret halfpipe' project for Shaun White.  they do what great brands – in Pankraz's view – should all do: experiment with and create popular culture…

in short, its not what you say, but what you do that counts.  Dan blogs here.

MySpace_conf_3 SMO joke – Nicole Still gives the advertiser's perspective

the final speaker of the afternoon was the enigmatic J&J's Pacific Digital Director Nicole Still, who gave a candid walk through ten principles she works to at the company:

  1. never, ever, censor… "deleting comments is not an option"
  2. be ready for SMO (Social Media Outbreak); that thing that happens when someone replies or responds to what you've put out there.  she encourages J&J marketers to just try [something new], admitting that "for companies like J&J, Social Media is like the dentist; it means well but it causes great anguish"
  3. every brand has a right to be there [in the social space]
  4. develop a parallel brand to deploy into the social media space – for example Neutrogena is building a OLS (one less stress) brand to deploy into the social space
  5. prioritise and define the role of each social media channel
  6. use a combination of paid, earned and free media (Still cited a recent campaign that split investment 75% paid, 20% earned and 5% owned, and suggested that for an investment of c.$1.3m she'd expect to generate c.$3m of total 'media')
  7. harness alpha-influencers on third-party sites
  8. practice on Facebook (who don't charge to have sites) – remember that "people don't take on individuals, they take on corporations" (ie always respond individually)
  9. measure what matters: the number friends you have doesn't.  50% of the people who visit the J&J site 'fan' it.  she has five key metrics: sales, reach & freq, awareness, cost effectiveness and engagement
  10. sometimes, its about presence not participation.  sometimes, just being there is enough

in the discussion after-wards, Still made some surprising comments about the client / agency relationship.  "from J&J's standpoint, its the responsibility of the [digital] agency [to monitor the social space]" … "at a global [big brand] level, it shouldn't be brought in house" … and finally, "we take responsibility for training the agency".  this last point in particular was interesting, Still admitted taking what is a reasonable and responsible position in ensuring her agencies are delivering what she and her company needs.  ultimately "you have to give people ownership in the space to be incredible successes or colossal failures".  refreshing indeed.

in the final panel discussion I asked about the elephant.  the big grey one.  there.  in the room.  there.  behind you…  "Australian marketing invests relatively less than equivalent digitally-enabled countries in online.  PWC have stated that "traditional media 'owns' the market in Australia for a long time yet to come".  so why is Australia lagging behind and what would the panel like to do to help it catch up?"

for Pankraz it was about better learning: Australian clients have had a bad education from agencyland – we need to better educate the market about digital.

Still challenged the question, citing The Best Job in the World as an example of great thinking coming out of Australia, a country which many companies want to be a testbed for innovation and marketing thinking.

only Rebekah Horne tackled my elephant, commenting that because there are no agreed metrics or online currency in Australia, traditional media is seen as less risky; less risky for agencies to recommend, and less risky for marketers to buy…

it was quite the appropriate comment from the Managing Director and Senior Vice President International of MySpace.  Horne must know better than anyone the mountain MySpace now have to climb, but its perhaps no different from that which all of us negotiating the future of media and communications have to climb.  MySpace may not have the answers to what the Next Chapter of Social Media looks like, but from here it looks like they're the ones who are creating a forum for the asking; and finding the answers is required learning for MySpace and the industry alike.

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