Richard Rosenblatt was the Chairman of MySpace at the time that it and parent company Intermix were sold to News Corp. in 2005. He is currently the founder and CEO of Demand Media, a Los Angeles based social media company that has raised over $350 million in capital. We asked him to write a guest post giving advice to the new MySpace executive team. You can follow Richard on Twitter at twitter.com/demandrichard.
My Insider Perspective from the Outside
When Michael asked me to guest write this post, I hesitated because MySpace’s new management team is extremely capable and will determine their own path to restore the company to its glory days. But after fielding dozens of calls and hearing erroneous comments being attributed to me, I decided to weigh in with the hope of providing some general thoughts for the team to consider as they embark on their journey. I’ve never been a fan of armchair generals so I’ll refrain from giving specific operational advice – I am not in the trenches and haven’t been involved in the day-to-day operations for several years. We had our share of challenges, but in the end we prevailed, and I wish the same success for the new MySpace team – as well as all entrepreneurs entering the social media space.
Keeping past experiences in mind, here are some general thoughts on where MySpace can push forward:
Own the spaces that only MySpace can
MySpace is forever linked with the birth and meteoric growth of social networking – so the media, industry pundits and social media aficionados will always measure you against whatever the latest social networking companies are doing. Ignore the peanut gallery. Define yourself and your markets according to whom you truly are and where you can be successful; do not let them define you. MySpace is bigger than social networking.
The MySpace brand is global and occupies a powerful position in the mind of hundreds of millions of people. That power can be transported into other business areas – places where Facebook, Twitter or the next generation of players would struggle to take root. Only MySpace has deep ties and an inherent understanding of where entertainment and community intersect. Only MySpace is plugged into Hollywood from top to bottom.
Copycat strategies are rarely rewarded on the web. Witness the billions of dollars invested by industry titans in pursuit of what entrepreneurs built before them. Microsoft Search vs Google Search. Google Video versus YouTube. Yahoo360 versus MySpace. Don’t waste your time trying to “catch up” in areas that you aren’t currently leading. Build your lead in the areas you already dominate and define valuable new offshoots from that elevated market position. And bring back the entrepreneurial spirit that is so often lost in thousand person companies. Keep your corporate friends close, but keep your entrepreneurs even closer as you build a culture of “change” and taking “chances” in the organization and product.
Transform your unique UGC into marketable media
Over the last few years we’ve seen MySpace focus enormous energy on driving revenue through branded advertising in diverse and creative ways. We have also seen the addition of traditional media within the main areas of the Site. These efforts should be appreciated by everyone because prior to selling MySpace to News Corp., the conventional wisdom was that neither advertisers nor professional content providers would support a community made up of user generated content. In my opinion, News Corp. proved that this form of new media was a viable business and from that proof hundreds of social media companies were born. All that said, while these are valuable and important commercial programs, remember that you are serving an audience of millions of users each with their own talents and a predisposition to express themselves online through content creation. Every day, they’re piling into the site, uploading videos, posting photos, sharing original songs and publishing content that is often a great deal more than chatter. Take the same energy that is being put into monetization and reaching “professional” content producers to tap the power of the crowd and build a strategy for empowering your users to fuel a rich and valuable content component for your site. Start by curating the best of the community from the bottom up and make the MySpace experience all the more immersive. Each night the world tunes in to offline, curated social media in the form of American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, and Project Runway. What brand is better positioned than MySpace to lead entertainment curation online? We have done this through Demand Studios and are profitably sourcing high quality socially published content for our network of properties and commercial partners. MySpace can do it with a focus on entertainment and related content categories.
Listen to the community and let them guide YOU
Now is probably a good time to revisit your community strategy. The hallmark of MySpace’s early success was being the definitive place online to hang out and have fun, allowing you to freely express yourself. The new team will need to recapture that communal energy that fueled MySpace’s once explosive growth. I remember Tom used to read and respond to nearly every single email and then built the user’s “needs and wants” into the product. That was a key learning from MySpace. And, as a result, every product at Demand Media comes from the wisdom and energy of the community, making it feel vibrant and alive. Metrics aside, you can truly “feel” whether a social network is alive or just a collection of people milling around.
Today, MySpace feels more like a loosely woven collection of millions of personal home pages than the vibrant community that we all know is there. More than providing widgets and the ability to “friend” places and things, let your users gather around topics, hobbies and their personal passions. Let them create their own sub-communities within MySpace and set yourself up to entrust an inner league of users to manage and moderate a fun, safe and fulfilling environment – enabling those gathering points to be focal parts of the experience.
In addition to developing the community experience from the bottom-up, it’s equally important to think top-down about its core meaning and purpose. If you do nothing else, define a clear vision for the essence of the MySpace community experience. At Demand Media we call this SOUL, and the continuous, organic growth of our owned and operated network of properties is predicated on it.
Finally – and this is the easiest advice to give but perhaps the hardest to follow – get internally focused. You have a new team at the top and thousands of people below you watching your every move. Who you spend your time with will speak louder than any words you can utter in a conference room or in an email. Are you glued to the users? To the product developers? To the ad sales team? To “the suits?” To the pundits? You have 100 days to set your course. The more time you spend away from “the glass” – the less likely you will be to get it right.