MySpace was once the high flying, can-do-no-wrong darling of the social media world. However, the site was recently sold at a loss by New Corp. and to date, there is no word on what the new owners actually intend to do with their dying property. However, the fact that MySpace has dropped in popularity so much means that it can provide a cautionary tale, not just of what not to do in a social media website, but also, what not to do when you run a website in general.
Resting on Your Laurels
MySpace, for those who have already forgotten, was considered to be the most popular social networking site on the web at one point. It wasn’t the first – Friendster came before them, but it was the first to gain mass recognition rather than remain a niche site. They were overtaken by newcomer Facebook, which we all know today is the 800 pound gorilla in the room when compared with any other social networking site.
Back when I was first learning about both of these websites, I had heard that MySpace was primarily dominated by middle school and to a lesser extent, high school kids while Facebook, which was even newer and not nearly as popular was aimed at college students. If there was a social networking site for adults, it was Friendster, but frankly, very few people were using it at the time.
The important thing about all of this was that very few adults actually had an account on MySpace (I did have one, but only because my godson asked me to create one. I recall creating one, linking to him and then continuing to talk to him on the phone and via e-mail, never visiting MySpace ever again).
Anyway, MySpace assumed that their niche was secure and that there was no need to try to get adults and college students to sign up for the service. This was their first mistake – they were resting on their laurels. The thing that made Facebook popular was that they began making the site more friendly for others who wanted to join.
Meanwhile, the generation that made MySpace so popular aged out of the site and moved on to Facebook. The thing is, MySpace didn’t realize that Facebook, by making themselves more accessible to all ages had started to grab those younger users as well and, as we all know, if a social network doesn’t have many people visiting it, it’s simply not going to be very useful or popular.
I’ve had a Yahoo Mail account for I don’t know how many years now – at least 10, maybe more. They recently decided to implement a radical new design of the site and invited me to use it. Now I admit, I’m kind of old fashioned and come from the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I declined and stuck with the classic look, though I get that a site which has looked largely the same for 10 years should probably get a face lift.
However, whereas Yahoo! Mail has largely looked the same for 10 years, MySpace was making constant, radical changes to the design of their site every few months. MySpace users who were used to features being in a certain place suddenly found that they were in a completely different place or gone altogether. This led to confusion and to people abandoning the site for something which added new features incrementally (i.e. Facebook), rather than making radical redesigns which left people wondering how to use the new site.
Failure to Innovate
Now it may seem like this is a direct contradiction to my previous comment regarding MySpace, but it really isn’t. Innovation doesn’t mean radical site redesign. Innovation means adding new features and making a site better. Facebook has mastered this concept, keeping the same basic look and feel while adding in new features each time they come up with something useful.
This means that users can still gain access to the most important features in Facebook while at the same time not being bogged down by trying to figure out a brand new interface each time features get added. MySpace was very slow to add such features and as a result, they died a slow, spiraling death.
Could MySpace Rise Again?
All of these lessons should be warnings to us all about what not to do if we want to remain competitive, regardless of the field you are in. The bottom line of all these things is, respect your customers or they’ll find someone else who will respect them instead of you.
However, I do want to just take a moment to address the question of the future of MySpace. The site still exists and still has lots of users, though not nearly the number that Facebook has. So the question becomes, could MySpace rise again and will it become relevant to SEO? The answer I think is a definite yes. Here’s why:
The process of re-branding basically means taking a moribund brand and making it into something new and exciting. AOL is trying to do that with their new focus on being a portal rather than an ISP and Netflix is trying to rebrand itself as a streaming site instead of a DVD by mail site. IBM did do it successfully, moving from a company that created PCs and laptops to a company that focuses exclusively on servers.
This fact and the fact that (I assume), MySpace’s new owners will likely be trying to re-brand the site with some new niche holds one more important lesson for anyone in business, on the web or off, though especially on the web, where things move quickly. If at first you don’t succeed, you can try again. The key is to never give up and to keep trying new ideas until you find the one that works. Then, just apply the other lessons and always respect your customers.