The recent announcement that once popular social network MySpace is re-launching, begs the question – can you make a comeback online? More importantly for MySpace – can it make a comeback with users who left, while attracting a new legion of dedicated fans and followers?

The re-launch of MySpace was promoted through a slick video and Justin Timberlake teased interest via Twitter. Most of the comments from the video, have defined the new MySpace interface as ‘beautiful’. If MySpace is the entertainment social network then the look and feel will be all-important. However what both Google and Facebook have shown us is that simple utility is what drives usage (e.g. leave the content to the users and just focus on a great user experience).

In thinking through the MySpace comeback and what it will take for this once popular social media platform to revive its former glory, I pose the following questions:

  1. What part does look and feel and experience play in reviving MySpace’s reputation?
  2. Does the new incarnation of MySpace suit the required utility model for users of social media sites?
  3. Can the brand revive its ‘cool’ factor? And how does Justin Timberlake’s brand have an impact on this?

A question of aesthetics?

Facebook provides the rough architecture and users provide the content. Facebook has focused on building accessibility and interoperability and in doing so has integrated with TV, print and almost every website worldwide, through Like boxes, the integration of Facebook comments on site and Facebook applications.

Many journalists and commentators have compared MySpace to Pinterest. Pinterest’s interface is popular because it is prioritised on images. As users we move without any hesitation from one image to the next, sometimes with a theme in mind and other times simply in stream of consciousness. This type of behaviour is desirable because it creates lots of page impressions, which works in your favour if your business model is based on CPM.

It seems logical to combine the intuitive experience experimented with in Flickr and evolved in Pinterest, with the structured environment of a social networking sites (such as Facebook). This type of interface approach is intelligent but was also one of the only strategies that MySpace could tactically employ to differentiate and compete against Facebook. Google+ tried to resolve the usage issues of MySpace and while successful, has not inspired the usage, sharing and growth of Facebook.

A question of user utility?

The market has evolved quite a bit since MySpace was the most visited social destination online. From what we can see in the promotional video the mode of use seems intuitive and appealing. The interface moves away from a web experience and appears much closer to the gesture mode of a mobile phone (e.g. side-ways scrolling and bottom navigation). This approach will significantly differentiate MySpace from Facebook and potentially make it much more appealing to use.

The advantage that MySpace has in making a comeback is that it can start from scratch and provide a new usage metaphor, which will attract the early adopters who are just waiting to switch to the next new shiny toy. Alternatively MySpace may become the place for your ‘cool’ persona and Facebook the place for your ‘real’ persona. Then again, users may not want to change – an increased utility proposition does not always work. However, it appears from the video that MySpace’s proposition is the correct balance of utility, design and brand

A question of cool or celebrity?

MySpace was once the most talked about, lauded brand online, however following the meteoric rise of Facebook, the social network struggled to retain market share and experienced significant decline in its brand utility. Can MySpace return from this kind of assault on its brand?

In re-launching, should the owners have re-named the social networking space, perhaps referencing MySpace but not using it in its original form? Half of me would have tried something different like NewSpace or DeepSpace. The other half thinks that the bold re-use of the original brand may invoke a sort of retro-chic response. From the commentary and analysing a number of different sources online, the response so far has been good and many commentators talked nostalgically about their experience with MySpace. So using the same name is a bet but perhaps the odds are with the social platform on this one.

Of course there is the ‘Justin Timberlake factor’ to take into consideration? His network of celebs, his Twitter following and prominent media coverage all lends itself to be leveraged by association. The question is, how much of an impact does his association with the new MySpace really make? In three words, ‘it can’t hurt’.

However, the celebrity factor is not going to make up for a bad experience, design or utilitarian offering. As witnessed, Facebook has had its share of issues and issues with its shares – so the time might be right for a fresh experience. The problem with big expansive enterprise systems is that it’s difficult to make sweeping changes without spending lots of cash.

Back to the original question…

Can MySpace make a comeback with users who left and more importantly can it attract a new legion of dedicated fans and followers?

It is hard to tell without experiencing the new product, but I am going to say that for an investment of USD$35m to buy the brand and a further USD$10m (this is my own estimate) to re-build the product from scratch and the eventual operational and marketing expense, that it is likely to be successful. Perhaps not at the same scale as Facebook, but I think even the social networking giant would give up a few of its users for a better EBIT.

The depth and complexity of Facebook is an advantage for MySpace. If they have indeed built a better mousetrap it’s engagement factor will draw users in and they will be able to adapt to changing requirements more quickly until their system becomes complex. MySpace may initially launch an aesthetically appealing site with a great user experience but will need to be ready to continually develop and deploy in order to feed the needs of the ravenous social media audience.

 

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Nirosha Methananda

With a marketing and communications background, Nirosha is the former marketing lead for PwC’s Technology Consulting services.

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