New models for new media

I read with interest today the removal of Chris DeWolfe as CEO of MySpace. 

The paragraph in Brandweek that caught my attention was this:

[D]espite being eclipsed of late by Facebook and other properties, MySpace is still one of the largest single sites on the Web. However, its days of unstoppable growth are clearly over. In February, the site reached over 70 million unique users in the U.S., compared to 57.4 million for Facebook. But just a year earlier, MySpace’s unique user base was at 68 million versus just 32 million for Facebook.

According to the “growth” model of capitalism, MySpace has a problem.  If senior management can’t renew growth, change is called for. 

But what if this growth model is, at least for new media purposes, mistaken?  If we embrace a new model of the kind someone like Henry Jenkins, David Weinberger, or Don Tapscott might endorse, then this might be precisely the wrong way to think about things.

In a new media world, the objective is not continual growth.  This is because the new media proposition like MySpace is trying to build a community.  It is enlisting the collaboration, the cocreation, of a particular group of people.  In this event, it can’t be that everyone is a potential recruit.  MySpace is a particular networking proposition, one that works for some people and not for others.  In this event, there must be a limit to the market.

When MySpace levels out at 70 million, this may be because it has found its limit.  I don’t have access to the numbers, but if its the case that the social network market split roughly by age [MySpace for “kids,” and Facebook for “adults,” as I think Danah Boyd was suggesting several months ago], then 70 million may be just about right. 

To pursue larger numbers is a dangerous thing to do, especially if it means changing the MySpace formula to broaden it’s appeal.  Is this not tragic flaw of most branding exercises, diluting the brand in the pursuit of an ever larger market?  But what is a bad idea for all marketing purposes is an especially stupid one when it comes to new media.  Once we find our limit, we want to hold.

There is after all another option.  We may give up extensive growth for an intensive bond.  This may be the time to say “ok, let’s build a better connection with our community.”  I mean, that’s the business we’re in.  That’s what we’re for.  And who is to say that intensive “growth” is not better than extensive growth.  MySpace has yet to find a way to pay, but perhaps it has yet to produce right amount or kind of value.  And this may be the outcome of an intensive strategy. 

It’s early days.  The logic of capitalism and new media will continue to bump up against one another in this way.  Corporations will eventually begin to think more intelligently about the new creature in its midst.  Just not yet. 

References

Jenkins, Henry. 2008. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press.

Shields, Mike.  2009.  MySpace’s Chris DeWolfe Out as CEO.  Brandweek.  April 22, 2009.  http://www.mediaweek.com/mw/content_display/news/digital-downloads/broadband/e3i2b46d200e6140dd0951130c252fd7b53

Tapscott, Don, and Anthony D. Williams. 2008. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. New York: Portfolio.

Weinberger, David. 2007. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Times Books.

8 thoughts on “New models for new media”

  1. Tree don’t grow to the sky. In this case the old saying “whatever you measure will improve.” It appears they are measuring the wrong thing. How about # of members who are on the site at least once a day or several times a week. I think that may be more indicative (at a high level) of community.

  2. I’m all for the focused brand that has a single clear meaning and knows the limits of its market. But I seem to recall hearing somewhere about this brave new world of multifaceted, polymorphic, brands that are complex like Cate Blanchett and can be more than one thing at a time…

    Seriously, maybe the problem is that investors believe the Facebook crowd is more lucrative than the MySpace community. More disposable income, perhaps?

  3. Well said, Grant and Bruce. It has to do with metrics. We have began a project of changing the metrics for brands. Instead of classic brand metrics # of members, or even frequency of visits, we define the daily life experiences of a person into episodes, say seven episodes a day of a person to stay healthy or live around healthy food. Then, we device new metrics like, how many episodes is Facebook relevant to consumers (e.g., as a source of health information from peers, etc.). For any brand, who different are the episodes, what episodes are adjacent to each other (all about healthy food for example). In how many episodes is a brand relevant? In how many adjacent episodes has brand been absorbed and assimiliated in the daily life of consumers, etc.

    Hopefully, with a change of metrics of performance, there will be a change of dialogue. And maybe, the larger contribution of social networks to business is that it changes the metrics of success for business altogether.

  4. Great points all. And hi Erich . . . long time. 🙂 Indeed, it has to do with metrics. And right now those metrics are media buying metrics. So what happens to these “new media” models when something like Skimmer becomes popular? http://tinyurl.com/cpx9zj At that point metrics will take a back seat to economic transactions within the community.

  5. At one level it is a number’s game. But as pointed out the whole idea is to mesh people together, not just count them on a site. As the number of sites increase there will be a certain amount of shifting of members.
    When you look at the statistics presented the numbers for both MySpace and Facebook have fallen.

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