Today, the social networking site MySpace will officially announce a refined advertising service. No longer serving mass ads, it will target members based on their interests. New York Times reporter Brad Stone described the social networking scene as a vast, “creative canvas for personal expression.” Damn straight. MySpace, owned by Fox Interactive Media, has been experimenting with ways to aggregate and deliver highly relevant ads to its over 110 million users by enthusiast categories rather than demographics. What will matter now is a user’s stated interests: film, music, travel, books–but boiled down from general genres to passion points. Meaning it can drill down from music to country music to y’allternative.
Will it click with the RenGen?
The ad serving algorithm helps micro enterprises jump in with relevant offers. For instance, a punk band can promote their local concert by searching punk enthusiasts. Enthusiasts may see this as a service. RenGen don’t mind commercialization if it gives them something else worth value–information, ideas, insider freebies.
User rights activists will organize on the web and thwart the approach if MySpace fails to embrace three things:
1. Transparency–be transparent about how it will use member info, and what stays sacred. If it will become a commercial mosh pit, then say so upfront.
2. User control–let users continually refine the algorithm by opting in and out for stuff they enjoy. Keep it a dialogue.
3. Enhance the experience–if users feel the ads are more relevant, less intrusive and deliver more value to the member experience by allowing them to aggregate their own tribes and express themselves more fluidly, MySpace will win hearts and minds.
The announcement may encourage further defection to Facebook. Recent analysis comparing user populations shows MySpace has become the public transportation of the Internet. It has been bleeding the young, middle class and upwardly mobile users that advertisers desire. This group is also savvy about dodging interruption marketing that invades their space.
Also, interesting is the MySpace’s plan to become an advisory to its advertisers. This marks a point of maturity for social networking. Old school media have long ago ceased just selling. They blend ad sales with insights into their readership. This exchange of information was/is highly valued by advertisers.
I look forward to watching the MySpace story unfold as social networks, the most obvious evidence of the kind of massive creative outpouring that occurs in a renaissance, undergoes another rite of passage.