Social pioneers

MySpace's marketing and communications teams are collaborating to expand the site's offerings while defending its core business against rivals.

When MySpace launched in 2004, social networking was still considered a novelty of Web 2.0. Then, as more networks popped up, it went from being a trend to a cultural mainstay. Through this transition, the MySpace communications team has stayed focused on keeping its message relevant to attract new members, while staying true to its core.

Even so, the last year has been tough. Earlier this year, Facebook unseated MySpace as the largest social network in the world based on unique visitors. But in the US, the latter still dominates with more users. According to comScore, MySpace has nearly 122 million monthly active users worldwide and 75.5 million total unique users in the US.

Despite those numbers, earlier this year MySpace decided to change the way it handled communications, and this summer put its resources into building an in-house team. The company discontinued its AOR relationship with Edelman and now works with firms on a project basis. Dani Dudeck, VP of global communications at MySpace, declines to state the number of employees working in the PR department, but notes that the staff is “growing.”

“Things are happening so fast for us that having people in-house who have expertise and understand all parts of our business [is valuable],” she says. “[The in-house team can] connect the dots… to externally communicate our initiatives [and that makes] a real difference. For the long term, this is a strategy that we're really ex-cited about.”

Among those initiatives, MySpace this month planned to launch a new product called MySpace Music, a joint venture between the social network and some major music labels. As more social networks have emerged, MySpace has strategically built on the strengths that set it apart from competitors. Among those is its legacy as a site with a strong bent toward music.

For example, the new music site allows artists at several major labels to let their fans stream content for free, download MP3s, and participate in e-commerce with additions like ring-tone sales, she adds.

In step with its new PR philosophy, the social network enlisted boutique firm Shadow PR to work on the music launch. The firm previously launched MySpace Celebrity and Operation MySpace earlier this year.

But even as MySpace expands in the music space, the communications team has had to clear up some misconceptions to give users a bigger picture of its capabilities.

“It's a common misconception that MySpace started as a music site,” Dudeck says. “[Music has] always been a cultural cornerstone of the site and part of the community experience. But it started as a place for people to socialize and gather around shared interests... Other social networks were kicking off people who would set up profiles that weren't of people. But we embraced people starting profiles for bands, businesses, or other subject-matter profiles.”

Working together
At a time when trying to nab a seat in the C-suite has become a coveted PR cliché, MySpace has turned that into a reality. Dudeck, who has been with MySpace since 2006, reports directly to CEO Chris DeWolfe.

“[DeWolfe and I] have a great relationship,” she says. “The amount of support and real-time information we get is really rare. It's a testament of how he feels about this side of the business.”

Even though PR and marketing are separate entities, the two teams work together to develop a consistent message for the brand.

Jeff Berman, president of sales and marketing at MySpace, says that consistency goes beyond marketing and PR.

“We maintain a consistent message for the media because company-wide we have four pillars of our business that we speak to,” he says. “That's increasing traffic, ensuring user engagement, awareness, and, of course, monetization because we're ultimately a for-profit company.”

MySpace considers itself to be a pioneer in the Web monetization sphere – despite reports that it is expected to miss its revenue target of $1 billion for this year. Dudeck dismisses rumors that MySpace's parent company, Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp (which acquired the social network in 2005), has snubbed its support of the company due to revenues. Moreover, she says, MySpace's affiliation with the company has only enhanced its brand, something Berman echoes.

“Before the acquisition, we didn't have an in-house communications team,” he says. “Since then, it's been a healthy marriage between marketing and communications.”

Tracy Akselrud, executive director of communications, compares working at MySpace to “running 100 major businesses in one company.

“You'll find our team all over – at the Democratic and Republic conventions and [other major events],” she says. “We believe in being accessible and creating dialogue with as many people as possible.”

But as MySpace stretches its communications team to tell many sides of its multifaceted story, does it risk alienating current users in pursuit of, for example, a larger base of older users? Angela Courtin, SVP of marketing, entertainment, and content for MySpace, doesn't think so.

“Our goal is to position MySpace as a social portal,” Courtin explains. “It's not just for music or for social networking. It's a social portal for [instant messaging], games, blogs – it's a gateway to content as well as a social network. We partner with the PR team because it throws the beacon up when we are highlighting the breadth of what we do.”

Dudeck thanks the company's unconventional hiring strategy for the PR team's ability to tackle the diverse projects that are simultaneously unfolding at MySpace at any moment.

“On staff we have video bloggers, a tech columnist, a former magazine editor,” she notes. “We have more than 300 celebrities who use their MySpace page to blog, so we need a strong celebrity outreach. But then we also have presidential candidates with MySpace pages, so we'd also look for someone with a strong public affairs background. The key is we're always looking for the nontraditional and unconventional.”

MySpace takes off

January 2004
MySpace launches

November 2004

MySpace hits the 5-million-member mark

July 2005
News Corp acquires the site for $580 million

November 2005
MySpace Records label launches

January 2006
MySpace Film launches at the Sundance Film Festival

July 2006
The company debuts MySpace Comedy

August 2006
MySpace hits 100 million worldwide member profiles

November 2006
MySpace surpasses Yahoo in page views and becomes the most trafficked site in the US

March 2007
MySpace hits 100 million monthly unique users worldwide

April 2008

MySpace inks a deal with the world's largest music companies to form the new MySpace Music

September 2008
MySpace Music launches first phase of new product offering

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