At last count this evening, MySpace is about to overtake, in terms of "population" the nation of Pakistan. Now, some would argue that the raw number of MySpace profiles is not an accurate count of how many people actually use the service, but I'd argue that population census surveys aren't all that accurate anyway - how do you account for the homeless and the illegal immigrant population in any given country?
At 163,740,888, MySpace, if it were a nation, will shortly be the world's 6th largest population. Oops, 163,743,337. I just hit refresh in my browser.
With this many people on MySpace - even if only 1/3 of them are active users - social networking sites are a force to be reckoned with and a marketer's dream or nightmare, depending on how you approach the services.
So, how do you approach MySpace? Here's my thinking on the topic, which is admittedly influenced by a very tasty margarita. MySpace is a hub, in the sense that on the information superhighway, there are certain intersections that a large number of people pass through on the way to their final destinations. MySpace is one of them, like a city that springs up at the intersection of two major highways. Having a place to call home on MySpace establishes at least a token residence in that neighborhood, from which you can plant a sign in your front yard advertising your presence. This is the most basic use of MySpace, and vitally important at least as a defensive measure to prevent someone else from living at MySpace.com/YourNameHere.
Second, MySpace is a bridge. There are a lot of people on MySpace, including people who you might not get access to in your daily interactions offline or online. Some progressive CEOs have MySpace pages, as well as other top executives and leading edge marketing professionals. You might not necessarily reach, say, the CEO of Twist Image (a leading Canadian marketing firm) via conventional channels, but you might find him on MySpace or Facebook. MySpace can bridge the gaps set up in normal social interactions to people who are interesting.
More importantly, MySpace allows you to infiltrate the social space of people who have dissimilar social spheres from you. If you're in marketing, this is critically important, because it allows you access to your audience, and your audience may well not be your peer group. Most of us tend to have friends that are relatively close in age, social class, income, etc. It's just the nature of life that our friends tend to be people somewhat similar to ourselves. This is changing as the world becomes more digitally connected, but for now, it's largely true. That means that if you want to understand what your customers in a different generation or area are thinking about, MySpace can give you access to them, to talk to them, to ask questions, and most important of all, to listen.
Listening and gathering information is the key to MySpace. Make friends with your customers and their friends, subscribe to their blogs and listen carefully to what's on their minds. Through this, you can gain insights into their behaviors that under normal circumstances would be impossible. There's a phrase - the perils of introspection - which Malcolm Gladwell talks about from time to time, in which the very act of asking the question skews the result. If you don't have to ask the question at all - if you just have to listen, then you can get unadulterated answers.
Time to wrap up this blog post with this number: 163,776,951
36,000+ profiles since I started writing two hours ago. Are you listening?