myspace-logoAs I spent the Thanksgiving weekend pondering gratitude, MySpace made the top of my list of things to be grateful for. When I first started almost 4 years ago I had no idea that it would evolve to become as large as it has, or that the brand/community/concept would spread to Facebook, then YouTube, and now Twitter. If it were not for MySpace, my professional life no doubt would be much less fulfilling. And for that, I will be eternally grateful to MySpace and the “Nonprofit Organizations” MySpace community.

It’s hard to explain to those who don’t use MySpace, but the “Nonprofit Organizations” brand would not be what it is today had I attempted to start it on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. MySpace was designed to be a marketing tool. At it’s heyday, a few hours a day sending friend requests and posting wall comments on MySpace profiles quickly resulted in large, thriving online communities. I was able then to tap into that community when I expanded into Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. MySpace was and still is (for some) the easiest social networking site to grow a community quickly.

Now, years later, as I work with nonprofits who are primarily interested in Facebook and Twitter, there is part of me that mourns the loss of MySpace being used by the nonprofits. Even more so, it always surprises me how little nonprofits really know about MySpace. So, my Ode to MySpace:

1. Nonprofits using social media… it all started on MySpace.

Nonprofit movements have been born on MySpace. To Write Love on Her Arms and Invisible Children are two of the most well-known nonprofits that came out of MySpace. Famous on MySpace and to teens across the world, outside of MySpace they are hardly known.

Also, those nonprofits that excel today on Facebook and Twitter, like The Humane Society of the United States, National Wildlife Federation and PETA, they all started their social media campaigns on MySpace at a time when only those with a .edu e-mail address could join Facebook. It’s worth noting that all three still regularly login to their profiles MySpace. 🙂

2. MySpace is not just a community of poor people!

Recent reports have alluded to class and race divisions between MySpace and Facebook users. Danah Boyd is a heroine for being one of the first to publicly acknowledge and wrestle with that topic. As a regualr MySpace user, there is no denying that MySpace is more diverse than any other social networking site. In fact, I think MySpace is probably the best online representative of our society in terms of race and class that exists on the Web today, but it is incorrect to assume that MySpace is only a community of poor people. Young, old, poor, rich, conservative, liberal, urban, rural, black, white, brown, red, yellow, gay, straight, preps, goths, rappers, artists, hippies, yuppies… you name it. They are all on MySpace. It’s a community so diverse that it’s impossible to label, to put nicely in a box.

3. MySpace is not “dead”… far from it.

For the last two years we’ve been bombarded with articles from bloggers and the mainstream media that MySpace is dead. It’s definitely not the powerhouse it was 2 years ago, but it’s far from dead. It’s the 6th visited website in the United States and according to ComScore [the only Web data I trust], MySpace has almost 66 million active users… three times as many as Twitter, and [sadly] Twitter is now shedding users faster than MySpace. MySpacers are incredibly loyal.

MySpace is also the number one accessed social networking website on mobile devices today. Many bloggers were surprised by that data and have no clue as to why. My guess is that is has something to do with the fact that African Americans and Latinos use their mobile phones regularly to access social networking sites, and there are a lot of African Americans and Latinos on MySpace.

4. Not everyone thinks MySpace is ugly.

Beauty is on the eye of the beholder and some people just like the chaos and artistic freedom of MySpace, while some like the neat clean, linear look of Facebook. This is the most common feedback I get about MySpace from people who don’t use it: “It’s just so ugly.” Well, the reason for that is that you need to know HTML to use MySpace. Think about that for a minute. Teenagers and adults all over the world have taught themselves HTML code in order to use MySpace.

You don’t hear about it much anymore, but in 2007 there were many stories of how MySpace was helping bridge the digital divide because low-income youth were logging in and teaching themselves HTML code. Sadly, at the same time, libraries and schools across America were blocking MySpace, but allowing Facebook. 🙁

As far as ads and Spam, that just a part of MySpace and the price to pay for having a social networking site with very little rules or censorship. MySpace users know this… and most help MySpace by reporting the Spammers. MySpace is reflection of the society in which we live. You don’t see anything on MySpace that you don’t see on prime time television each night.

5. MySpace is not dangerous.

As the first social networking website used by the masses, MySpace carried the brunt of bad press. Stories about how MySpace would ruin your child’s life and put them in perilous danger were everywhere. The media was intimidated by social networking at this time and fed a frenzy of paranoia about MySpace. Today, you can’t turn on any news outlet and not hear “Fan us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter!” I find it incredibly ironic.

There is this idea that by getting on MySpace you open yourself up to sexual predators and murderers. It’s just false. 93% of statutory rape cases in this country are committed by neighbors, teachers, and family members. Not a random stranger on MySpace, or Facebook or Twitter. Of the cases are Internet-related, they originated in chat rooms (as featured on the show Top Catch a Predator). There is only one death related to MySpace. The mother from Missouri that pretended to be a teen boy and cyberbullied a young girl to the point where she committed suicide.Tragic yes, but MySpace’s fault? No.

6. MySpace and Facebook are opposites in almost every way possible.

While the blogosphere and mainstream media regularly compare MySpace to Facebook, the fact that they do so exposes the reality that they don’t use MySpace. MySpace and Facebook are apples and oranges. Their tool sets are completely different and as well as their purpose. Facebook is mostly used to stay connected to people you know. MySpace is primary used to participate in pop culture. Apples and oranges.

7. To this day, the celebrity factor on MySpace is untapped by nonprofits.

Celebrities and rock stars are a big deal on MySpace. To this day, celebs, rock stars and nonprofits are not friends (or friendly) on MySpace, Facebook, and in most cases Twitter.

8. MySpace’s BIG mistake was to sell (out) to Rupert Murdoch.

MySpace is amazing. The tool set is astounding. The community is giving, kind and friendly. It’s decline is not because “MySpace Sucks”. It’s decline is due to the fact that it sold to Rupert Murdoch of Fox News Corp. The blogosphere in general does not like Murdoch for being a corporate media monger. His name is associated with arrogance and greed, particularly in the technology sector.

I have to say, in my experience nothing changed when Fox News Corp. took over MySpace. It was still open and uncensored (at a time when Facebook was banning breasting feeding photos) and remains that way, but by the time Facebook opened to the public in September 2006, the blogosphere was enamored with Zuckerberg of Facebook and thought Tom of MySpace had sold out. No one wanted to defend Murdoch-owned MySpace in the coming Facebook vs. MySpace war, and since then it’s been one “MySpace Sucks Compared to Facebook” article after another. Some articles have been downright racist, elitist, and offensive… and the comments from the masses even worse. That said, the better site for easily connecting with friends and people you know won (Facebook), but a lot a loyal MySpace users have felt insulted, slighted and attacked (by “snobby Facebookers”).

9. The Christian community is highly organized on MySpace, the labor movement is not.

Ironically, considering MySpace’s current reputation of being dangerous, a tad bit sleezy, and for poor folks only, Christan nonprofits are all over it and the labor unions are pretty much absent. The AFL-CIO is non-existent and the Teamsters haven’t logged in since 2007. The SEIU is the best profile I have found, but clearly they need some inspiration. MySpace is a vast, complicated site. It takes more time than Facebook or Twitter, but can produce higher ROI if you know how to use it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of nonprofits do not know how to use MySpace and approach it from a Facebook point of view which is destined to fail.

One reason I think the Christian community is so organized on MySpace is that both To Write Love on Her Arms and Invisible Children are (subtly) Christian organizations. Teens talk about the organizations at their local church, and thus the church creates a MySpace profile. As far labor organizations, it’s not too late to get on MySpace, but be prepared to invest at least an hour a day into a MySpace strategy. That’s what it takes to get results.

10. Thousands of nonprofits have abandoned their MySpace communities.

I hadn’t seen MySpace discussed by the nonprofit community (unless to say it was dead and Facebook is sooooo much better) in years until recently. The well-known Causes App popular on Facebook was dumped on MySpace. I only have two things to say about that: 1) People on MySpace don’t use Apps like they do on Facebook. It was not a big loss and Causes’ reason for dropping MySpace for “lack of activity” makes sense. 2) The story is not that Causes dropped MySpace and therefore abandoned nonprofits, but rather nonprofits dropped MySpace and abandoned their communities for the next big shiny tool.

Some nonprofits have 10,000 or more friends on MySpace and haven’t logged in in over a year. Only 5,000 may still be active on MySpace, but still… they are active and wondering where the nonprofits have gone. If nonprofits really are going to invest time and energy in building online communities on social networking sites, then don’t abandon your community when the next big thing comes along. An important lesson, yes?

The Future of MySpace?

I can’t see into a crystal ball and know where MySpace will be a year from now, but I do read about what their plans are and I would definitely not count MySpace out. They are downsizing, narrowing their focus, and putting the vast majority of their resources into the mobile Web. MySpace is doing very well in that area, and if profiles are simplified to accommodate mobile design trends, then the ugly factor that detours so many people will be a mute point.

That said, I don’t think all nonprofits should use MySpace. Some causes just won’t fly on MySpace. If your organization is trying to reach teens, absolutely! Music and arts organizations, probably. Same with labor organizations. Animal rights and welfare organizations, possibly. Lots of animal lovers on MySpace. Human service organizations, probably not. No matter what type of organization, just realize going into it that MySpace requires an hour a day minimum and that training is essential. Thanks for reading and thank you MySpace.