Friendster exploded onto the internet scene with an initial valuation of 53 million dollars in 2003. But the site was plagued with problems that kept it from evolving as quickly as their rivals.
Upstarts like MySpace copied their formula for success. Friendster failed to fix software issues, hamstringing it’s own growth. Lots of people flooded to the platform, but when they got there, login times took an eternity because the site’s infrastructure wasn’t built for that amount of traffic. Competitors were able to come in with a better functioning version of the same product and win.
Lesson #2: In the wise words of David Ogilvy, “Great marketing only makes a product fail faster.” And we’ll let it sit there, because we couldn’t say it better ourselves.
After the fall of Friendster, MySpace took control of the social media market, but the dogfight for dollars never ended. Our boy Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004 to a firing line of lawsuits. When the gunsmoke and court cases settled, Zuckerberg was already clawing his way to the top of the heap.
At its peak in 2006, MySpace had 100 million users. If you’re wondering how it’s fared since, check it out.
But why Facebook? Is it just the luck of the draw that they’ve built a base of 1.5 billion daily users, or is there something to be learned from their rise to the top of social media supremacy?
Forbes did a write-up of just that back in 2011, when the MySpace mourning was still fresh and it’s bones hadn’t been buried too deep in internet archives, yet. Facebook’s victory wasn’t because of the site’s clean user interface. It wasn’t because MySpace customization options made every user profile so garrish and neon that the whole site was impossible to load, let alone read.
It was because of White Space management – the practice of dedicating employees to listening to customers, giving them near-unlimited resources to fix customer problems, and holding those employees accountable for the success or failure of that project.
And while that may sound like a bunch of heady business talk, Facebook’s White Space mentality was a real reason the site evolved – users decided how they wanted to use the platform, and Facebook not only accommodated, but encouraged that.
In 2005, NewsCorp dived into the social media fight and swept MySpace into their portfolio for the neat price of $580 million. They brought in professional management consultants to hone in on what made the platform special, develop and guide it’s software, and draw more users – but spreadsheets and ROI plans couldn’t keep up with the sheer flexibility of Zuckerberg’s innovation machine.
Facebook didn’t decide where it would invest based on a suite of Harvard MBA’s, but on the people using its site. They linked Facebook to popular games like Farmville. They pushed new ways to connect with people – groups, pages. They built marketplaces. The platform grew at the whims of the user.
And that team of MBA’s at MySpace was left in the dust. NewsCorp ended up selling MySpace in 2011 for just $35 million – less than 17% of what it bought the site for.
Lesson #3: Sometimes we want to have full control of where and how our brand is used – we want to track every metric and control every ‘if’, ‘and’, or ‘but’. But, we have to know when it’s best to let the people engaging with your brand decide where it fits best. Listen to what your customers are telling you, and use the White Space approach in your marketing. Solve one problem. Period. Then your customers will trust you to solve another, and another.