MySpace, the social networking site for teens (and older people who apparently still wish they were teens), is now one of the ten largest Internet properties. While parents gnash their teeth worrying about sexual predators lurking to lure little Heather or Jennifer astray, others claim that MySpace is the latest networking and business building tool for small businesses.
I have read a few reports recently like this article in Fortune magazine that starts out, “Entrepreneurs are striking gold on MySpace….” The claims range from being a great place to network for business connections to a promising place to advertise.
I suppose that’s true if (1) you run a business that caters to teens and early twenty-somethings and you want to advertise to reach them, especially anything music- or film-related, or (2) you typically do your sales prospecting and business networking in the Personals section of the newspaper.
Call me skeptical, but I just don’t see wide appeal among small businesses for using MySpace.
Just to try it out, I went over to MySpace and spent some time surfing. My initial impression — and my impression still — is that MySpace is a gigantic Personals website with blogging capabilities superimposed on it. While that may be a useful promotional venue for a limited few businesses, it will not be useful to the majority of small businesses.
First I looked at the professional networking aspect of MySpace. For instance, I used the “Browse” function and searched for people who are interested in networking. What I found were people looking for love, who apparently threw in “networking” as just another category they checked when setting up their pofile. The way the site is set up you browse according to the kinds of things you would expect to find on a Personals site: age, gender, marital status, height, weight, smoking/drinking, etc. As far as browsing according to occupation or industry or other helpful designations, forget it.
You can also do a keyword search. Searching for business terms like “marketing” and “manufacturing” led to somewhat more helpful results. But it was hit or miss, and you had to search page by page through each result mostly to find nothing of any value to the standard small business. Meanwhile, you learn more about these people than any prospective vendor, customer or business partner ever should know (it is not exactly a ringing business endorsement that your favorite TV show is the Simpsons and you like your girls “hot and sassy”).
Then I went into the Groups area. My, it looked promising — at first glance. The Groups section boasts 8,279 “Business & Entrepreneurs” groups. Sounds like a business networker’s paradise, right?
Let’s set aside the fact that it is practically impossible for anyone to surf through 8,279 business groups.
Even assuming you could — it’s hard to take a business group seriously if the first photograph you see on the group page is a woman in fishnet stockings, a see-through black lace top and a come-hither expression on her face. The same goes for a photograph of a middle-aged gentleman without a shirt but with a massive set of love handles (you have only 30 seconds to make a great first impression in business — and someone really should tell him he would make a better first impression fully-clothed).
When I managed to find a few listings that looked reasonably professional, most of the ones in my small sampling turned out to be multi-level marketing pitches.
As they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and I suppose the same could be said for networking on MySpace. You might stumble upon something that leads you to a valuable networking connection, but it would be more out of happenstance than through an organized approach. And what busy entrepreneur or small business manager has time for that? Today there are other social networking sites that are far more efficient and effective at professional and business networking. LinkedIn immediately comes to mind as a valuable tool. I know entrepreneurs who also find benefit from networking on Ecademy and Ryze. If you are into social networking sites, these choices are far better than MySpace for most small businesses.
Promotion and Advertising
Next I looked at the potential to promote a business on MySpace. You can create a listing on MySpace that essentially operates as a way to promote your business or your offering. You also can advertise with banner ads on MySpace. Here I can see some value for certain limited businesses: mainly those involved in the entertainment (music and film) industries or those trying to appeal to the youth market.
Ads relating to popular music and films would seem to be a good bet, because MySpace has an entire section for each of those two topics. The types of businesses that may find MySpace useful include: independent musicians and filmmakers; companies that cater to indie musicians and filmmakers by offering how-to books and courses, production aids and similar tools; or businesses with consumer offerings likely to appeal to the youth demographic, such as T-shirts and ringtones retailers.
Unless you are involved in the music or film industry, or yours is the kind of business that advertises in the Personals page and you are dying to get at the youth demographic, or possibly you are trying to recruit multi-level marketers, then MySpace is not likely to be helpful for your small business. Outside of these narrow areas, small business owners and managers would be wise to spend their limited time on other marketing and promotional strategies. For similar skeptical thoughts about the small business value of MySpace, read Social Networking for SMBs or How to Succeed in Business.