MYSPACE, MY FRIENDS, MY CUSTOMERS

 
MYSPACE, MY FRIENDS, MY CUSTOMERS
MySpace, My Friends, My Customers
                                     Patricio Carrera,
                                      Chia-Yu Chiu,
                                Pailin Pratipwattanawong,
                                Somjai Chienwattanasuk,
                              Sharifah Fatimah Syed Ahmad,
                                      Jamie Murphy

                                   School of Business,
                        University of Western Australia, Australia
                             syedas01@student.uwa.edu.au

                                          Abstract
This case study examines a Web 2.0 exemplar – MySpace – as a marketing tool for an
Australian company targeting youth, Go Workabout (GW). The leading global online social
network MySpace has over 114 million members – mostly students and youth – who create
personal profiles as well as join others' networks as their friends. One success measure for this
burgeoning marketing tool is friends in one's profile. Three weeks after implementing a strategy
to increase its friends, GW's MySpace profile had 101 friends and 405 users viewed GW's
profile. Even though acquiring friends is a hard task, nearly 12% of users that viewed GW‟s
profile clicked on a banner directed to GW's website. The paper illustrates difficulties and
benefits of using MySpace as a marketing tool.
Keywords: Web 2.0; social networks; internet marketing.

1         Introduction
Unlike the early Internet days with websites broadcasting one-way information, a
recent Internet trend, Web 2.0, puts consumers at the helm as users create, edit and
view information (O'Reilly, 2005). User generated content (UGC), an aspect of Web
2.0, facilitates information retrieval, editing and sharing among users. In Europe, 60%
of online users have embraced UGC activities such as “reading or writing blogs,
listening to podcasts and setting up RSS feeds, reading and writing online customer
reviews, or taking part in social networking sites” (Anonymous, 2007a).
Blogs are online journals or personal websites, while podcasts are audio recordings
for downloading to a personal audio player such as Apple‟s iPod. Really Simple
Syndication (RSS) lets users subscribe to feeds for automatic updates on topics that
interest them (Hanson & Kalyanam, 2007, p. 80). Users‟ comments and reviews,
which resembles word-of-mouth opinions, are on websites such as Flickr (flickr.com,
pictures), TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com, travel experiences), Wikipedia
(wikipedia.org, encyclopedia), and YouTube (youtube.com, videos). Lastly, online
social networks are Web spaces for group communication using one‟s profile – a page
with individual biodata (Lenhart & Madden, 2007) – in online communities such as
Bebo, Facebook, Friendster, Hi5 and MySpace.
MYSPACE, MY FRIENDS, MY CUSTOMERS
In August 2007, MySpace was the most popular online social network at sixth place
of all websites, followed by Facebook (10), Hi5 (11), Friendster (18) and Bebo (89)
(Alexa, 2007a). These online social networks target youth and more than half (55%)
of American youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites (Lenhart &
Madden, 2007). Undergraduate students are even more involved with 94%
participating in Facebook (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Profiles on MySpace
also include politicians, musicians, artists, comedians, short-film makers and
businesses (Anonymous, 2007d).
Businesses can participate in online social networks such as MySpace and become
friends with other users (MySpace, 2007). For example, travel companies such as
Lonely Planet (lonelyplanet.com) and STA Travel (statravel.com) have MySpace
profiles. In August 2007, Lonely Planet had more than 3,500 friends for two of its
MySpace sites, while STA had eight MySpace accounts (mostly branch locations)
with about 900 friends. A search on Facebook showed STA Travel had over 12,000
friends and Lonely Planet had over 1,200 friends.
Despite the growing popularity of social networks and their business potential, few
published studies have examined these new online communities. Therefore, this paper
helps fill that gap by presenting a case study of MySpace as a marketing tool. Rather
than examine a global leader such as Lonely Planet, this paper examines
implementing a MySpace profile for a small Australian company, Go Workabout
(goworkabout.com), which facilitates working holidays in Australia.

2       Literature Review
2.1     Internet Technology in Tourism
The Internet has changed distribution, pricing and customer interactions in travel and
tourism (O'Connor & Murphy, 2004). Tourists are using non-media information
sources, such as the Internet, to plan travel trips as opposed to mass media
information sources like advertising (Seabra, Abrantes, & Lages, 2007). For example
in 2005, 85% of European travellers used the Internet to plan their vacation
(Tjostheim, Tussyadiah, & Hoem, 2007). Similarly, in the first quarter of 2007, online
bookings for major hotels accounted for 41% of their central reservations, up 22%
from the same period in 2006 (Anonymous, 2007b).
Research shows individual and organisational factors drive the Internet‟s growing
importance in travel and tourism. At the organisational level, the success of
convention and visitor bureaus in the US related positively to their website features,
website promotion and customer relationship management (Wang & Fesenmaier,
2006). For lodging websites, the ability to provide complete information and ease of
use for visitors related to success (Jeong, Oh, & Gregoire, 2003).
With regard to individuals, they differ in online information seeking and booking
behaviours. For example, college students were more inclined to seek travel
information than book travel, while travellers and tourists were more likely to book
than seek information (Susskind, Bonn, & Dev, 2003). Furthermore, as individuals
gain Internet experience, their information gathering progresses from brief product
searches to reviewing what others say about a product (Wang, Yu, & Fesenmaier,
2002). As people master the Internet, the importance of Web 2.0 and its inherent user
generated content increases.
2.2     Web 2.0
Rather than an online platform to make money via sales, many Web 2.0 business
models provide services that invite users‟ input, improve with more participants and
make money from advertising (O'Reilly, 2005). Web 2.0 should thrive, as advertisers
spent $450 million in 2006 on UGC sites and this could to increase to $4.3 billion in
2011 (Shields, 2007). Related to the evolution of gathering information online (Wang,
Yu, & Fesenmaier, 2002), reviews on UGC sites influenced 72% of United
Kingdom‟s young professionals‟ travel plans, with TripAdvisor the most popular
travel UGC site (Anonymous, 2007c). Globally, TripAdvisor ranked number 449 of
the most visited sites (Alexa, 2007a) and according to TripAdvisor‟s website, over 17
million travellers from nearly 200 countries planned trips using TripAdvisor in a week
in August 2007.
Travel blogs, another Web 2.0 aspect, are becoming popular as people share their
experiences. A review of blogs related to destinations in the southeast USA found the
majority of bloggers were from USA and that three of four blogs were positive (Pan,
MacLaurin, & Crotts, 2007). Other studies have covered blogging practice and found
that blogging increased during some crises, such as during the London attacks in July
2005 and New Orleans hurricane in August 2005, but not for Pakistan earthquake in
October 2005 (Thelwall & Stuart, 2007). As for motivations to blog, an early study of
the psychological and social influences of Japanese blogging found that positive
feedbacks from readers motivated authors to continue writing blogs (Miura &
Yamashita, 2007).
Most Web 2.0 literature has focused on uses in medicine (Barsky, 2006; Barsky &
Purdon, 2006; Guistini, 2006; Skiba, 2006) and education (Fumero, 2006; Perkel,
2006). The former described applications of podcasting, RSS feeds, blogging and
social community networks in medicine such as the best blogs in medicine and
medical video sharing on YouTube. With regard to education, an online interactive
campus enriched learning by sharing information amongst ten institutitions in nine
countries, using social networking with the educators as mediators and mentors
(Fumero, 2006). An unintended educational consequence is the proliferation of
unauthorised video clips, audio and games on MySpace profiles. Although common
on MySpace, this copying is plagiarism in education (Perkel, 2006). For businesses,
Web 2.0 does not suit all types of organisations as its user generated information may
not fit in formal organisations where endorsed information is a must, however fast
changing innovative businesses with speedy information requirements could benefit
(Tredinnick, 2006).
Online communities preceded Web 2.0. For example Microsoft and IBM hosted
brand-focused virtual networks (Wang, Yu, & Fesenmaier, 2002), while customer
created communites around Saab and Macintosh (Muniz & O'Guinn, 2001). Online
communities create friendships and nearly two thirds of friendships that began online,
such as in newsgroups or discussion groups, continued offline (Parks & Floyd, 1996).
However with Web 2.0 communities such as Friendster and MySpace, online
friendship may not equate to offline friendship (Boyd, 2006). Facebook members use
it to communicate with offline friends rather than to gain new online friends (Ellison,
Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007).
Regardless of the online community type, participation can lead to fulfilment. Ideally,
online communities fulfil four member needs: functional such as information or
transactions, social to communicate and build friendships, psychological as part of
one‟s identity, and hedonic fun or entertainment (Wang & Fesenmaier, 2004a). A
travel community fulfilled users‟ functional, social and hedonic needs, with social
need being the most fulfilled in this environment (Wang & Fesenmaier, 2004b).
Similarly, Lonely Planet (lonelyplanet.com) managed to address, if not fulfil, all four
users‟ needs in its travel community (Stockdale & Borovicka, 2006).
Companies use online communities to build brands and relationships, as well as to
reduce costs and attain revenue (Wang, Yu, & Fesenmaier, 2002). Furthermore, these
companies benefit from increased brand loyalty, which can increase product
purchasing (Kim, Lee, & Hiemstra, 2004). The quality of information of online
communities also affects users‟ loyalty to the communities (Lin & Lee, 2006).
Finally, the quality of information – relevant, understandable, sufficient and objective
– and quantity of reviews in these communities lead to purchasing intentions (Park,
Lee, & Han, 2007).
Although having a profile on a social network is unlike hosting a community,
organisations like Burger King used online social network to communicate with target
audiences. For instance, friends visit the MySpace King profile page to download and
view free episodes of some TV shows (King, 2006). Go Workabout hopes that joining
nearly 22,000 MySpace businesses and entrepreneurs (MySpace, 2007b) will lead to
increased awareness, business and eventually brand loyalty.

3        Building a MySpace Community
Go Workabout (GW) is a small Australian organisation that helps eligible students
and young holiday travellers – from Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, Sweden,
Switzerland and the United Kingdom – work in Australia. GW organises Australian
working holiday visas, jobs, and bank accounts for their clients. Considering the
success of Lonely Planet and STA Travel getting friends, setting up a profile on a
social network interested GW. As MySpace‟s members, mostly below 30 (Hansell,
2006), fit GW‟s target market and given MySpace‟s position as the leading online
social network, GW established a MySpace profile. Success metrics for its social
network were the number of friends, visits to GW‟s MySpace, GW‟s website, and
ultimately, new customers.
A study of STA Travel and Lonely Planet‟s MySpace profiles identified three
common characteristics. Firstly, the commercial approach was less on their MySpace
profile than on their website. Neither MySpace profile advertised their goods or
services heavily; the advertising was subtle. Secondly, both MySpace profiles used
attractive images, music and video clips. Thirdly, both profiles encouraged user
interaction such as answering questions and posting travel comments. For example,
the STA Travel profile contained questions on the users‟ best travel experiences and
favourite cities. Blogging sections on both sites reflected interaction with users
sharing tips, seeking advice and engaging in the posted topics or questions. Figure 1
shows the MySpace profile for Lonely Planet in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

      Fig. 1. MySpace profile for Lonely Planet Europe, Middle East and Africa
                                   [Sept. 5, 2007]

Go Workabout‟s MySpace profile (MySpace.com/goWorkabout) included a brief
description of its services and pictures of popular Australian places and locations. The
users could get more information on GW by clicking on links to the GW website.
Figure 2 shows Go Workabout‟s MySpace profile.
After creating the MySpace profile, the strategy to acquire friends and increase GW‟s
network commenced in May 2007. The strategy consisted of three activities:
(1) Request friends: Visiting MySpace profiles seeking members similar to GW‟s
target group and asking them to join GW‟s network.
(2) Join key groups: MySpace offers the opportunity to create or join affinity groups.
Since GW‟s target group is interested in Australian travel and travelling in general,
GW‟s MySpace joined travel groups that could generate traffic to its site.
 (3) Participate in forums: MySpace has travel related forums. GW answered
questions regarding travel in Australia and directed enquirers to GW‟s MySpace.
Fig. 2. MySpace profile for Go Workabout [Oct. 17, 2007]

4       Results
After three week‟s efforts of about 170 friend requests, joining seven travel related
groups and posting a comment in a MySpace travel forum, GW had 101 decent
friends. Friend requests worked best and brought in almost 95% of the new friends. In
addition to friends joining, there was a network effect whereby friends of friends
joined GW‟s profile.
About a dozen parasitic friends joined with no solicitation from GW or GW friends.
These friends tried to feed off their GW friendship for two unfriendly pursuits. One
group of parasites had a MySpace profile set up to sell pornographic images. The
other group of parasites posted misleading comments with no relationship whatsoever
to GW or travel in Australia. Their comments suggested easy ways to make money
and led users to sites promoting schemes whereby a mere $49.95 payment led to
untold riches.
Over 400 MySpace users viewed GW‟s profile and 47 people followed a link from
GW´s MySpace profile to GW´s website. Divided by the number of users that viewed
the MySpace site (405), the result was an encouraging 12% click-through rate and 100
times better than an average click-through rate of 0.11% for advertising banners on
web pages (Hanson & Kalyanam, 2007, p. 281). Of the total traffic to the GW´s
website for the two weeks in May, traffic from GW´s MySpace profile ranked sixth of
74 referral sites.
An analysis of GW‟s friends showed most were below 30 (81%) with more than half
(57%) females. Most friends (78%) were from four countries, in descending order:
USA, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Aside from individuals (82%),
musicians (11%) and other organisations (7%) became GW friends. There were ten
comments on Go Workabout‟s MySpace profile – four promoted their own profiles,
another four complimented Go Workabout‟s company feature or profile, and two sent
friendly comments. The majority of the comments were in May 2007, one in mid-
June, while two were in September and October.

5       Discussion and Conclusion
This exploratory study highlights possible benefits and drawbacks of businesses
creating a MySpace profile. One main benefit is that once a company‟s profile has a
big community, such as STA Travel‟s 12,000 friends in Facebook, it can drive traffic
to its main website and generate business for the company. Even with the short
period, GW had 101 friends and a high click through rate (12%) from its MySpace
profile to GW‟s website. This result suggests MySpace could reach a business‟ target
market and create awareness about the company and its services. The short two-week
duration of the study, however, is a limitation and a longer study could determine a
more reliable result.
The potential to market products via online social networks is enticing. Internet
research company ComScore reported MySpace had over 114 million members in
August 2007, a 72% increase from 2006 (Anonymous, 2007e). For companies that
target youth, MySpace is a great medium with the majority of its members being
teenagers and college students (Hansell, 2006).
Another benefit of a MySpace profile is gaining customer information and insights
through blogs. Members use blogs to share part of their lives with opinions about
others‟ profiles, interests and ambitions. Giving special attention to the blogs on
MySpace site could help businesses understand what is important and appeals to
users. GW could incorporate the insights to improve services, as well as communicate
about its services – online and offline.
A weakness of MySpace‟s blog feature is the need to monitor; anyone can post
negative comments about the company. Friends could view comments that may harm
the company‟s reputation and GW could lose friends and future business. Similarly in
company hosted virtual online communities, when online interactions create negative
feelings towards the company, community participation goes down (Nambisan &
Baron, 2007).
Secondly, monitoring must encompass the kind of friends in GW‟s network. In
addition to the GW experience with unfriends, an ongoing issue is false identities and
profiles in these social networks (Donath & Boyd, 2004). Some might use MySpace
for “glorification of drinking, drug use and sex” with provocative images and links to
many unsuitable activities for youth (Hansell, 2006). Therefore, GW must screen
friends‟ profiles twice a week so that GW will not have associations with unseemly
activities.
Another drawback is the requisite man-hours to create and maintain a profile. GW
should visit MySpace daily to maintain an appealing profile – by viewing others‟
profiles and editing its profile (Lenhart & Madden). Members should enjoy
interacting with GW and value GW as a friend. Table 1 summarises suggested
activities and time to maintain GW‟s MySpace profile. In a month, the suggested
maintenance time is twelve hours.

                      Table 1. Suggested Maintenance Activities

    Activities                     Maintenance      Minutes for     Monthly
                                   plan             each activity   minutes
    Revising comments                    Daily           10           300
    Updating friends                 Twice a week        10            80
    Updating bulletin                   Weekly           20            80
    Updating forum                      Weekly           20            80
    Updating new jobs offers            Weekly           30           120
    Updating pictures and videos        Monthly          25            25
    Updating events                     Monthly          35            35
    TOTAL time required                                               720

Aside from maintaining the website, GW needs more friends. GW should send a
promotional email to customers and leads in the GW's data base asking them to visit
and join GW's MySpace. Thanks to network effects, the larger the community the
more credible the community seems and the more people join (Hanson & Kalyanam,
2007).
One weakness of social networks is that most users regard them as a way to contact
friends (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007) and may not consider social networks as
a means to gather product information or communicate with companies. These users
might be less willing to be friends with a company as another person. In addition,
some people restrict who can view their profiles or request them as friends. This
scenario limits the friends that a company can request, particularly during the first
stage when the company is increasing its social network.
More importantly, GW needs to evaluate the effectiveness of its MySpace profile
versus other promotional techniques. The company should keep evaluating its
performance in profiles viewed, number of friends and website traffic. GW‟s
management could then decide whether to maintain or expand its MySpace network
to get more friends, and eventually, customers.

6        Future Research
This case study applies to MySpace, not other social networks such as Facebook or
Hi5. Although MySpace is the global leader in online communities, website rankings
in Canada and United Kingdom, rank Facebook higher than MySpace (Alexa, 2007b).
Some businesses might want to change to another social network, or maintain profiles
in a few top networks and future research should examine business applications on
other social networks. Similarly, most online social network research is in the United
States but the United States‟ lead in Internet users has fallen from 48% to 22% in the
last decade (Hanson & Kalyanam, 2007, p. 72). Future research could examine Web
2.0 applications outside of the US.
Furthermore, as the understanding about this new online community is low,
companies face uncertainties using social networks. This is especially in relation to
whether users would want to be friends with them, how the users regard their business
friends, and whether these users will buy from their business friends. Although the
traffic from MySpace is high for GW, another study might not yield the same result.
Several studies of online communities centre on brands or special topics such as travel
(Muniz & O'Guinn, 2001; Nambisan & Baron, 2007; Stockdale & Borovicka, 2006).
Yet few studies examine who interacts or how they interact with brands and
companies in an online social network. For example, it would be useful to analyse a
company with a big community such as STA Travel and its business-generating
capabilities. Does the friendship businesses have with people relate to sales? Would
people be loyal to business friends and buy more travel products from their friends,
like the loyalty that made customers buy more frequently from the company that hosts
a virtual online community (Kim, Lee, & Hiemstra, 2004). For instance, would online
friends of STA Travel use its services to book for their travels or would they use
another online travel site? Would these friends visit STA Travel‟s branch or the
nearest offline travel agent?
Another worthy future research idea is the difference in responses to being friends
with a small business such as Go Workabout versus being friends with established
companies such as Lonely Planet and STA Travel. Are people more inclined to be
friends with brand names they recognise, or would they be friends with any business
that requests their friendship? Future studies could investigate users‟ loyalty to the
social networks and how may networks they join, to give insights towards users‟
attitudes and behaviours towards online communities.
To succeed, an online community could take steps to fulfil users‟ functional, social,
psychological and hedonic needs (Wang & Fesenmaier, 2004a). Therefore, a closer
study of Go Workabout, Lonely Planet and STA Travel‟s friends could determine
which needs to fulfil, and which needs to address to convert friends to customers.
The Adopted Page Rank (APR), a technique that quantifies the value of online
reviews and reviewers (Dwyer, 2007), could help investigate which businesses are
successful at gaining friends and customers. For example, APR could reveal which
postings give reviewers expert status and are more popular. Furthermore, due to the
rise of UGCs, the number of online „experts‟ has increased. A measure of what makes
experts popular and trustworthy would help businesses learn from these „experts‟ and
succeed in these UGC environments.
Other Web 2.0 applications that pose interesting possibilities for academic and
businesses are travel reviews, photos and video clips from websites such as
TripAdvisor, Flickr and YouTube. For instance, tracing travel arrangements made on
TripAdvisor according to reviews on the site could reveal reviewer persuasiveness.
This measure could indicate how each review influences users‟ travel decisions. As
for the motivation for posting reviews, research suggests the usual status seeking
behaviour offline is in place online (Lampel & Bhalla, 2007). However, further
research could unearth other motivations for writing reviews that might prove useful
in travel and tourism.

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