In part 1 of this two-part article, Cliff Kurtzman looked at how MySpace and the social networking industry in general had evolved. In the second part, Cliff examines how he has applied what he has learned and observed to the MyCityRocks testbed, which he launched in Houston in 2005.
In October 2003, I created something called Houston Rocks! as an experiment in promoting the Houston art and music scene and in building a new kind of community on top of an Internet-based social network. The Houston Rocks! experiment became a huge success in the Houston area, but I realized that as a single-city endeavor it was limited in potential. So, in 2005, I expanded the concept into the development of the MyCityRocks testbed, with multiple objectives.
First, as someone who has consulted and been involved in the development of online communities since the onset of the online marketing industry in 1994, I didn't want to just sit in an ivory tower and write about others... I wanted my own testbed to experiment with and generate useful things to write and speak about.
Second, I felt (as I discussed in part 1 of this article) that although MySpace clearly was very successful in many areas, it also held weaknesses in terms of its brand perception, depth of relationships with its members, its failure to really address offline behavior spawned by online connections, and its ability to make strong ties into local communities and with local advertisers.
Third, I also realized that in the early days of the Internet, the focus was on business models that created the tools (e.g., Netscape) and the network (e.g., Worldcom). Over time, the tools and the networks became commodities, and people realized that the greatest value came from those business models that could use those tools to provide engaging content and interactivity.
This echoed a similar evolution that had happened many years earlier with television, where over time those businesses providing content and programming (e.g., ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) eclipsed those companies manufacturing televisions and broadcast equipment. Similarly, as Web 2.0 technologies mature, over time it is inevitable that the enterprises providing the greatest value will focus on how the tools are used to engage people in their communities, rather than on the underlying tools and networks themselves.
The result was more that I had ever expected. MyCityRocks has continued to grow and thrive as a totally volunteer-driven effort, and our new-member acquisition has recently expanded into 100 cities worldwide. We still have a long way to go and much to learn, but our results to date are encouraging indeed.
MyCityRocks was developed around three simple themes:
- Having fun—helping people enjoy their passions for things like music, art, food, sports, romance, and travel
- Giving back—helping individuals make their part of the world a better place
- Representing—enabling people to share their passion and spirit for life with those around them
As someone recently noted to us after reviewing the venture: "As a general rule, folks are more and more wanting to 'plug in' in a positive way—'doing well while doing good'—and they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves."
This has proven to be a powerful message, one which has already resonated in many cities around the world as other markets have observed what we have done in our Houston testbed and asked us to come into their cities.
We strive to operate the venture in a manner that people will perceive as being passionate, spirited, caring, sexy, smart, daring, fun, fast, tenacious, and cool. At the same time, we've put a lot of effort into avoiding the "Girls Gone Wild" kind of brand associations by showing how it is cool and sexy to be smart and safe in the ways in which one has fun.
In April we kicked off a program called ROCK SAFE in partnership with a crisis center called The Bridge Over Troubled Waters, which is working with us to help educate people in to how to engage in safe online behavior.
The people who join MyCityRocks often become evangelists, spreading the buzz to their friends about the venture and what it is doing in their city. Each of us wants to be able to represent that our part of the world is a great place to live. MyCityRockers believe that every individual can contribute to making their own part of the world "ROCK." Not just in terms of music, but also in terms of culture, living conditions, health, economics, and human rights.
Grassroots social engagement is a powerful force in shaping our society, and we designed this venture to provide a framework for making it all happen that is fun, fulfilling, and exciting. But, in the end, the company is merely a facilitator. It is the actions of the MyCityRocks members that make the greatest difference.
Strong brands generate engaging stories that make a difference in people's lives. MyCityRocks continually strives to tell stories (and even better, facilitate letting its members tell stories) about what is being accomplished, both through words and pictures. As buzz has spread about what we are doing, a variety of articles have come out talking about various aspects of the venture. Feel free to check out some of the links:
- MyCityRocks on AD:Tech Podcast
- Group Helps Teens 'Rock Safe' Online
- MyCityRocks Is All About Community
- MyCityRocks, where the Audience Works
- Business and MyCityRocks
A long-term objective for MyCityRocks is to form a global community of tens of millions of members who are intensely loyal to supporting the brand and the mission of the organization. Deep relationships with a broad subscription base then allow the development of a wide variety of products and services associated with individual and group preferences.
We are also working to develop novel and socially relevant and exciting ways for businesses to reach out to and engage consumers though the network. Our members are people who are passionate about enjoying life to the fullest, and making their city the best place it can possibly be to live, and they want to support businesses with similar values.
So far, MyCityRocks has avoided the necessity of taking in outside investments like the ventures listed in Part 1 of this article have required. To have been able to achieve what we've done over the past year entirely by bootstrapping from nothing is a virtually unheard of accomplishment in the industry.
We've funded all of our activities out of the revenues we have generated. Without impatient investors pressing for a quick return on their investment, we've had the luxury of focusing on testbedding the different pieces of the puzzle that will need to come together to allow us to scale the venture to profitability.
Our goal was to create a degree of brand affinity so strong and so much fun that people would flock to support the venture, and in fact our operations are driven by a team of volunteers who find the experience of being a part of MyCityRocks to be exceptionally fun and rewarding. (If you are interested in learning more about how this kind of brand experience is achieved, I refer you to the excellent book Brands that Rock: What Business Leaders Can Learn from the World of Rock and Roll by Roger Blackwell and Tina Stephan.) The disadvantage of not taking in outside funding, of course, is that it can leave one rather resource-constrained when trying to test and implement new member features and benefits. For many of the things that we would like to do and test, the up-front costs of implementation are simply too great to do without funding, and many of the income streams don't become viable until the venture reaches a necessary scale. As we start to expand into additional cities, bringing in outside investors may become a necessity.
This past year has been an interesting and exciting journey indeed. The next year promises to be an even greater adventure.