With tens of millions of users (but probably not the purported 100 million), MySpace.com is a force to be reckoned with. Especially when you consider that MySpace apparently drives more traffic to online retailers than MSN Search, according to some recent Hitwise data.

But MySpace is hard for many of us adults to get our heads around. It just doesn't seem logical: How does it hold the interest of so many young people with short attention spans, despite the fact that the design/usability is so atrocious, the Web page creation platform is so frustratingly restrictive, and it's chock full of so many profiles that are obviously fake, spam, duplicated, or abandoned?

"Um, it's about looking cool, fitting in, and hanging out, Duh!" one might imagine a teen MySpace user answering.

Then where do us adults feature in this? Besides offering a tempting place for stalkers and voyeurs to hang out and follow the daily lives of the teenagers who haven't made their profiles private (can you say "Creepy!"?), MySpace is host to concerned parents trying to keep tabs on their kids, college students, obsessed sports fans, and realtors. In other words, the Average Joe or Jane. MySpace is a real slice of humanity.

Of course within the MySpace ecosystem exist marketers. But most are clueless. One would expect sophisticated MySpace presences from big brand marketers. However, that is usually not the case. And generally those that are present, like Blockbuster UK, 7Eleven, and Meijer, lack key ingredients for MySpace success—like an impressive number of "Friends."

What is probably horrifying to these brand marketers is that employees and customers think nothing of developing a MySpace presence on behalf of the company—one that may not be very flattering. Consider, for example, these unofficial MySpace pages for Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target. Undoubtedly, this leads to customer confusion, because it can be difficult to ascertain the author of a MySpace profile. And such unauthorized pages can tarnish the company's reputation, depending on their content.

Before you leap in to MySpace as a marketer, you'd best understand it. Because if you don't, the MySpace community can turn on you the moment you make your first misstep. Just like bloggers can. (Note: many MySpace users are bloggers too. MySpace supports blogging within its platform.) The cardinal rule in MySpace is the same one as in the blogosphere: Keep it real.

Still, despite the hazards, MySpace offers a lot promise as a venue for marketers to hawk their wares. MySpace allows you to interject yourself into existing networks of trust-based relationships and to bond with your visitors in ways not possible elsewhere on the Web. And you can interact with huge numbers of adults, not just teenagers. Surprisingly, more than half of MySpace visitors are age 35 or older, and more than two-thirds are age 25 or older, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Do you have what it takes to crack MySpace? The most unlikely of marketers seem to have it—bars, bands, and quirky dot-coms. One of my favorite examples of MySpace marketing is Project Red. Not only is Project Red a world-changing organization on a mission to defeat AIDS in Africa, its MySpace profile is attractive and engaging.

Other noteworthy examples come from Apple Computer, the Brooklyn Museum, Drumz Clothing, the Orlando Magic, the movie studio that produced Superman Returns, the comedy character Borat, and the musical artist "Weird Al" Yankovic.

A couple of these I've been tracking for several months, watching the size of their networks expand. First, consider Apple Computer. Its various flavors of iPod Nano have a place on MySpace, e.g. Pink Nano, which is enjoying a meteoric rise in Friend status. I started tracking Pink Nano on October 15, when it had 1,500 MySpace friends. A week later, on October 22, it had climbed to 7,449 friends. On October 27, it was up to 37,070 friends. Now, on December 3, as I write this article, it has reached 55,776. Not a bad marketing job, Apple!

Now consider the "comeback king" of musical parody—"Weird Al" Yankovic. He's using social media quite successfully to help breathe new life into his 27-year-long music career—thanks, in no small part, to YouTube and MySpace. Yankovic told Reuters/Billboard in a recent interview that he had accumulated 155,000 MySpace friends since he joined the site in July—all of which he had personally added. He stated, "I used to be a little pickier. Now I just kind of click as fast as I can." (I can only imagine the Repetitive Stress Injury from that much clicking!) Here's the kicker: a week after this article came out, he was already up to 219,033 friends! Another seven days later, and Weird Al had gained another 24,000 MySpace friends (up to 243,221). Now, on December 3, it's at 325,614!

One small company that has enjoyed a degree of success in terms of traffic and sales through MySpace is the online jewelry retailer Pugster. Its mascot, a pug dog named Pinky, is the subject of the MySpace profile—a clever move, as it puts a disarming "face" to the company. The firm built up its MySpace page to a very respectable 8,053 friends. In a recent interview with me, Michael Boldin from its online marketing team revealed some secrets of their success:

  1. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer numbers on MySpace—and important to try to focus on marketing to the "right" group for your product or service — otherwise you'll be spending a LOT of time on people who will never be interested in you.

  2. But, on the other hand, when starting off, you need to get Friends. It's kind of a bragging right on MySpace. If you have too few friends, it'll be tough to get the good ones—the ones who will end up buying from you. So, before you go after those, get a few hundred "bad" friends—bands are the easiest. They'll give you a respectable number on your Friends list, and will leave comments on your page—giving a little realism boost to your profile—making the addition of friends of the "good" type that much easier.

  3. Where else could we find a place to actually build relationships with people—who may or may not have heard of us before. We spend time daily emailing people, and guess what, they email back. It becomes the ultimate soft-sell tool.

  4. Have patience. Without a huge brand presence, don't expect to turn profits. The only investment is your time. As long as you regularly give people something interesting—blogs, music, and other tidbits that AREN'T related to your business—then you'll develop enough trust for them to be interested in what you DO sell.

  5. Keep it personal—talk with the people as if you'd email a new friend. Say "Hi," get to know them, and they'll want to get to know you. If you try to sell, sell, sell, you'll have a hard time earning respect on MySpace.

  6. As far as layouts, there are a few "schools of thought"—one says make it fancy and high end, but the other, and seemingly more successful one, says simplicity is best. Since people are browsing through so many profiles with the same layout, they look for certain features in certain places. If you move too many things around, you'll frustrate your visitors and they'll leave. Make it intuitive and easy, just like a good e-commerce site.

  7. If there's anything a "seasoned" MySpace user hates it is a slow page. The MySpace site has loads of slow loaders. You may get friends with a lot of stuff on your page, but they won't actually spend the time to interact with you.

You know who else gets MySpace? Site owners like this one who provide layouts, backgrounds, funny photos etc. to the MySpace community. Those folks are sitting back, sipping pina coladas and watching the moolah from Google AdSense roll in.

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image of Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer is the founder of Science of SEO and an SEO expert, author, and speaker.

LinkedIn: Stephan Spencer

Twitter: @sspencer