What’s the Next Social Network? Think Music

Opinion: Consumers are ready to accept brands on their favorite streaming platforms

Nielsen found that on average, Americans spend more than 32 hours per week listening to tunes
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We plug into it with our closest friends, dance to it with complete strangers and discuss it among our newest acquaintances. There’s no doubt about it: Music is a deeply powerful connection point for humans.

Nielsen found that on average, Americans spend more than 32 hours per week listening to tunes. And by mid-2017, they had already requested 184 billion streams via on-demand music streaming platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify, a 62 percent increase from the same mid-year mark in 2016.

Music platforms are poised to be the next social media frontier. With 159 million users (and counting), Spotify has already accomplished the user growth that sinks so many aspiring social networks. Now, social marketers just need to capitalize on it.

In the age of mixtapes, music lovers wanted to know what their best friends were listening to. Today, they want to connect with their favorite influencers and brands in the same way. By treating music streaming as a new type of social network, brands can connect with consumers on a deeper level and inspire stronger loyalty among fans.

Music as a social network

Modern consumers expect brands to take stances on social issues, politics and styles of humor. It’s only natural that they now expect companies to demonstrate a taste in music.

Recently, some brands have built personalized playlists to boost engagement with their target demographics.

Carnival Cruise Line, for example, has a Spotify playlist filled with upbeat summer tunes to immerse followers in the cruise experience—whether they’re on a ship or not.

And after the premiere of Stranger Things 2, Spotify and Netflix paired up to create musical profiles for 13 of the show’s characters. Using individuals’ listening data, Spotify matched fans with character playlists that best fit their listening habits.

Music extends the reach of these brands to a level not achievable through other social media channels. The playlists match consumer moods to popular tunes that align with the company’s values. Listeners can share Spotify playlists on other types of media, stretching free exposure even further.

Consumers who stream music are valuable prospects. They’re twice as likely to pay more for a brand than non-streamers, and nearly three-quarters of them are more likely to describe a certain brand as the only one for them. When brands seize the opportunity to connect with consumers through jam sessions that don’t feel like sales pitches, they’ll come out on top.

For example, Anytime Fitness leveraged Pandora to build brand awareness and drive foot traffic to gyms for the company’s Free Workout Saturdays promotion. A post-campaign case study found that by targeting an audience of fitness enthusiasts on their mobile phones, the brand was able to boost overall awareness by 22 percent and awareness for Free Workout Saturdays by 44 percent.

The future of brands in music

In the next few years, music streaming and brands will evolve together. Social marketers should prepare for these upcoming changes:

  • Streaming services will steal features: Just as Facebook and Instagram borrowed Stories from Snapchat, music streaming services will lift social tricks from one another. Spotify killed its messaging program because of low engagement, but with better execution, features like this could drive users to one platform over another.
  • Audio marketing will gain on video: As devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo become more common, social music will blossom in homes around the world. According to research from Nielsen, audio advertising might boast the highest return on investment of any format. For every $1 spent on audio advertising, studied brands saw $6 in sales increases within one month of listeners hearing their ads. No one will listen to Spotify playlists full of sales jingles, but if people’s ears continue to guide their wallets, brands can’t afford to stay silent.
  • Deep learning will increase personalization: Pandora and Spotify strive to provide users with the best song recommendations. Thanks to improvements in machine learning, they’re getting better. Brands that follow the development of their audiences’ musical tastes could show up in users’ recommended feeds—but only if they keep their social music presence current.
  • Virtual reality will create new experiences: Music lovers already stream videos of their favorite concerts. What happens when they can strap on VR devices to sit in the front row at a live show? Brands should stay close to the intersection of music and technology so that they can pounce on promising opportunities like this.

Consumers are ready to accept brands on their favorite music streaming platforms. And brands that prepare for the future of social music today can gain an edge on the competition for years to come.

Dara Treseder is chief marketing officer at GE Ventures.