Twitter #Music: Should You Play?
The debut of Twitter #Music (yes, the official product name is a hashtag) was big news last week. Twitter aimed high in its quest for pop culture popularity by rolling it out to celebrities the week before and then giving the scoop about the public launch to Good Morning America (which led to a bit of carping on popular tech blogs that normally cover this stuff first).
This is one more sign that Twitter aims to be your media hub and the arbiter of entertainment trends. In fact, the company is aggressively pursuing all types of media partnerships, making inroads with TV programs and studios (social TV) as well as the music industry.
The most important thing to know about Twitter #Music is that the app only works as a layer over other streaming music services. This is not obvious from most of the press coverage or the vague description on Twitter’s own blog. This means you need a paid subscription to Spotify or Rdio to play full-length songs. You can use #Music with iTunes (which seems to be the default if you have iTunes installed), but then you can only hear song previews. It is possible to get a free trial of Spotify Premium or Rdio Unlimited (both are $9.99 per month) to play with Twitter’s new tool without plunking down any money; you don’t even need to enter credit card data to sign up.
Right now, the Twitter #Music app is only available for iOS devices in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. No iOS device? You can use the Web version at Music.Twitter.com, which works within your browser. I actually prefer the Web interface because much of the text on the iPhone version is minuscule and the app is challenging to navigate.
The Value of #Music
Since you don’t actually get any music with #Music, you might be wondering what the big deal is. I’d say it’s all about discovery—which has been Twitter’s mantra off and on for years. It’s also about trends: macro and micro. For example, as more music fans migrate to streaming services and Twitter connects with more services to monitor usage and trends (it’s expected Twitter will expand the services it supports), it could easily become the 21st century version of the Billboard music charts.
Because Twitter can assess your connections with musicians and friends, it can also project what you might like on a personal level. Of course, you can do this without Twitter by connecting Spotify to your Facebook account, but Twitter offers more ways to slice and dice the data and arguably makes it more fun and seamless to share information with your network.
To see how it works, just navigate the main #Music menu, which is structured around discovery within five categories. The default is “Popular” music, which is unfortunate since most of us don’t need Twitter to tell us who is dominating the pop charts. “Emerging” is a mish-mash of artists with no context—presumably unknown artists (at least I had never heard of them). Like “Popular,” the list seems to be the same for everybody (I tested this on multiple Twitter accounts). I assume most of these recommendations are in the pop or rock music genres, though I didn’t click on dozens of random artists to find out.
The Twitter #Music menu guides you through suggestions from macro to micro.
Where #Music gets interesting is when you go further down the menu to get more granular results. If you’re already following a number of artists, “Suggested Artists” does a halfway decent job of recommending people you might like. That said, when I tested it with an account that is dedicated to music and follows many other musicians (my jazz vocalist alter-ego account @CarriBella), I felt like the suggestions could have been a lot more targeted. Indeed, it doesn’t appear that Twitter is incorporating data from lists. I think lists are a better indication of what is important to users than mere follows, so I hope Twitter incorporates this data into future recommendations.
If you’re not following bands or musicians, Twitter can’t offer smart suggestions. For example, I don’t follow musicians from my @socialTVtrends account and Twitter had zero suggestions for me. I don’t follow musicians from @CarriBugbee either, but Twitter suggested a bunch of (mostly British) musicians who were popular in the 80s. I can only guess that Twitter assumes @CarriBugbee is an Anglophile because I have tweeted about British TV shows. Likewise, I assume Twitter’s algorithm has ascertained that I’m old enough to have lived through the 80s. Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t gather overt demographic data from users, so it has to suss out user information in other ways. It is highly motivated to define and parse user data—particularly our interests—so it can offer effective, targeted ads (called promoted tweets or promoted trends).
Obviously, if you want #Music suggestions to be useful, you’ll have to start following musicians you like. If you need a place to start, you could use “Now Playing” to see what your friends are listening to.
The real sweet spot for Twitter #Music is the search function. On the iPhone app, the search box says “Search for Artists” but you can put any Twitter user’s name or handle in there to see the artists he/she is following. The Web platform just says “start typing to search” and it will start showing accounts before you are even done typing. That’s handy if you don’t know the exact spelling of real names or Twitter handles.
The search function was the single most illuminating thing about the app for me—with a few caveats. Many artists aren’t yet on Twitter and some musicians’ accounts aren’t following anybody and simply use Twitter as a broadcast medium (I’m talking to you, @DianaKrall!), so they have little to offer. As someone who has been training marketers, executives and entertainers on Twitter best practices for years, I cringe when I see this. I hope the launch of Twitter #Music will prompt some musicians (even famous ones) to use the platform differently. [Note: I’ll be covering how musicians can make the most of #Music in a future issue of Social Media Monthly.]
Setting it Up Requires Patience
Twitter #Music seems to be very much a beta product right now. I think it’s fine for geeks who are used to figuring out features and functions on their own, but it may frustrate people who aren’t technically savvy. Because I didn’t have paid streaming accounts set up (and Spotify login was buggy for me and many others on launch day), it took me over an hour to get #Music running—and I had to crowd source tips from friends to figure it all out.
The #Music iOS app isn’t intuitive, though after I used the Web version it made a little more sense. However, I doubt I would have spent that much time figuring it out if it wasn’t my job to know about all things Twitter. Given that, I have to wonder how many people will actually use #Music. I polled tech and social media experts about it and most were blasé.
The Future of #Music
Ultimately, Twitter #Music will turn musicians into taste makers (even more than they already are) by revealing who they follow and listen to. It will become essential for all musicians to be on Twitter and it should compel them to engage more. #Music could definitely drive greater platform usage by young people—as long as they have paid streaming accounts (which is a big question in my mind) and if they don’t give up during the arduous set-up process. Long term, this is yet another way for Twitter to gather big data to power its ad products and it helps the platform to further position itself at the intersection of social media and entertainment.
Should you try it? If you already have a paid subscription (or are ready to get one) to Spotify or Rdio and you don’t mind slogging through an overly complicated set-up process, go for it! And let me know what you think. If bleeding edge tech is not your thing, you might want to wait until Twitter makes #Music more user friendly.
Carri Bugbee is a social media marketing strategist, speaker and teacher as well as a Shorty-Award winning tweeter for Mad Men character @PeggyOlson. Carri will be launching a #TeamPeggy advertising adventure soon, which fans can sign up for now.