At media companies, 2018 might be remembered as the year that someone finally got data sharing right.
To be sure, there were some missteps. Facebook’s series of data scandals cost the social network around a quarter of its value. But Twitter, Google, Reddit, Snapchat, and even Facebook each tweaked their privacy policies to better balance advertisers’ interests with those of their users.
None, however, hit the mark quite like Spotify. Not only did Spotify proactively protect its users when third-party companies exposed their data, but the music-streaming service was widely praised for sharing user insights in interesting, safe ways.
What Spotify Gets Right
Spotify may not be a social media company, but its data strategy includes four tactics social media networks would do well to follow:
1. Give users a reason to share.
The problem isn’t that Twitter lets advertisers target its users via their own data (Spotify does that, too); the problem is that users have little reason to share that data. Spotify, by contrast, leverages user data to deliver multiple personalized features. Using machine learning, it creates Discover Weekly playlists customized to each user’s tastes. Spotify’s bottomless Daily Mixes suggest songs by genre, and its Release Radar keeps users up to speed on new releases by artists they follow.
2. Provide serious privacy controls.
After Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal broke this past May, the social network announced it would roll out a suite of new privacy tools. But while Facebook did debut a feature that allows users to access and download their data, it’s months behind on a “Clear History” tool. “That was not very simple, actually, in practice, for us to build,” David Baser, head of Facebook’s product privacy team, admitted to Recode.
Spotify, too, lets users download their data. But unlike Facebook, Spotify gives its users the ability to restrict or stop it from processing their personal data for advertising purposes. What’s more, Spotify allows private use, meaning that nothing the user does or listens to during the session will be shared publicly.
3. Share insights, not raw data.
The reason Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal attracted so much heat is because the breached information wasn’t meta-data; it was the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users. Users’ identities, friend networks, and even “likes” were exposed.
“Although Facebook didn’t intend for Cambridge Analytica to abuse access to user data, the social network is still very much on the hook for the actions of its partner,” Thomas Noyes, CEO of marketing data platform Commerce Signals wrote in Innovation Enterprise. “Fortunately, there is a safer alternative to sharing data: Sharing the insights that the data contains.”
Spotify, for its part, shares data only as Noyes suggests. Although the music service does allow advertisers to target listeners based on their psychographic and demographic traits, it doesn’t let them see the profile data of specific users. When Spotify does share user statistics, such as part of its popular “Wrapped” campaign, it’s in the form of insights rather than raw data points.
4. Be playful.
Seldom, if ever, does YouTube offer fun insights about its viewers. It certainly could: Which area of the country watches the most cat videos? Are men or women more likely to be watching during work hours? Do Millennials watch more music videos, or do Baby Boomers?
Again, Spotify’s “Wrapped” campaign shows how it’s done. In its third year, Spotify’s initiative both provides users with low-key takeaways from their listening history and informs its real-world advertisements. One of its recent billboard ads, for instance, jokes about God’s gender according to fanmade playlists: “God is a man” appeared on nine playlists, the music service calculated, while Ariana Grande’s “God Is a Woman” song appeared on 28,802.
Dutch media studies professor Robert Prey argues that granularity is the key to Spotify’s campaign. “We find that there’s incredible detail in the data,” Prey told Haley Weiss, editorial fellow at The Atlantic. “There’s all this information: everything from what brand of headphones you’re listening to music on, to if the volume was changed within songs, whether or not you resize the app’s windows.” Given that YouTube offers a similar service, serves 1.3 billion users, and streams 5 billion videos per day, it could almost certainly follow Spotify’s lead.
Despite being a smaller firm than media giants Facebook and Google, Spotify took the lead this year in data management. The streaming service won, however, not because it collects the most data or has the most advertising partners, but because it puts its users first. That doesn’t mean kicking advertisers to the curb, as Spotify has shown; it means realizing that, without users, there wouldn’t be data to share at all.