Product Case Study: Elevating Social Features on Spotify

Ashikka Gupta
11 min readJun 13, 2023

Introduction

With over 70 million songs and endless hours of audio content, Spotify has become the go-to destination for music lovers worldwide. Spotify controls 33% of the global music streaming market as of 2023. The market share of Spotify has steadily been between 32% and 43% over the last 5 years.

While it dominates the audio streaming industry, the app’s social features remain an area for improvement. Even after 14 years after its release, the only social feature that is available to users are playlist sharing, following other users, and a friends activity tab (available only on desktop). In this case study, we’ll explore enhancing social features within Spotify.

Clarifying Questions

The problem statement is quite open-ended, so let’s narrow it down by asking probing questions.

Business Objective

Spotify recently shook things up with its app overhaul. The new TikTok-esque video feature was meant to help users find new jams, but it sparked a heated debate online. After all, music listening is supposed to be a relaxing and passive experience; Spotify’s previous personalization features were a hit for that reason.

Source: Spotify

But here’s the thing: social apps attract the most weekly engagement. According to a 2021 report by App Annie, social networking apps lead the game with users spending an average of 50 minutes per day on them, followed by video apps at 30 minutes and games at 26 minutes. The fitness app Nike Run Club is a perfect example of the positive impact of social features on mobile app engagement. In fact, research confirms that social features have the greatest long-term effect on user engagement, and Nike Run Club’s social space looks almost like an Instagram clone.

These statistics highlight the importance of social features in driving deep engagement with an app. So, with mixed reactions from users, the question remains: is “TikTokifying” the app really the best way to increase deep engagement? After all, music is a form of entertainment that typically requires passive engagement — you hit play and sit back. To achieve greater user engagement, we need to consider integrating social elements that keep users coming back for more. This can help Spotify build a stronger community and increase its user base, which can ultimately help it to achieve its goal of becoming the world’s number 1 global audio platform.

Source: Spotify

User Segments

Let’s take a closer look at the diverse user segments on Spotify and their age groups before we jump into crafting effective solutions

There are a staggering 11 million artists and creators on Spotify and over 433 million active monthly listeners. Therefore, because of the sheer volume of monthly listeners, we will be focusing this case study on this massive audience. But that’s not all — to really tap into their preferences, we’ll also be dividing them by age group. The majority of Spotify users are young adults — mostly Millennials and Gen Z. In fact, 55% of users fall within the age range of 18–34!

Therefore, for this case study, we’ll be focusing on our target demographic: Millennials and Gen Z Listeners.

Pain Points

Prioritizing Pain Points

To make Spotify stickier, we need to be clear about our problem statement and business objectives before tackling pain points. Our goal is to boost deep engagement by improving social features, so we must focus on pain points that align with this vision.

We need to solve pain points 1️⃣, 2️⃣, and 4️⃣ as they lay the foundation for building social features to drive engagement. We’ll probably pick up the rest of the pain points as we’re solutionizing.

Solutions

Improved User Profile

Picture this: you’re on Spotify and you come across a user with a seemingly lackluster profile. All you can see is their name, profile picture, follower/following count, recently played artists, and public playlists (the last two you can opt-in/out of). You can’t really get a sense of their music identity or preferences beyond that. It’s like looking at a skeleton with no flesh or personality.

Compare that to other social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, where you can show off your personality through posts and photos. Even basic social media platforms have more to offer than Spotify’s current profile system.

But what if Spotify redesigned its profile page to be more engaging and personalized? We could add features like:

  1. Letting users add some extra personality to their Spotify profile by customizing it with avatars, banners, and bios. Similar to Snapchat’s Bitmoji, users can create their own digital avatar to show off on their profile and customize the themes and colors of their profile page much like Medium.
  2. Adding MBTI badges to Spotify profiles by exploring connections between music genres and MBTI personality types to discover their musical personality type! For instance, ISTP (Introverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving) types are often attracted to intense and energetic music genres such as heavy metal or punk rock.
  3. User-specific details like their top artists and songs (currently only visible the to user and not to others), time spent listening, genre preferences, mood and energy, listening streaks, and mood of the week based on your listening on the app in addition to what we already see on user profile’s today. This would be a great way to get a deeper understanding of your own music preferences and habits **[1]

💡 **[1] People are already asking for this feature. Check out Spotify’s community forum.

Leveraging Social Media

Presently, Spotify offers two main social personas: Followers and Friends.

  • Follower: Anyone using the Spotify app can choose to follow you, regardless of whether they are your friends or not. The feature is primarily meant for artists to notify their followers about new albums and music they release. Apart from this, followers currently have no use for normal everyday listeners.
  • Friend: On Spotify, you can find friends by logging in through Facebook. This allows you to add friends who are also on the app and connected to you on Facebook. When you add someone as a friend on Spotify, you can view the music they are listening to on the application if they are online.

As you might have already guessed, it seems the current system has problems:

  • All friends are followed by you but also followers need not be your friends. Confusing right?
  • You have no control over who follows your profile. The only way to get rid of unwanted followers is to block them individually.
  • Following your friends has no real benefit unless they are also artists, which most people, aren’t.

We can combat these issues by introducing a few new features listed below.

Introducing “Private Accounts” 🚫

Just like in other social media platforms, this feature allows you to control who sees your profile and approve who can follow you. Say goodbye to creepy followers and enjoy the freedom of managing your privacy. And don’t worry, if you prefer to keep things open, you can always keep your profile public too.

This feature has an added goal: It will simplify the concept of friends and followers, to just one unified “follower”, similar to Instagram’s model. This will be much easier for people to wrap their heads around, and will hence be actually used by listeners.

Better Social Integrations 👬

Spotify uses Facebook as an authentication method and also to personalize recommendations based on your Facebook profile data, so why not take it a step further? We can think about using Facebook for follower recommendations. We could also use this data to provide personalized music recommendations based on the listening habits and preferences of users’ friends. For example, Spotify could automatically create a playlist based on your friend’s listening habits!

Since platforms like Twitter, and Instagram are growing in popularity, Spotify could also introduce new authentication mechanisms and friend discovery through these platforms too! This would be very useful in the current social space, where people use multiple platforms and are not just limited to a single one. Facebook might have been the “it” social media platform, 10 years ago, but these newer platforms would provide much more value right now.

Share music with friends ↔

And here’s the cherry on top: sharing music seamlessly within the Spotify app itself! No more juggling between different platforms to share your favorite tunes. All your followers automatically receive a notification to view the content you share. Stay in the groove and keep the music flowing without any hassle.

Introducing “Feed”

Introducing an activity feed feature in Spotify would address several existing challenges (2️⃣, 3️⃣, 4️⃣, and 5️⃣) that we previously discussed in detail here. Previously, Spotify had a feature called “Friend Activity” that was available on desktops but had limited access to mobile devices. To enjoy this feature on mobile, users had to connect their Facebook profiles, add friends on Spotify, and browse their activity. However, why not simplify things and bring them all together in one convenient place?

Introducing the “Feed” button on the main navigation menu of Spotify! This nifty addition will include two tabs: “Posts” and “Activity.” Within these tabs, you’ll find an array of exciting features to enhance your musical journey:

Evaluating Solutions

Let’s assess our solutions using the RICE method — a popular framework for evaluation. We’ll consider Reach (potential user base and audience impact), Impact (enhancement of social features and user experience), Confidence (in estimated reach and impact), and Effort (resources and feasibility). This will help us prioritize the most effective methods and create an engaging Spotify experience.

Strategy Pros Cons Reach Impact Confidence Effort Score Improved User Profiles + Enhanced personalization

“Improved user profiles” has emerged as the top priority with the highest RICE score. As users curate their Spotify profiles, just like on popular social media platforms, the element of hype kicks in. Think about it — users will revel in the opportunity to personalize their profiles, showcasing their favorite artists, top playlists, and most cherished tracks. It becomes a personal statement, a reflection of their musical tastes and passions. Just like the much-loved “Spotify Wrapped,” this feature has the potential to become a hit phenomenon that captivates users and attracts new ones. By prioritizing the development of improved user profiles, we’re not only driving user engagement to new heights but also fostering potential user acquisition.

Next up, “Leveraging Social Media” and “Introducing Feed.” Both score 3/5 on the RICE scale, making them our second priority. They involve followers and should go hand in hand for easier testing. Picture the possibilities: seamless integration with social platforms, sharing with followers, and a dynamic feed for discovery. Therefore, it’s a good idea to develop and test these features together, creating an engaging experience that transforms Spotify.

GTM Strategy

I won’t delve into the detailed GTM strategy for these features in this discussion, as it deserves a dedicated blog post of its own. However, before introducing these features to the market, we need to conduct a round of beta testing with selective Spotify users. Their valuable feedback will be our secret ingredient for success as we fine-tune and perfect these features.

Once the beta testing phase is complete, we can focus on marketing and communication efforts. This includes launching social media campaigns and targeted advertisements that highlight how the new features significantly enhance the music-listening experience. And let’s not forget Spotify’s knack for localized marketing. We will take a page from their playbook and infuse our strategy with some serious local flavor. Think of catchy local ads that resonate with each unique market. We’ll create relatable content that speaks directly to their hearts, making Spotify feel like it was designed just for them. We might even join forces with popular local apps or platforms (like Spotify did with the immensely popular app Hike in Japan), building bridges that connect us to their vibrant music communities.

A Spotify Japan ad showcasing localized marketing

These features are going to be a game-changer, so we need to roll it out strategically. We’ll start by releasing it on specific platforms, like desktop or mobile, and specific geographies before taking it global, carefully managing the excitement and anticipation. To generate interest and increase adoption, we can leverage the power of influencers. Collaborating with influential individuals who have a strong presence in the music industry can effectively promote this feature. We can also collaborate with influential music bloggers or podcasters to curate playlists based on different MBTI personality types. This approach will help foster a connection between music genres and personalities, creating a unique and engaging experience for users. And, we shouldn’t forget it’s crucial to encourage user feedback through in-app forms or community forums, respond actively to suggestions, and analyze metrics to monitor and improve the feature’s performance.

Final Thoughts

Spotify’s current social features are limited, including social listening, collaborative playlists, sharing to social media, and friend activity (only on desktop). They previously had a direct messaging tool, but it was discontinued due to low engagement.

Exciting news emerged in February 2023 as Spotify began testing various versions of a “friends activity” tab on its mobile app. While still in the experimental phase, this test has already sparked enthusiasm among members of the test group, garnering numerous positive reviews. The anticipation and buzz surrounding this feature indicate that Spotify may be on the cusp of unveiling a new way to connect and engage with friends on their platform.

Last year, Spotify also tested a Community tab, offering a dedicated space to see what music friends were streaming and what playlists they updated.

Spotify knows that the path to greatness lies in striking the perfect balance with social features. Although they’ve encountered obstacles in the past, the company remains determined to enhance the user experience. However, they must be mindful of Meta’s fierce competition in the social graph arena. With this in mind, Spotify approaches social features cautiously, ensuring they bring innovation while staying true to their core strengths. By navigating these challenges thoughtfully, Spotify has the potential to create an exceptional social platform that sets them apart in the digital landscape. Let’s see how things turn out!

References

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