Why Twitter wasn't trying to build the future of music

Twitter Music may not up-heave an industry but it does show that the micro-blogging company has its eye on building customer relationships and innovating in a sensible and calculated way.

Forrester Research

Twitter #music is now out and people are abuzz about how elegant it is while also murmuring about what it means that Twitter – a company with no direct music expertise – is providing a music service. At the highest level, some are asking the question: is this the future of music?

The answer is simple. No, Twitter has not built the future of music. But that wasn’t the point. Instead, Twitter is building the future of Twitter’s customer relationship. It’s a significant difference in goals and it shows other wannabe digital disruptors some of the most important principles of digital disruption that you can follow, whether the adjacent possibility you will pursue next on behalf of your customers is in music or house cleaning or education. Here’s what to learn from Twitter’s music service:

Build a customer relationship to acquire data

In a digitally disrupted world, the most important asset you have is a digital customer relationship that connects to customers as frequently as possible and generates as much of a data trail as possible. Twitter has spent years doing this for millions of users, many of them who touch the service daily. It was only after this step was successfully completed that Twitter could look beyond it. That’s already a lesson for just about everyone else.

Expand it by innovating adjacent possibilities

By giving its users plenty of ways to indicate interests and preferences – who they follow, which links they post, what they click on – Twitter then learns what’s the next thing people want. This is called innovating adjacent possibilities, starting with what users get from you today and then rapidly identifying what they want next. Just as YouTube saw that music video use was taking off and launched the very adjacent and successful VEVO music video service, giving the customer more of what the company knew they wanted. Twitter’s move into music is similarly based on knowing exactly how many users follow musicians, which musicians they follow, and how many music-related links get clicked. Armed with this knowledge, Twitter has built what its customers most want first, then it will gradually add other adjacent features and benefits.

Partner promiscuously to get there quickly

Even if you can accurately guess what the future of the music industry will look like, you couldn’t build it fast enough and at low enough cost to create that future. That’s why digital disruption calls for promiscuous partnership, prompting Twitter to work with companies like iTunes and Spotify. Yes, the company forgoes revenue in doing so, but it also ensures faster uptake and more immediate feedback. Innovating in this way, if a new service fails, it fails quickly and cheaply enough that you can retool and try again. Conversely, as Amazon has shown over the years, if it succeeds well enough, you can always choose to compete directly with the same partners you hooked up with to get there.

Measure success in minutes

When you add all of the prior points up, you understand that Twitter isn't building the future of music because music is not a product, it’s a feature of Twitter’s digital customer relationship. And the best way to measure its success is by the number of minutes users spend with it. This is what Facebook understands, first failing to drive minutes of use up with Timeline and now moving to its mobile phone home screen experience. Focusing on minutes instead of ROI when innovating is not about forgoing revenue, it’s about building a stronger relationship on which revenue can be ensured and expanded in the future. More minutes means more relationship means more revenue opportunity at lower future cost.

Digital disruption is happening everywhere and companies like Twitter understand that they can’t rest on their original disruptive moves to sustain them. The market’s changing even for them; it’s certainly changing for you, too. Your consumer’s attention is coming under assault from direct and indirect competitors every day. Building a digital customer relationship, learning from it what adjacent innovations to pursue, partnering promiscuously to get their quickly, and measuring success in minutes, will give you a chance to join the ranks of the digital disruptors.

James McQuivey, Ph.D., is a vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and the author of the book Digital Disruption. This article was originally published on the Forrester Blog Network. Republished with permission. 

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