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Apple Music (Dis)Connect: How Apple Turned a Deaf Ear to Audience Behavior

In case you haven’t already heard ad nauseam, last week, Apple announced its on-demand streaming service, Apple Music. Apple will compete with Spotify and Tidal to provide the best music-streaming experience for listeners. As if this wasn’t ambitious enough, Apple Music wants to become the premier way fans communicate with and follow musicians. Enter Apple Music “Connect.”

That’s right, Apple is taking another crack at music-centered social, and I bet you’re excited to find out what sort of innovative features it’ll be serving up. Unfortunately, if you’ve used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or Tumblr to follow and communicate with your favorite musicians, you’ve pretty much used Apple Music Connect. Connect is simply a platform for short-form posts, video, photo, and audio content being framed as a social network.

Good Content Is Good Content, Right?

Now, I’m not here to nay-say Apple; rather, I’m inviting us all to think critically about how and where we distribute content. Content is and always has been about “the people,” your audience. Their preferences should inform each aspect of your content marketing strategy from thematic, editorial, and creative direction to website development and content distribution. If your audience is on mobile, your content should be optimized for mobile viewing. If your audience likes fast cars and action, you’d better serve some up. If your audience is on Pinterest, you should figure out how to leverage it.

Apple tried (and failed) once before to launch a social network, but now they’re focusing on exclusive content from artists to keep users engaged. So, let’s take a look at the content:

Apple Music Connect Content from Pharrell resembles Instagram, Twitter, Soundcloud and YouTube.

If you break down this image, it looks like little more than a couple of Instagram photos, a Tweet, a Soundcloud post, and a YouTube video.

So how exactly is Apple Music Connect doing anything differently or better than these other platforms people and artists have already adopted? It’s not. In fact, Apple is asking artists to post content on Connect that would have otherwise been posted on sites like YouTube and Instagram. They’re paying artists like Drake to lure their fans to Connect with exclusive content—even though exclusivity is rarely anything more than temporary these days. If exclusive content is the number one selling point for your social platform, your social platform probably isn’t necessary, and your users will certainly notice.

Learn from the Past

You’ve probably heard of Vevo, but you might think of it as “that logo in the corner of music videos on YouTube.” Vevo launched as “the Hulu of music videos.” Unfortunately, it turned out that nobody really asked for or wanted a Hulu for music videos, and as a result, people ignored it as a video platform. Listeners wanted to watch music videos on YouTube, not Vevo. That was OK, though, because Vevo is owned by Universal Music Group, who owns the rights to quite a lot of music videos (read: exclusivity). Vevo eventually conceded that it wasn’t going to be adopted as a video platform, so they cashed in as a publisher, distributing their content through YouTube.

People who used a smartphone to listen to music in the past seven days overwhelmingly use YouTube and Facebook to consume video content.

User Behavior Matters

Artists use YouTube to share video content and fans search for it there. Artists use Twitter to share micro-posts and their fans know to follow them there. Artists use Instagram to share backstage photos and “from-the-road” candids, and fans are right there to see it. All of which is to say, fans prefer to consume content in an omnichannel environment—and that’s how artists often prefer to share, as well.

Drake promotes Apple Music Connect and his appearance at WWDC on InstagramWhat an artist shares via Twitter or Instagram isn’t necessarily intended for exactly the same audience as something they might share on their Soundcloud, such as a rough-cut of a new track. The people have spoken, and they like their content omnichannel, but purposeful. No one asked for another social platform, on a separate app to which artists will syndicate their other social posts.

Drake said it best at Apple’s WWDC event, “The dream of being an artist like myself and connecting directly with an audience has never been more close and reachable than right now.” In fact, Drake, it’s so close and reachable that it’s already here, and you’re using it to promote your appearance at WWDC right this second—on Instagram. This perfectly sums up the paradoxical existence of “Connect.”

Listen and Be Rewarded

The most insulting thing a brand can do is ignore their audience. (Oh, you don’t want U2’s new album automatically downloaded to your phone? Sorry about that.) This introduces three undeniable facts that innovative brands must eventually concede to:

  1. What your audience cares about is more important than what you think they (or want them to) care about.
  2. What your audience likes to do is more important than what you think they (or want them to) like to do.
  3. How your audience does things is more important than how you think they (or want them to) do things.

Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr are three examples of brands that completely changed their product to respond to user behavior (from a location-based check-in app, a podcasting platform, and a massively multiplayer online game, respectively). These pivots paid off big time, and there was no need for hard feelings. Apple Music Connect ignores the fact that users don’t want to connect with artists through Apple—and that trying to force them with exclusive releases isn’t sustainable.

I might be wrong about Connect, but everything I know to be true tells me otherwise. My suggestion is that you work with your audience, not against them. Listen, pay attention to their behavior, and meet their needs. Above all else, remember that when it comes to content distribution—and Web-property building—your users are priority number one, no matter how cool the idea sounds to you.

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