How Twitter #Music plays to the company's most important asset

commentary By promoting the celebrity and ingenue music makers on the platform, Twitter is defending its prized "follow graph" against competitors.

CNET

Twitter #Music provides people with a striking, and follower-inspired way of listening to music, but don't be fooled by its true purpose. This isn't just about music.

Twitter #Music is about augmenting its follow graph, an important asset that sets Twitter apart from Facebook and others, with explicit data on what members care about.

Twitter's follow graph is a phrase the company uses to describe the map that plots who follows whom. It's a hybrid of a social graph, or a chart of how people relate to other people, and an interest graph, which diagrams how people relate to interests. Twitter's graph is a blend of the two because accounts aren't necessarily people -- they're often bands, memes, television shows, businesses, and so forth. On Twitter, you don't just follow people you know, you follow the things you care about.

Twitter has already deemed this graph, unique from Facebook's social graph, to be of such proprietary value that it won't let competitors such as Instagram or Tumblr touch it . Twitter has no desire to share its graph, the relationships and the tastes hidden behind your follows, with others who could collect that data and sell it to advertisers themselves. Twitter cut off Instagram, in particular, because it also has a strong celebrity contingent, a follower model, and is growing like crazy. At the time, Twitter's reason was this: "We understand that there's great value associated with Twitter's follow graph data."

With #Music, Twitter augments the follow graph by pushing people to press the follow button and share their tastes, a behavior that would allow for specific targeting should the company sell advertisements against these interest-based relationships. Twitter is featuring some of its most fascinating members and providing you with one reason to follow them: they make music you love. It's as if the company is proudly saying, "Hey, look at all the really cool people we have using Twitter."

twitter music
Twitter buttons scream: "Follow me!" Screenshot by Jennifer Van Grove/CNET
Did you notice that follow buttons and artist Twitter names are everywhere? How could you not? The buttons are overlaid on top of each track, and they make appearances on artist music pages. They just scream: "Follow me!"

You probably also noticed that Twitter publicly shames #Music users who don't follow many artists. Don't believe me? Just check out your "Me" tab, which highlights the artists you follow. If you're like me, and you've been using Twitter more for information and networking than for entertainment, then this page looks quite sad. "You can make it better. Just go follow some artists," Twitter is telling you.

All of these follow nudges, which at first appear as background to the more ostentatious music experience, are the meat of the application. They act to encourage people to to share with Twitter, and advertisers by association, exactly how they connect to music. There's also plenty of evidence to suggest that Twitter will apply this strategy, rooted in uncovering members' interests, to other entertainment areas such as television.

Twitter #Music magnifies the follow graph in such a way that the data asset, already valuable, would be hard for others to replicate.

I see this as an affront to Facebook's Instagram, which is a haven for tweens and teens , and a social platform beloved by celebrities. A music app that stimulates more interest-based follows is a way for Twitter to stake a claim to the one true follow graph, the way Facebook has done with the social graph.

Music also gives people, teens, and younger users in a particular, a very specific reason to try or revisit Twitter. Twitter #Music also gives the network more purpose for the group of passive onlookers who only turn to Twitter to read the news or see what their favorite Kardashian sister is doing.

These factors all tie back to Twitter's ability to appeal to advertisers -- and eventually shareholders. A taste-enriched follow graph gives Twitter a data advantage (over other social apps) with advertisers. A larger teen following keeps it current and hip; Twitter plays second fiddle to Facebook when it comes to teen appeal, according to a Piper Jaffray survey. And music listening should give people a reason to stick around longer.

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