Lessons learned from Spotify’s social media strategy

If you make a business decision that causes your customers to say, “What were you thinking?”— or worse, “Cancel my account”— you probably need to rethink your strategy. This is true especially when the decision involves social media, and your goof is first rejected and then amplified by the very audience you’re trying to reach.

As you file this advice under “blatantly obvious,” consider that this scenario seems to happen with surprising frequency, perhaps due to a basic misunderstanding of customers’ relationships with social media.

Exhibit A is Spotify’s decision to require a Facebook account as a prerequisite to sign up for their online music streaming service. Spotify believes that their customers should prefer to share their listening preferences automatically on Facebook as part of the music “discovery” process.

If prospects want to sign up for Spotify and aren’t Facebook users, or don’t care to share their music with their 761 closest friends, they’re essentially out of luck, even if they’re willing to pay for the service.

What could go wrong with this plan?

A number of Spotify customers have made very clear their displeasure with this policy. Published reactions suitable for this family-friendly blog include the terms “stupid,” “bad idea,” “insane,” “moronic,” “how to ruin a good product,” “how to alienate your users in one fell swoop,” and “pathetic.” Some (former) users have even posted screen shots of their account cancellations.

You don’t need an MBA to know that this isn’t desirable customer feedback, especially for a new service (in the U.S.) that’s just exiting from its “invitation only” stage.

Many Spotify prospects and customers reject the idea of mandatory social media participation to listen to music. Others have security and policy concerns with Facebook in particular, and there’s the underlying reality that social media is essentially permanent. As plainly stated in The Social Network, “The Internet’s not written in pencil…it’s written in ink.”

Spotify forgot to remember that while social media is, well, social, it’s also a personal choice. Some people love Facebook, some live to tweet, some endlessly tweak their LinkedIn profiles, and some are serial bloggers. A common characteristic is that their choice and use of social media is an individual decision.

For every person whose life is a continuous social media post (why yes, that’s a really interesting photo of what you made for dinner last night, and thanks so much for tagging every participant at the Amalgamated Ferret Festival), there’s someone else who’d rather not share their political point of view and favorite inspirational quotes—or their musical preferences—with everyone or anyone.

What’s the key lesson regarding Social CRM to learn from this Facebook faux pas? Simply this: if you force your customers or prospects to modify their personal behavior in order to use your product or service, you risk losing business and alienating a potentially loud and passionate group.

Social CRM can be a powerful and effective tool to create and nurture customer conversations, but you’ll need to meet your customers where and how they choose to interact with you. Your role is to create the message; your customers and prospects will determine the preferred medium to make the connection.

If you ignore this lesson, you’ll diminish the effectiveness of your Social CRM efforts and potentially suffer the consequences of being called out via the same media you’re trying to use to reach your market. So make a plan to explore (test and measure) a variety of media and listen to your customers and prospects as you develop your Social CRM policies and procedures. You’ll then be much more likely to find that your Social CRM efforts are spot-on.

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With 17 years as a technology and business under his belt, Chris Bucholtz took over the role of editor in chief of the CRM Outsiders blog in 2011. He first focused on customer relationship management as the editor of InsideCRM, then moved to Forecasting Clouds in 2009 to continue honing his views on how the discipline of CRM can impact the entire business. Before developing into a CRM influencer, Chris covered a variety of technology-related topics. He was the editor of Semiconductor Manufacturing Magazine, senior editor of technology for VAR Business, senior editor at HP World and intelligence and software editor for Telephony. After a six-year stint in the U.S. Navy, his start in journalism came as a rock columnist for BAM Magazine. In addition to his business and technology writing, Chris has written three books on World War II aviation. An avid scale modeller, Chris and his wife live in Alameda, California.