Spotify Takes Its Follow Button Outside Its Walled Garden, Lets Fans Follow Musicians And Others From Anywhere

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Following the launch of its Play music-playing button last year, today Spotify took one more step outside of its walled garden: it has launched a new Follow button, a widget that can go on any desktop or mobile page, not just pages within Spotify itself (as the Follow button previously used to work), to let users follow other profiles within Spotify.

By clicking on it, a user can follow others on Spotify — be they artists, other users, music magazines or blogs or labels — and then get updates from them in their Spotify activity streams. Spotify’s Follow button will work much like those from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks, and is intended to sit alongside them on websites. That is not an accidental similarity: Spotify’s ambition is to be — as Twitter is for real-time conversation, or Facebook is for more lean-back social interactions, or LinkedIn is for networkers — the default platform for all social music interaction. That’s a position it has already been cultivating with its App Center, its Spotify Social feature, the pre-existing, in-Spotify Follow button, close Facebook integration and more.

The Follow button will serve a few other crucial purposes, too: for those who are not already using Spotify, it will encourage them to download it. For those who are already Spotify users, it will continue to bring the service front and center to their minds, and give them potentially more reasons to return to it. And there is a B2B angle here, too: for the labels, artists and others who appear on Spotify, it places the music streaming service as a more effective marketing platform, highlighting how Spotify may choose to exploit that more commercially in the future.

All of these are essential for Spotify right now, as the company reportedly is working on raising a new round at a $5.3 billion valuation. It is still a loss-making service, so adding more users can help it either beef up numbers for better advertising revenues; or for potentially upselling unpaid users into its paid, premium tiers. Improving relationships with labels and artists by giving them more ways to promote themselves, meanwhile, builds Spotify’s profile as a marketing vehicle (not unlike what Twitter has been doing by building bridges with the broadcast industry).

Spotify tells me that the Follow button will start appearing everywhere beginning today, both on desktop and mobile, just as the Play widget is already. Some, such as app maker Playlists, says it embedded the button yesterday and will be promoting it as a button for its members to enhance their profiles (like this).

The Follow button, Spotify notes on its developer pages, comes by way of a piece of code that a developer plugs into a website.

When visitors to that site are logged in to Spotify and click a Follow button, the artist or user is added to the profiles they already follow. If the user does not have a Spotify account, they get prompts to create one. If they do but it’s not launched, they get a prompt to launch it.

For those who are in regions where Spotify is not yet active (it’s currently in 39 countries), users will get a note saying that the service is not yet available in their market.

Spotify has created code for the button to appear with and without profile pictures. Here’s how the enhanced button looks (the pared-down version is illustrated above):

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 10.28.39

This becomes the second widget that Spotify has created to exist outside of its walled garden, adding to the Play feature that lets users listen to Spotify-based tracks anywhere on the web via an embeddable player. By launching it, it’s taking a step ahead of other rivals like Rdio, which also offers following features but not the ability for them to be added across other sites.

While all of the above are obvious benefits, there are also some challenges in the Follow button, too: it’s not clear how well Spotify’s other social features are performing so far, and there are some signs that they may not all be doing that well. For example, one of the company’s closest app makers, Soundrop, is looking to move away from simple music discovery as a service, and more into targeted, marketing-led experiences, with claims that too many are already trying to provide “discovery” these days.

Furthermore, there can be drawbacks to adding widgets like these to web pages. “Another third-party collecting your audience data, slowing your site,” noted Raju Narisetti, SVP of strategy at News Corp., in response to the new Follow button launch.