I’ve been a member of emusic, a great music download service, for a few years now (I had an argument with iTunes and vowed never to use them again, but that’s a long, exhausting story. Plus I didn’t think I should pay CD prices for downloads with an inferior sound quality).
Emusic doesn’t really have standard stuff, offering out-of-the-mainstream tunes from 11.000 or so independent labels, rather than the big four music companies, Universal, Warner Music, EMI and SonyBMG.
Because of that, you have to rely on the recommendations of the community – the other subscribers and the site’s crack team of journalists and commentators – to discover new bands and new music. And the result is an incredible social media site with astonishing liquidity and richness that has helped me discover a range of amazing people that I’d never heard of.
The site has also made some design changes in the last few weeks which have really improved what was already a fabulous site. As you can see from the screen grab, I get recommendations based on previous choices on my home page, links to content emusic thinks I would like (they’re nearly always right), as well as some general editorial and chart-related stuff .
The appeal of emusic has made me think about whether there are any lessons for B2B companies planning to exploit social media. Emusic is an Aladdin’s Cave of comment about all types and genres of music, and the company running the site has designed it to facilitate that. Ultimately it means they get more subscribers who buy more music. There are lots of B2B firms that would love such a passionate community.
Emusic is testament to the truth that members of a real community self-identify their issues and interests, rather than responding to the organizers’ opinions or strictures. Users are free to provide the content that makes this social network sing. And that attracts more people to the community. And that, in turn, attracts even more people.
Building a site like this requires a different mindset, one that starts with the users’ goals not the site’s. Rather than ‘build it and they will come’, it’s all about listening closely to what the community wants and then providing it. While to succeed, B2B sites don’t need the millions of members that emusic does – a few hundred of the right sort will do – this example shows that there’s just no point in trying to set the agenda for a community. It has to do it for itself. All you have to do is provide the place and an initial reason for coming. After that, if you get it right, group momentum takes over.
PS My top five discoveries on emusic in the last three years: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (sweaty NY noughties funk that amazingly sounds even better than the giants of the 60s); Quantic (salsa, bossa nova, plus soul and 49 other genres mixed into the freshest-tasting electronic soup); Thievery Corporation (acid jazz melded with rancid Indian grooves); Whitefield Brothers aka The Poets of Rhythm (heavy German (that’s right, German) afrofunk that blows your lederhosen out of the room); Orchestra Baobab (unbelievably lissom and deadly music from Senegal).