What news companies can learn from breakout start-ups like Spotify


Some of the most exciting start-ups from the last few years have produced social platforms or apps that many consumers now rely on daily.

What do they all have in common?

  • They were founded by tech geniuses with a hunger to bring something new and exciting to the world.

  • They have a non-traditional, accessible revenue model, such as “freemium.”

  • And they have seamless social functionality that enables them to achieve rapid audience growth, fan recruitment, and promotion.

I want to take you back just two years ago to have a look at one of the winners of The Telegraph’s Start-Up 100 Tech Awards in 2011: Spotify.

The company’s ongoing success since its original launch in 2008 has transformed it from a promising start-up to a global commercial music-streaming service with more than 1,000 employees.

It is hard to imagine a time when we listened to music without Spotify. With millions of songs, instant listening, and only the odd advertisement to listen to, it is fair to say this former start-up helped change the way that we listen to music.  

Furthermore, Spotify’s influence has continued to grow as an “all-you-can-eat” music service (the pay model is free or unlimited at £10 per month).  

Also, following the Grammys last month, several artists saw a huge increase in their Spotify traffic, which also drove social sharing. And, parallel to that, Spotify released its Grammy predictions based on user data — and some went on to win!

With its mobile app also launching last year, the company can only see more success in 2014.

It is notable that Spotify’s “freemium” models have paved the way for many more music services with plugged-in social features. There is certainly a new generation of music services flourishing, such as SoundCloud, which is an online audio distribution platform that enables its users to upload, record, promote, and share their (or other users’) originally created sounds with the community and their activity with their social networks.  

The platform has now reached 200 million users worldwide and it is clear to see why users cannot get enough. Audio content is original, shareable, and can be saved to several personalised playlists, which users then use to recruit followers.

I have only three followers, which makes me question my taste in music. But I have noticed that almost every time I listen to music through SoundCloud, someone I am connected to via a social network will like or comment on my activity. Often, that person will go on to listen to the same track, which helps drive traffic to SoundCloud, extending its reach of followers.

Put simply, what we can learn from these commercially sound start-ups is that social media has the power to increase a company’s influence and reach of different audiences. A company that has an older audience but seeks a younger following could use social media to tap into different passion points, through apps, free services, or exclusive offers.

The Telegraph, for example, offers different edited versions of its digital content based on platform, with careful formatting of its products so users can have a good experience when accessing the product via different outputs. The result is each platform has a different audience, which has meant growth through innovation.

The main takeaway is that perhaps news brands need to act more like start-ups in order to grow and find new audiences.

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