You couldn’t have missed it if you tried. Dude with a sign even criticized it. Since the beginning of December Instagram has been flooded with people sharing their musical year in review. If I were giving out awards for best viral campaign of the year that involved exactly zero marketing dollars, the winner would easily be Spotify’s Wrapped.

I’ve written about how incredible Spotify is. It overcame formidable odds to provide unlimited access to all the music out there and in the process became my the most important app in my life. I would give up connecting with friends on Facebook, answering my questions on Google, and even getting directions on Google Maps than give up Spotify. (I would rather be lost with music than going in the right direction without it).

One of the reasons why Spotify is so amazing is the way it uses data. My Discover Weekly playlist is laser-focused on my tastes and is the first thing I open on Monday mornings. Release Radar provides a complement on Fridays with extra music from artists I’ve listened to.

Playlists are divided into ever-more niche categories. People follow those playlists which are regularly updated by curators. Then people snag songs they like into their own playlists. People also seek out the music they love (hello, Beatles catalog!). Each action represents a data point and the human element is continuously feeding the machine.

So rad is the data machine that Spotify can provide each of its listeners with endless music to discover. It doesn’t even bother stopping the music when you’ve finished a selected song or album, it just keeps playing until you notice something different: sometimes you don’t notice at all.

Spotify has also made data visible, and in doing so, beautiful. The Wrapped feature has been a topic of discussion around music lovers for the last few years once the calendars roll into December. Hours streamed, top artists, and favorite artists were relatively straightforward metrics that many of us probably could have guessed if given a few minutes to tease out. Where Spotify excelled was in the content it gave each user to share this data on their social networks. And 2020 is nothing short of a watershed moment.

There is a lot of hyperbole in this article, but I cannot overstate how intensely Spotify took over my Instagram stories feed. Spotify took the year in review to new heights, betting everything on the vertical moving image format that adopted the codes of Instagram stories and Snapchat. They integrated the Wrapped feature into an interactive vertical experience directly in their mobile app. The bright color gradients, the kinetic text, the kaleidoscope album covers: Spotify created a graphic chart to frame each user’s music data into must-share content. And below each story was the button for effortless sharing.

The data were deeper too. Number of new artists listened to, more specific genres, and – most impressively – a tastemaker badge that you got if you listened to a hit song before it climbed above a certain number of streams. For music lovers, there is no higher compliment.

Spotify also did not try to gloss over 2020. It rooted our music listening habits in the context of this disastrous year, leveraging humor to show how music helped us get through these difficult days. The end result was a personalized moving tribute to music in a year that we will try hard to forget.

Don’t forget the artists

The last point to make here is that Spotify is not just about the listeners. They also made detailed year in reviews for the artists on the platform, providing them with instantly shareable content that tallied their total streams. It is positive reinforcement: people follow artists they love on social media, they see that artist post, they are proud to have been a part of that, they go back and listen, streams go up.

I don’t know how many shares in total Spotify got from this function but it is a textbook case of viral marketing in a post-viral age.

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