When Twitter launched its new polling feature last year, the company probably wasn't expecting this: A tweet from Kanye West asking if a certain mocked-up image should be on the cover of Rolling Stone. Despite West's obvious lack of editorial authority over such things, the poll garnered over 109,000 votes. Just a few days earlier, his wife Kim Kardashian practically set Twitter on fire with a poll asking whether Kanye's next album should be titled "SWISH", "WAVES" or "SO HELP ME GOD." Nearly half a million chimed in on that question, but to no avail: West's latest album is called none of those things.
Still, it's clear that West is having fun with Twitter's real-time polls. And he's not the only one.
After the October launch of Twitter polls, it didn't take long for artists like Twenty One Pilots to start using them to goof off with fans. Nor did comedian Kevin Hart hesitate to start using them to crack interactive jokes. But for some entertainers, these polls serve a more practical purpose: querying fans for input into creative decisions.
"Like so many other things on Twitter, with polls, we sought to productize what the audience wants to do," says Sunil Singhvi, Twitter’s director of music partnerships. "Over the years we’ve seen musicians attempting to do what polls do: tweeting asking for people to respond with a particular hashtag, asking fans to vote, retweet, or like something for something to happen."
For artists, polls offer an efficient, instantaneous way to do things like ask fans which song they should play on Late Night With Seth Meyers (as The Front Bottoms did last month). Or pick songs to add to a live set. Or even just make a Spotify playlist. In November, Ellie Golding asked fans whether she should blast the crowd with confetti at an upcoming concert. Sure enough, they said she should and—unlike Kim and Kanye—Goulding made good on her promise.
However unplanned this use case may have been, Twitter's fledging music team is embracing artists' use of Twitter polls, encouraging musicians to use them more. It's a fairly natural extension of Twitter's music strategy, which has focused more on in-app listening (see its native audio cards for SoundCloud tracks) and artist engagement in the wake of the 2014 shutdown of its standalone Twitter #Music app. In mid-2014, Twitter reportedly walked away from negotiations to acquire SoundCloud, which would have put the social networking company right at the heart of the online music industry. Meanwhile, Twitter-owned Periscope is being used more and more by musicians. John Mayer, for instance, apparently loves to serenade fans via Periscope, for better or worse.
Whatever Twitter's future product ambitions may be in the music space, for now it has one massive asset: Seven out of the 10 most-followed Twitter accounts belong to musicians, including Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift (the top three most-followed accounts, before Barack Obama). Anything the company can do to boost fans' engagement with these mega-stars is well worth the effort in an age when Twitter's user growth seems perpetually stalled. So will Bieber turn to his 75 million followers to crowdsource his next tattoo idea? We wouldn't be shocked.