Follow to download gates: the #1 strategy for accelerating follower growth (a comparison)

Follow to download gates: the #1 strategy for accelerating follower growth (a comparison)

Budi Voogt
May 22nd, 2017

What if we told you that you could get twice as many followers from releasing a track than you usually do? “Follow to Download gates” can make this happen. They are software tools, usually accessible via a website, that allow you to give away something in exchange for a social interaction.

Most sprouted out of the creators’ frustration with the existing ‘like to download offering’ – which back then was limited to custom HTML tabs on Facebook pages. People had to install a HTML tab extension on their FB page, then write a custom HTML script to be displayed on the ‘not liked’ and ‘liked’ versions of the page.

the #1 strategy for accelerating follower growth (a comparison)

In late 2014 the first few players hit the market. ToneDen, Click.DJ and Hive were among the earliest. We even developed our own platform called UnlockTHIS, which we discontinued to pursue focus.

The founders saw an opportunity to expand like-to-downloading beyond Facebook, as many artists prioritized other platforms such as SoundCloud, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter above Facebook. This is what the first platforms offered: MP3 downloads in exchange for a Facebook, SoundCloud or YouTube follow.

Today’s gates are more advanced. Most allow you to exchange not just an MP3, but rather any type of file (or access to a specific web page), for one or multiple social interactions. Popular combinations include MP3s for a SoundCloud follow and repost, or for a Spotify playlist follow.

It added a whole new dimension to the promotional aspect of music and even lead to a phenonema of /soundcloud-reposts-white-paperSoundCloud repost networks. Fans historically only liked social pages when they liked the music to want to hear more, but the download added extra incentive to follow.

The fastest growing artists in today’s industry, especially in electronic music, have used follow to download gates as their go-to tool for accelerating their audience growth. Instead of buying followers, they harness the power of gates by putting our music consistently and capturing those additional subscribers.

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Do people still download though?

All statistics will tell you that streaming is rising and downloading is dying.

Take the IFPI Global Music Report for 2016 for example, which reports that streaming revenue increased by 45.2% while downloads decreased by 10.5%.1

Spotify is undeniably the primary revenue source for the majority of labels and artists today, with over 100M active monthly listeners2. And it’s only available in 1/3rd of the world right now.

Yet downloads are still preferred by many music listeners, especially those with limited (mobile) data and slow internet. Then there’s the DJs that like to have files on hand, and the fact that the bulk of the developing world still has to come online.

Downloads will fade – but they won’t in the coming 1-2 years.

This creates a limited time window where artists can capitalize on like-to-downloading to exchange something that will be irrelevant in the future (downloads) into something that will be everything in the future – followers.

You see, the biggest argument against download gating, is that there is money to be made on download sales (think iTunes and Beatport). However Apple is intentionally cannibalizing their iTunes consumption and forcing users to segue to Apple Music, whereas Beatport has lost most of its relevance.

It’s a tradeoff of short-term cash versus long-term success.

The music industry of the future is completely artist-centric and the artists that have control over their audiences will be the ones that succeed. Facebook, SoundCloud, Spotify and YouTube may fade in relevance, but the smart artist will be able to move their audience around to whatever new platform or distribution channel is best used to share content and music.

Follow to Download gates put artists in a position to take their followers on any platform – say SoundCloud – and get them to follow them on YouTube as well. It reduces a portion of the “platform dependence” that’s introduced by all these socials.

This is exactly how a major YouTuber like Trap Nation has been able to build the biggest indie Spotify playlist in the world. They’ve transitioned their audience on platform a to platform b, as platform b grew in relevance.3

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How to use download gates.

Gating platforms are stand-alone websites that allow you to synch to your socials and pull in information of your release. Most of them allow you to connect to your SoundCloud account and will extract track data (and even audio files) from there.

Once you’re set up, the process is straightforward: you set up a gate and include that in the free download field or description of all your uploads.

the #1 strategy for accelerating follower growth (a comparison)

If you’re working with influencers, you request that they include a link to your download gate in their descriptions (for YouTubers, ask them to add it to the top line, so it’s visible above the fold).

the #1 strategy for accelerating follower growth (a comparison)

When setting up follow to download gates, there are two dynamics that are important; expanding the reach of your music and improving your following on that have the impact you most.

Most gates will allow you to add multiple gating steps, such as SoundCloud follow, SoundCloud repost and YouTube follow.

We’ve found the SoundCloud follow + repost steps to be most effective, as it means that every downloader has to repost the track on SoundCloud. It creates an exponential distribution pattern, as the more people download, the more people see the track (and thus download). This is usually our first gating step.

The second step is usually ‘optional’, meaning that fans can skip the step if they’ve gone through the first. We use this second step to gate to a platform that matters most to us, next to SoundCloud. We prefer a Spotify playlist or YouTube subscribe here.

Another consideration is that musicians best acquire fans via the platforms that support their core product: music.

We call these the “acquisition” platforms (like SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify), where fans who like what they hear might follow an act. If they’re really into you, or ‘like’ you at first and later hear one of your other releases, they might check you out on one of the more socially-oriented platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. This is where you can turn them into real super-fans with the right content strategy.

What platform to use?

We at Heroic abide by a simple rule when it comes to software. We are platform agnostic.

We’ll always opt for the solution that does the job best.

Gating platforms are essentially a homogeneous service, where the differentiation lies in the conversion rate of the landing page, the gated platforms and extra features. A SoundCloud follower via one platform is the same as another.

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The platforms realize this and are in a constant arms race to improve on these fronts. The platform that converted best in the past may be overtaken by their competitor tomorrow.

As gating creates an additional incentive for a fan to follow you – beyond that of your music being great – the smart artist always opts for the platform that best serves their goal.

Want to grow your Spotify following? Then don’t use a gate that doesn’t support that platform. Easy.


Artist Union

Artist Union is a completely free streaming platform, artist toolkit, and music promotional network that’s also available on mobile to both iOS and Android users.

They independently host music and are using the gating features as a user acquisition mechanism. When setting up a gate, the user is requested to upload the artwork and audio file for a release, which is then simultaneously hosted on their platform for streaming discovery. Remember that

Similarly to Spotify and SoundCloud, AU displays charts on home and charting pages, which indexes music that is performing well. Getting indexed exposes you to even more listeners, and gate unlockers.

the #1 strategy for accelerating follower growth (a comparison)

Features

  • SoundCloud follow, favorite, repost and comment
  • Facebook page like
  • YouTube subscribe
  • Spotify account or playlist follow
  • Snapchat account follow (soft gate)
  • Email
  • Donation option

The soft gate means that it isn’t required to unlock the gate, but a pop-up is triggered to display the Snapchat gate. AU works fluently and their Snapchat gate is only matched by Hive. They have recently removed the Twitter gate though, and never offered Instagram, as it’s against their Terms of Service. All of their gates except for Snapchat allow multi-user gating.

Another cool feature that can be enabled is ‘Enable donation’, allowing fans to make a donation using their credit-card. Paypal is not supported yet. To manage multiple accounts in AU, you’ll need to actually set up separate accounts and connect with the respective social channels. There is no multi-account management tool.

Hive

Hive is a fan engagement toolkit, providing gating tools but also in-depth fan analytics and email marketing features, but it does come at a price.

They were one of the first to enter the gating market, pioneering many features, while scaling and looking for a viable business model. They’ve tested multiple models and ended up focusing on their core strength: providing fan engagement and analytical tools for fans via two services – Engage and IQ.

The prior is the fan-engagement toolkit, including download gates, and email marketing while the latter offers in-depth fan analytics, to support touring and direct-to-fan campaigns.

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Features

  • Facebook page and URL like and URL share
  • Twitter follow or tweet
  • Instagram follow
  • SoundCloud follow or repost
  • YouTube subscribe or video view
  • Spotify account or playlist follow
  • Snapchat follow
  • Pinterest follow
  • Upload a photo
  • Answer a question
  • Visit a website
  • Refer a friend who participates in contest

It’s a big feature list that blows that of any other gating platform out of the water, justifying the expense, but it’s the analytics aspect of Hive that’s always set it apart.

On the Engage Pro plan you’ll also get analytics on your downloaders, both on the people that visit your download gate and convert, as well as a list of the most influential and engaged followers.

Hive builds a database of all these contacts, allowing you to filter on demographic characteristics (age, location, influence and engagement scores) and export their contact details, including email addresses. The latter are extracted via the Facebook authentication requested from everyone who unlocks a Hive gate. This is also where they source the majority of demographic data, such as location, age and number of friends from.

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An ‘influence’ score is calculated for each fan, based on the data accessible by Hive via the fan’s social authentications. If a fan connects with multiple accounts to unlock your gate, or has already connected to another Hive gate in the past, these statistics are attributed to that user in Hive’s dashboard.

Engagement’ scores are determined based on the frequency with which a user interacts with your gates, contests and hits websites shortened via Hive’s link shortener. This is similar to what Bit.ly does and simply hides a link, adding a cookie and tracking who went through. Hive even displays all of these interactions on a per-user basis in their dashboard.

You can use the influence and engagement scores to pinpoint your most influential and engaged fans. You can contact them personally (by extracting their email address or Facebook messaging their personal profile), to promote things such as contests and sending them music as it comes out.

As mentioned earlier, Hive does come at a cost. The Engage service is available at the cost of a monthly subscription, at $35 (Lite) and $60 (Pro) a month. IQ is available $90/mo, or can be coupled with Engage Pro at $150/mo. There are also custom plans for bigger brands and agencies.

The Lite plan only offers basic gating features and if you’re considering using Hive, the Pro plan is what you’ll need.

ToneDen

ToneDen is a fan engagement toolkit, offering gating tools, contests, email marketing, Facebook advertising and DSP links.

From within the ToneDen dashboard, one admin account can manage multiple profiles. Team members can be added and assigned to each profile, making it easy to use for agencies and labels.

ToneDen allows you to set up gates that source content directly from SoundCloud or YouTube, importing all metadata, audio and artwork files. Alternatively, you upload your own files.

Features

  • SoundCloud follow
  • SoundCloud repost (while giving the user the option to un-repost immediately after unlocking)
  • Spotify account or playlist follow
  • YouTube subscribe
  • Tweet
  • Facebook page like

The SoundCloud and YouTube gates allow you to add multiple accounts. Unfortunately the gate is restricted to one social action, making it impossible to gate to two platforms at the same time. There’s also no email support available on the platform just yet.

That said, what the platform lacks there it makes up with via it’s fan-link and contest features.

The contest feature allows you to set up contests where fans can join with social interactions, improving their odds with every additional social channel they connect.

Contests can be ran for specific time periods, allow for custom artwork and have dedicated landing pages where fans can sent. Contests can also be embedded on websites using an embed code.

Contests can gate to

  • SoundCloud follow
  • Spotify follow, play and track / album save
  • YouTube subscribe
  • Twitter follow
  • Facebook share

SoundCloud, YouTube and Twitter allow multi-account gating.

Contests can be great to raise awareness for specific events, such as an album release or a performance. We host exclusive ‘Meet & Greets’ with our artists through ToneDen when they are on tour and alternatively it may be interesting to give away free copies of a new release or signed merchandise.

Fan-links are basically shortlinks that lead to a landing page where all the DSP links of a record are consolidated.

the #1 strategy for accelerating follower growth (a comparison)

This means that you no longer have to say ‘Support on Spotify’ and ‘Support on Apple Music’ with the respective links on your socials and upload descriptions. Instead, you can add a single link to all your uploads making it much cleaner and centralized.

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The backend analytics on this feature are great and show the time of day when your fans are most engaged, as well as their DSP preference.

The download gating, contest and DSP link features are accessible for free, whereas in-depth fan analytics and email marketing campaigns are only available on the paid Basic and Pro plans ($50/mo and $100/mo respectively). While free users will lack the analytics and email support, they lack of restrictions of gates, contests, and fan-links make it a solid choice.

Click.DJ

Click.DJ also recently overhauled its platform visually while also adding the email and analytics function that Hive currently has.

Like ToneDen, Click.DJ was one of the original fan-gates when it all started. Originally conceived to be a narrow platform designed to maximize download conversions, it’s since retooled its features aiming to catch up to some of its contemporaries.

The login dashboard features a global follower map allowing you to view where your followers are clustered at a glance. The other tab features a ‘News Feed’ option similar to Facebook where you can share statuses.

the #1 strategy for accelerating follower growth (a comparison)

Features

  • SoundCloud follow
  • SoundCloud repost and comment (with option to hide comment on download page)
  • Facebook authentication
  • YouTube account subscribe
  • YouTube video comment and like
  • Twitter follow
  • Spotify account or playlist follow

Setting up a download gate is simple and the download page looks clean as well. Even though the social actions are limited compared to some of the others, Click.DJ does a good job of making sure that follows can be translated across your various social platforms.

Downloaders who have downloaded content from you before will be prompted to follow you on platforms they haven’t already followed you on the second time around.

Following your account directly on Click.DJ will result in following all of your connected social acounts.

You can also set up multiple networks through a new feature called ‘Priority Network’. Making a network a priority network will force users to follow your account on that specific platform. If listeners are already connected with that network Click.DJ will prompt them to connect with another. What that means is that instead of having the same person follow you on SoundCloud five times with five downloads, you can essentially push them to follow on Spotify, subscribe on YouTube, like on Facebook etc.

Here’s a quote from Dean van Dugteren, CEO of Click.DJ, on his new social network connection feature and how that can be a game-changer for users looking to grow multiple social platforms.

Click.DJ’s new social network connection feature allows your fans to follow you on all social networks of choice (instead of a single network i.e. SoundCloud five times from the same account) which can increase your following by up to 500%. So if someone downloads 5 of your songs, you get followed on 5 social networks (instead of one single follow on one single network).

Finally, the URL gate feature is an interesting one. Instead of gating something to users to be able to download a file you can instead drive them to a specific URL. Free Click.DJ users are limited in the numbers of download pages that Click.DJ will host for you meaning that you can use URL gate to drive fans to a Dropbox or Google Drive download link.

While we’ve yet to experiment with the usefulness of this feature Click.DJ tracks the clicks and conversions of every URL gate.

Their Facebook gate also pulls email addresses of the downloaders via the Facebook API, which can be exported and added to your email list in a variety of file formats for whatever suits you best.

Pricing is relatively cheap. A free Click.DJ plan allows you to create up to 5 download pages and 25 URL Gates. A paid plan which unlocks all the features mentioned costs 10 euros a month.

Hypeddit

Hypeddit has been one of the most popular download gates for some time now thanks to it’s nifty ‘Top 100 Charts‘ which can help you rake in a huge amount of plays provided you’re able to climb the charts. Hypeddit also seeks to differentiate other download gates with their educational blog which combines coverage of editorial style interviews of popular Hypeddit users with articles on how to improve your music marketing skills.

Features

  • SoundCloud follow
  • SoundCloud repost and comment (with option to hide comment on download page)
  • Facebook authentication
  • YouTube account subscribe
  • YouTube video comment and like
  • Twitter follow
  • Spotify account or playlist follow
  • Instagram follow
  • Email collection
  • Self (or auto) promotion through Top 100 Charts

The interface is nice and clean, but where Hypeddit really stands out is their combination of easy-access marketing tools with a lot of powerful social interactions. Users are allowed to create a variety of gates tailored towards specific services – SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, MixCloud, and Heartthis – depending on their needs.

As far as pricing goes, Hypeddit starts out with a free plan that should be able to satisfy the needs of most users on a test-case basis allowing for three download gates, servicing on all major streaming platforms and the ability to collect one social interaction follow per gate. At $20 a month, their ‘Pro Plan’ is also quite a great deal allowing for the full suite of followers across streaming and social platforms with unlimited download gates and the ability to connect ten other social profiles to the gates.

Finally, power users are afforded the ability to access ‘Star’ and ‘VIP’ level accounts with proper invite access. The differentiator between these two and the ‘Pro Plan’ is that both ‘Star’ and ‘VIP’ level accounts is that you can now connect an unlimited number of social profiles per download and gain access to Hypeddit’s ‘Auto-Promotion’ feature helping to push your music out to fans with real live impressions – 1,000 and 5,000 respectively – free of charge.

The founder of Hypeddit John Gold was kind enough to give us a comment on why he started the platform in the first case.

Hypeddit helps music artists build bigger and better fan communities around their music. A feature that really sets us apart today is that we are not just a technology toolbox – we are also champions for our artists when it comes to getting their tracks heard. We have an actual A&R team that picks the best tracks on our platform for active promotion. We promote these top tracks as new releases on our site and provide artists easy access to lots of other promo opportunities. With our support, Hypeddit artists have even signed new record deals (e.g., Liva K signed with Universal after one of his tracks exploded in Hypeddit’s Top 100 Charts). We do all this proactively because Hypeddit was build by artists for artists.

 

That’s it for download gates then guys. Do you guys use any alternatives to the other four that we mentioned? What are some of your favorites and what features do you think are the most important? Let us know in the comments below!

1http://www.ifpi.org/downloads/GMR2016.pdf
2http://www.theverge.com/2016/6/20/11976554/spotify-has-over-100-million-active-users
3https://www.youtube.com/user/AllTrapNation, https://open.spotify.com/user/alltrapnation/playlist/0NCspsyf0OS4BsPgGhkQXM


Want to learn more about download gates and growing your fanbase? Check out The SoundCloud Bible. The Third Edition has just come out and includes over 400 pages on growing your audience, SoundCloud trading, copyright and monetizing your music on SoundCloud, YouTube and elsewhere.