Embeds, the flywheel nobody speaks about

Embeds can create powerful flywheels for UGC and SaaS companies. At the hand of Apple, Spotify, and Youtube, I show how.

Embeds, the flywheel  nobody speaks about

In mid-November, an Email from Apple made me aware of their new podcast web-embed as part of the Podcast Marketing Tools.

For decades, Apple chronically ignored it's podcast platform until Spotify stole the crown. Your Swedish party playlist player has been offering web embeds since 2012. 8 years later, Apple finally comes around.

The Verge:

"Apple will now let anyone embed podcasts from Apple Podcasts on the web. This means that you might see more of Apple Podcasts online, and Apple is setting itself up to compete with other podcast players for coveted embed recognition.

Anyone can embed a podcast from Apple Podcasts. To do so, find your desired podcasts on the Apple Podcasts web landing page and then click the episode you want to embed. From there, click the upload icon on the right-hand side and select the code icon. You’ll then have the embed code saved, which can paste wherever you want the podcast to appear."

Spotify and Apple are two companies that are in contention to build the first true audio search engine, and embeds are an important part of their growth strategy. By copying Youtube's strategy 8 years ago, Spotify created significant added value. Notice how the Tech Crunch article I linked above points out the usefulness of an embeddable audio player:

"The Spotify Play Button solves a big problem for publishers looking to stream music from their websites. Normally they’d have to embed a YouTube video with often crappy audio quality, host a questionably legal MP3, hotlink to another blog’s file that could get taken down, or dig around on sites like SoundCloud for a legal streaming version. Spotify’s Play Button gives them a quick, stable, reliable, high-quality, and legal way to soundtrack their site and make sure artists get paid for their work."

Apple podcast player embed
Apple podcast player embed

Time to take a closer look at the Embed Flywheel.

The Embed Flywheel

UGC (user-generated content) platforms and SaaS companies that provide a visible utility for other sites can build powerful flywheels with embeds.

The concept is simple: user come to a platform (like Youtube), find valuable content, a fraction of users embeds it on their or another site, this helps users who have not seen the platform to discover its content, a fraction of those users will eventually also embed content.

The embed flywheel effect

The list of companies who use an Embed Flywheel is long

  • Twitter
  • IG feed
  • Wistia
  • Vimeo
  • Spotify
  • Intercom
  • Drift
  • Hotjar
  • Pinterest
  • Youtube
  • Facebook
  • Zendesk

As you notice, it's not only UGC companies who can use it. Some SaaS companies, namely those who provide a service that interfaces with visitors of other sites, can use it. Instead of the last step, in which a user would go to the UGC platform to discover more content, the user would become aware of the interface provider and then visit their site or click on a link.

Youtube was probably the first one. Adam Penenberg writes in his book Viral Loops:

Youtube deployed a viral mechanism by allowing people to embed video links in their blogs or Myspace pages: the more people who saw it, the more links were embedded, and soon millions of users were funneled directly into Youtube."

Youtube's embeddable videos were powerful because they offered a fast and easy alternative to bloated players with endless buffering. MySpace, the dominant platform at the time, was the perfect accelerator. Embedding Youtube videos allowed users to display instant value, filled a gap Myspace wasn't covering and allowed for viral growth because the platform was "viral" in itself.

Spotify learned that quickly. Apple took a while.

More than a utility

At minimum, an embed puts your brand on many websites; in some cases, millions. At best, you drive usage and adoption of your product, which can create a data network effect.

Embeds come with a certain utility for both sides, the provider and the embedder. The latter gets a simple way to provide value without users having to leave the site (music, podcasts, video, images, posts, etc.). The former, however, get usage data.

Spotify, Facebook, Youtube, and Co can measure where content is embedded, who embeds it, how well embeds are used, and much more. That data can be used to improve the core product and understand users on a deeper level. A powerful flywheel.

Go deeper