Were Social Audio Apps a Pandemic Fad or Are They Here to Stay?
About a month after pandemic shutdowns and social distancing restrictions were enforced in early 2020, a social audio app called Clubhouse emerged on the scene. Promoted as a way to access and participate in thousands of conversations across a wide variety of topics, Clubhouse was the perfect solution for a population that was stuck at home and craving interaction but already experiencing Zoom fatigue.
Clubhouse was not the first audio content app. Discord had launched five years earlier, and there were a number of overseas companies that had already begun hosting virtual audio rooms. But the invite-only mystique surrounding Clubhouse and the fact that it was only available on iOS when first introduced, created hype around the new social platform. People were asking what it was and how they could get involved.
With an audio-only platform, participants don’t have to worry about what they look like or feel like they’re being judged based on what can be seen in their backgrounds. And a mobile app that allows for two-way audio communication in real time is more personal and interactive than texts, chats, or comments on social media posts.
The rise of Clubhouse compelled others – small tech companies and behemoths like Facebook and Twitter – to jump into the fray. And as social audio usage and behavior evolves over time, expect to see changes in what these apps aim to achieve with their audiences and how brands will get involved.
Most Popular Social Audio Apps
Jeremiah Owyang – a tech industry analyst for social media – reported in January 2021 that there were already more than forty-five social audio companies competing for attention. Clearly, not all of these audio platforms can survive, and some have already been acquired by bigger entities. These are the players to watch for for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022.
The media attention surrounding Clubhouse propelled its initial growth, and a little more than a year after launching, the app was seeing over 10 million weekly users. After everyone was able to join the platform (no invitation needed) and the app launched on Android, Clubhouse experienced another growth surge. According to co-founder Paul Davison, the Android launch put millions of people on the waitlist to participate on the platform.
Although Clubhouse has seen some big spikes in usership, the social audio app has also experienced a number of dips. Some people have written Clubhouse off and say it appears to be fading. However, in a recent interview, Mr. Davison explained that the numbers have been so inconsistent because the company was not adequately prepared for its level of growth.
Mr. Davison is now touting new features that make conversations feel more natural and immersive, and he’s introduced programs that will benefit creators. This past April, Clubhouse formed a partnership with financial services company, Stripe, that lets users send “tips” to people on the platform. And a feature called Replay that was just launched this month will enable room recording, so creators can share their sessions on their profile or on social media platforms.
Social media giant, Twitter, launched Twitter Spaces in December 2020 to a limited number of users. As of May 2021, anyone with a Twitter account could participate as a listener, but only people with six-hundred or more followers can host live sessions. Hosts are able to invite multiple speakers and can control muting. They can also remove disruptive participants.
Twitter promoted its audio app as a more inclusive Clubhouse, and the company specifically sought to give marginalized online communities a more welcoming environment than the regular Twitter feed, which is often plagued with hate speech and harassment.
Twitter Spaces is available on both iOS and Android, and many say it has better audio quality than Clubhouse. Spaces’ participants are able to react with emojis – another feature not available on Clubhouse.
Late this past summer, Twitter launched Ticketed Spaces, where users can gain exclusive access to some conversations and creators can monetize their Spaces channels. But the feature is still in its early stages, rolling out slowly to people who had previously applied.
Spotify launched Greenroom in October 2020 after acquiring the Locker Room app from Betty Labs and using its existing code. Anyone who downloads the Greenroom app can host and participate in live conversations – not just Spotify subscribers. There’s much more than sports talk on Greenroom, and people can join live rooms (similar to Clubhouse) to chat with “top artists, athletes, and people in the know.”
Greenroom is different from the other social audio apps in that each session can be recorded. Content creators will be able to access the audio clips and repurpose them for a podcast if they so desire.
Facebook Live Audio Rooms
In late April, the world’s largest social network announced it was launching live audio rooms that could be accessed immediately on the regular Facebook app and on Messenger later in the summer.
Initially, only U.S. public figures, a limited number of creators, and certain test groups were permitted to host. But as of late October, any group can start a Live Audio Room. Up to fifty people can be invited to speak, and there’s no cap on the number of listeners, which differs from Clubhouse rules.
When someone decides to start a Live Audio Room session, a notification appears at the top of the screen so that people can join. During the session, listeners can “like” it or use other standard Facebook reactions. They can also choose to send “Stars” to the host – Facebook’s method for monetizing the rooms – that are available for purchase during the conversation.
Facebook is currently considering other monetization options, such as subscriptions, single session purchases. It’s also working out ways to let hosts record and repurpose the sessions.
How Can Brands Integrate Social Audio in Their Digital Marketing Plans?
Brands can partner with audio platforms by sponsoring a live virtual event, promoting individual rooms, or branding clubs that hosts create within their rooms. Brands can also run ads before, after, or halfway through a live audio session.
But the people who are interested in social audio experience are looking for real, authentic conversations. Ad-speak and sales-y messaging is unlikely to endear users to a brand.
Because influencers have been able to bring expertise and authenticity to brand promotion on traditional social media channels, it’s natural to assume that the right influencers – those who can lead and moderate conversations relevant to your brand – could be persuasive in this environment. Of course, influencer discovery will require a more lengthy vetting process to find someone with the right skills and the appropriate level of product or industry expertise.
An influencer marketing agency can guide you in finding an advocate who can bring empathy and humanity to a conversation surrounding your products or services. Agencies can also help you craft a social audio strategy that includes identifying the kinds of conversations you should participate in on these social audio apps.
Social Audio Predictions For 2022 and Beyond
With giant tech enterprises like Meta (Facebook) and Twitter making big investments in social audio – and a slew of other well-known platforms like LinkedIn, Reddit, and Slack working on getting into the game – it’s clear that social audio was not just a passing trend. But which platforms are most likely to succeed?
Just like other developments in digital media, the winners will be the ones who offer the most engaging content and an excellent user experience. And that requires finding and retaining the most creative and engaging creators.
If social audio apps want to acquire – and keep – millions of active monthly listeners, the platforms will have to differentiate by luring talent that can speak authentically on topics of interest. And to win creators’ loyalty, the platforms will need to refine their compensation systems or discover new ways for creators to repurpose their content. Whether the talent will include recognizable public figures or social media influencers remains to be seen.
Realistically, the platforms that are most likely to come out on top will be those who already have an active user base (and high reach) like Facebook and Twitter. More people may choose to try a social audio feature that’s an extension of an existing social network than to forge new relationships on a brand new app or one that isn’t as well known.