Audio-based social media answered the call for a pandemic-induced desire for authentic connection while avoiding screen fatigue. Clubhouse’s amazing growth comes to mind, and so does the way in which Twitter and Facebook are following suit. Does audio have a future post-pandemic, or will it die off once we’re able to talk and listen in person?
The appeal of jumping into serendipitous conversation
Clubhouse chat rooms have been compared to a cocktail party: an open space where you can participate in spontaneous conversation and leave whenever you want. Each room has moderators, who almost act as a panel of experts who get to decide who gets to join them “on stage.”
Depending on the room, you can pitch to an investor, network with industry peers, or just chat over a common hobby. The potential for serendipitous run-ins, coupled with an invite-only structure, make social audio apps like Clubhouse the perfect FOMO-generator.
Audio platforms offer a great opportunity for brands to authentically engage with your audience. Brands can host conversations that are educational, entertaining, or otherwise valuable to your target audience. For example, a sustainable fashion brand may host a talk educating participants about the effects of fast fashion.
Democratic, decentralized, and intimate
Audio social media platforms seem to meet the ages-old collective desire for social media to be open and democratic. Decentralization has its appeal in a range of areas, from crypto to social. Unlike podcasts or livestreams, social audio platforms are less of a monologue and more of an open conversation. Voice chats in a group feel oddly intimate, even if you’re in a chatroom full of strangers. In a social media world where platforms are increasingly pay to play, audio social media platforms give users a more democratic way to have their voice heard.
Audio platforms offer the perfect way for brands to not simply talk at their audience, but listen to their ideas, feedback, and values. These insights can be invaluable for creating content that truly resonates with your audience.
The potential for advertising
Audio social networks may eventually give brands the opportunity to test audio-based ad formats on their platforms.
Similar to how ads play on streaming radio and podcasts, brands would have the opportunity to “sponsor” various chats. Audio advertising would likely happen within individual chat rooms – either a brand representative or host would give a short commercial at the beginning, middle, and/or end of a talk.
Social audio platforms tend to attract niche groups ranging from astrology aficionados to side hustlers, making it the perfect opportunity for brands to get directly in front of their target audience, in audio form.
Red flags in the audio world
Despite its intent to foster democratic, peaceful communication, social audio platforms have already raised flags from early adopters.
Safety and moderation
As with any platform that runs on primarily user-generated content, moderation becomes a challenge on audio apps. Clubhouse, even in its beta phase, faced issues with misinformation and harassment.
Platforms usually rely on searchable text, machine learning, user reports, and auto-moderators to sift through and flag abusive or offensive language. Audio platforms face the added challenge of not being able to rely on AI to sift through searchable text, therefore needing to rely on human moderators. The very democratization that makes audio apps appealing to join in makes it an unsafe space for some.
While still in beta, Twitter has spoken about including closed captions in its Spaces, making it potentially easier to report violations of community rules. Discord gives its closed communities the tools to police themselves, and has had more success with moderation at scale.
Aside from outright harassment, there have also been reports of marginalized communities being interrupted, spoken over, or otherwise ignored in open audio chat rooms. In order for audio social networks to be welcoming and safe for everyone, platforms will need to find a way to effectively moderate content and enforce community rules.
The future of social media hinges on accessibility. Their audio-only nature of these apps make them inaccessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. When accessibility advocates pointed this out to Twitter when they introduced audio tweets, they later added transcriptions. After getting similar complaints, Discord has introduced some accessibility features, including text-to-speech and a better screen-reader integration. In order to survive, audio platforms need to make sure their platform is accessible for everyone.
Does audio have a future post-pandemic?
The rise of audio can at least partly be attributed to lockdown, which forced everyone to seek alternate forms of group interaction. Will it survive once we’re able to gather in rooms and meet people IRL?
In the case of Twitter Spaces and Facebook live audio, the platforms already have a captive audience of people scrolling through their regular feed. Similar to the Live feature on Instagram and TikTok, it’ll be easier for them to catch the attention of someone who’s already on their platform. Clubhouse, however, is audio-only at the moment. Part of the reason why Clubhouse flourished during the pandemic is that they rely on groups of people being more or less idle by their phones. They will have to innovate further to try to keep people on the app once things open up.
Attracting influencers and celebrities that funnel their audience from other channels may be one way audio platforms keep users engaged. Allowing live conversations to be recorded and published podcast-style may also help platforms attract listeners who may not have time to attend live chats.
We recommend brands to experiment with social audio platforms, keep ears out for advertising options, and start thinking about how to engage your audience audibly.