From radio shows to podcasting, audio content has always been popular, but social audio is set to muscle into one of the hottest spaces in media.
In fact, as Steve Wheen, Founder & CEO of content agency Distillery, explains below, it’s already winning over legions of fans who are ‘listening in’ to a raft of new content and shows across the social media spectrum.
The big social media behemoths like Twitter, Insta and Facebook have mad it easier than ever to tune-in to great content and the number of platforms is just growing.
And it’s not just consumer entertainment that’s appearing on a social audio station near you. The most unlikely of brands, global logistics firm, Maersk, is just one good example, are finding huge value in creating social audio content to discuss industry issues and get their point of view across.
But competition for our ears is rife, and it clearly represents a huge opportunity for brands, so how will they capitalise on the big new sound of 2022?
Audio has become an increasingly important brand content format for marketers, with more brands creating podcasts as part of their owned content strategy.
However, audio still lags someway behind online video in its ability to truly engage consumers on a mass scale. However, this is set to change with world’s biggest social platforms all making moves into live audio.
Social audio is booming
Facebook’s Live Audio, Twitter Spaces and Spotify’s Greenroom have all launched in the past few months and since then we’ve seen a flurry of competitive announcements from the major players.
Just a few weeks ago, Clubhouse revealed huge live audiences for its Oprah Winfrey events, Twitter has announced a record-and-tweet option for Twitter Spaces and TikTok unveiled a range of partnerships to make it easier for brands to tap into audio on the platform.
Social audio is not an entirely new phenomenon. Audio room apps such as Dizhua, TT Voice and Yalla have been growing in popularity for a while, and US analyst Jeremiah Owyang has been tracking a list of audio start-ups that was at 50 or so at the beginning of the year.
However, it was arguably the Covid lock downs around the world that really boosted engagement with all forms of audio.
EMarketer estimates that there will be 117.8 million monthly podcast listeners in the US by the end of this year.
And in the UK, 31% of 15-25 year olds and 38% of 26-35 year olds in the UK listen to at least one podcast each week, according to Statista.
There are many clear engagement advantages with audio. It’s truly mobile, it’s an intimate and personal experience, it’s very convenient to consume, you can multi-task with audio, and attention spans tend to be longer than with other forms of digital content.
Audio also gives creators the power of engagement with the human voice – listeners become very aware of excitement, joy, anger, honesty and dishonesty.
Clubhouse is the platform that really kickstarted social audio.
Launched in April 2020, Clubhouse now has over 10 million users and recently announced its Creator First programme to accelerate the growth of audio content on the platform.
Clubhouse facilitates group conversations around topics of interest, and unlike other social networking platforms, it has embraced an ‘exclusive’ philosophy – it’s invite only and doesn’t accept advertising.
Twitter Spaces went public in May this year. Anyone with a Twitter account can join as a listener and any Twitter user with at least 600 followers can operate as the host of a space.
It has good audio quality as it has been built on Periscope, and listeners can react during Spaces with emojis. Twitter is expected to roll out new features over the coming months.
Facebook Live Audio Rooms launched in June this year through the main Facebook app. Anyone can be invited up as a speaker and up to 50 people are able to speak at once.
And there’s no limit on the number of listeners allowed in. Features such as live captions and reactions are being brought in and Facebook’s intention is to scale out live audio across users.
Spotify also launched its audio offering, Greenroom, in June. Signalling the platform’s intention to move beyond music streaming, Greenroom allows artists and creators to connect with fans and followers in live audio rooms.
Greenroom sessions are recorded, allowing creators to turn live conversations into podcast episodes. And in addition to these big four, LinkedIn, Slack and Reddit are all working on audio offerings.
It’s still early days for brand activity on social audio platforms, but some big names are already leading the way.
In the US, Martell Cognac partnered with digital marketing strategist Karen Civil to host a series of conversations on Clubhouse during Black History Month to celebrate female entrepreneurs from the Black community.
Sotheby’s celebrated 50 years of photography auctions by hosting a conversation on all things photography, with photographer Misan Harriman and Conde Nast’s Corporate Photography Director Ivan Shaw.
Even container and logistics company Maersk is making headway with live audio conversations about supply chain issues.
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If you think about it, live audio is a very viable platform for b2b brands and we could see a raft category level social audio platforms in the coming months.
But is has to be said that social audio won’t be for all brands.
There is an inherent level of risk in hosting live conversations, which simply won’t be appropriate for brands that like to keep a very tight control on their messaging and associations.
And, at the moment, discoverability is a bit of an issue – the algorithmic ease of TikTok isn’t there yet – and it’s hard to measure social audio. But all this will change.
For brands that are seeking an honest and open dialogue with consumers, social audio could present some really exciting opportunities.
Using one of the new social audio platforms, brands can host their own conversation, providing content of real value to audiences.
There is huge opportunity for partnership with social audio, with brands able to invite influencers, celebrities, experts and so on to join their conversations.
And social audio is a fleet-of-foot platform, enabling brands to have timely conversation about new and rapidly changing opportunities.
Brands can also focus on different strategic programmes with social audio, such as driving employee advocacy, enhancing customer care or building out diversity & inclusion engagement.
Over the coming months, more and more brands are going to be looking at social audio as part of their content strategies.
At the moment, there is uncertainty about best practice, so brands are advised to invest in a ‘listen and learn’ approach, understanding what works, what’s interesting and importantly what consumers don’t like.
As with all forms of content, brands need to commit in terms of time and resource and be active.
While the production costs might be low, running a series of live audio conversations requires expertise – content studios can play a valuable role here.
In fact, partnership in general is critical – you simply can’t have varied and exciting conversations on your own.
Social audio presents brands with an opportunity to become a thought leader and an entertainment provider, but you have to put forward great conversationalists and be prepared to be authentic and transparent.
Conversations are also a far less structured form of content, so brands investing in this space need to be comfortable with a level of risk and uncertainty.
For many brands, having authentic, engaging and ongoing conversation with consumers is one of the key goals of content marketing.
While social audio is still in its infancy, it has the potential to enable brands to drive fandom and build emotional engagement with new audiences.