As video fatigue set in, audio increasingly has found a sweet spot between video and text. Audio has started to emerge as a medium where people come to take refuge, slow down, connect with other people, and learn a new skill without being overwhelmed by accompanying visuals.
Leveraging the emergence of audio, Clubhouse launched its invite-only App in September 2020 to create a new social network based on voice. Clubhouse's initial strategy to gate the app with an invite-only approach has undoubtedly caused a FOMO (fear of missing out) effect, with millions adding themselves to the waitlist. But the number of downloads and general interest seems to be waning in the last few months, from a peak of 9.6 million downloads in February 2021 down to 900K downloads in April 2021.
The waning interest may have prompted Clubhouse’s latest update on opening the app entirely to new signups in July 2021 and ditching their invite-only strategy.
Close on the heels of the Clubhouse launch, we have seen industry leaders in audio content, social networking and messaging join the social-audio race. Spotify's Greenroom, Twitter's Spaces and Facebook's Live Audio Rooms aim for a dominant spot in this growing trend of social audio consumption. LinkedIn, Discord and Slack are reportedly developing a competing product as well.
Industry analysts estimate that there are over 40 companies eyeing the social audio space. Most of these platforms have similar features and 'User Interface', so it will be interesting to see how they differentiate themselves from each other.
On first analysis, Spotify, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn seem to have an edge, as they approach the social audio space with well-established business models in complementary areas. Spotify is coming in with a position of strength on the depth of its audio and podcast content. While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are approaching it with a solid footing in building social networks and communities.
Some of the developments that we should anticipate in the space are:
A feature-rich monetisation platform for creators
The quality of content and creators will be a determining factor in the success of social audio platforms. The platform that knows how best to bring more revenue for the audio creators will eventually have the content depth, and the audience will follow. Direct user tipping, paid live rooms, easy to track analytics for creators giving them a deep-down on their user engagement and revenue earned, will be some of the critical features needed on the platform.
On-demand content versus live content
Worldwide media consumption statistics show that although live streaming is a big draw, many users expect their favourite creators and shows to be available on-demand. Users also expect a reasonable level of cataloguing and AI-assisted search and recommendation features for better content discovery. Integration with existing content libraries like a music playlist and podcasts are a plus here.
Seamless integration into the main app
As many established social, content and messaging networks get into this space, consumers will expect a seamless experience and integration with the main app. It's alright to start with two experiences, but eventually, they will need to integrate into one app.
Some platforms may port their social audio apps to business environments to replace their existing voice conferencing systems on their internal network.
There is a massive potential for building revenue models on advertising and sponsorships. Recent advancement in adtech within the audio space allows brands to scale programmatically across the whole or targeted channels instead of just sponsoring one podcast or audio channel. Social Audio platforms will also have to create brand-safe environments in their content and leverage industry solutions for programmatic buying.
Multiple screens and devices
Users will expect social audio experiences to be available on all screens and voice-enabled devices at home and in their cars - and not just restricted to their mobile screens.
Although social audio has a vast potential to scale across audiences, there isn't room for everyone.There is a high probability that the existing audio content and social networking leaders will extend their success into social audio as a seamless extension to their current user experience. Given this reality, the success of a relatively new player like Clubhouse will be an exceptional feat if they can pull it off. In the end, the more competition there is, the better it will be for the consumers and creators.