Who will win the social audio race?
Video fatigue has steadily set in over the past year and a half. Meanwhile, audio has found a sweet spot between video and text. “Audio has emerged 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,” writes Jamshed Wadia.
As Clubhouse usage ramped up, industry leaders in social networking and messaging jumped into the social audio race one by one. Spotify’s Greenroom, Twitter’s Spaces, and Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms all were rumored in development over the last year, and officially launched in the last few months — not to mention Slack’s Huddles and Discord’s Stages. (Reddit and LinkedIn have also made announcements, but no official product launches yet. Sources also just reported Amazon is rumored to be developing a social audio service, too.)
“Communicating through technology is coming full circle. With multiple waves of the pandemic and a majority of businesses functioning virtually, people have actually grown fatigued of Zoom and other kinds of virtual web conferencing tools. As people seek a way to overcome this fatigue, they are connecting via voice again, whether through phone calls or voice texts. It seems like we're tired of virtual meetups, and voice is making us feel intimate and close again,” writes Ashwin Ram in “Why Audio-Based Social Media is the Future”
Voice-based communications intertwined with social media are here to stay.
Let’s run through some of the specific features of Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms, and then check out some interesting statistics as we think about which platform will be the future of chat...
All About Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms
Facebook actually announced four different audio features over the past year (Soundbites, Hotline, its own podcast service), but Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms most closely mimic the curated audio spaces popularized by Clubhouse that allow users to host, take part in, and listen to conversations and performances on the platform.
(Stu Robarts notes, “Facebook has become well known for adapting features it likes the look of elsewhere for its own platform and for that of its subsidiary Instagram.”)
Joseph Maring writes for ScreenRant, describing their Live Audio Rooms: “Live Audio Rooms for Facebook Groups is Facebook's most direct attack on Clubhouse, with the setup looking virtually identical to Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and other competing apps. People within Facebook Groups will create a Live Audio Room for others to join, with there being a set lineup of speakers at the front of the virtual stage and the audience displayed below them. Listeners appear to be sectioned off, including the Front Row and people that the speakers follow. Live and upcoming Audio Rooms will be clearly marked in the Groups tab, and there will also be tools for sharing a room, giving emoji reactions, and integrated donations if a group is trying to raise money for a charity.”
Who can be invited to speak in a Live Audio Room? “Public figures can invite anyone on Facebook to be a speaker, including friends, followers, or other public figures with a verified badge. During the conversation, the hosts can invite speakers in advance or choose listeners during the stream to join as a speaker. There can be up to 50 speakers, and there is no limit to the number of listeners.”
“In groups, admins can control whether moderators, group members, or other admins can create an audio room. In public groups, both members and visitors can listen to the audio room, but in private groups, only members can listen.”
There are a few other features added, too. “Listeners can show support to the public figure of the Live Audio Room by sending ‘Stars.’ These Stars can be purchased during the conversation and used at any time, similar to how they work with other Facebook Live content. By sending Stars, the listener is bumped up to the ‘Front Row,’ a special section that highlights the people who sent the Stars. This allows the event’s hosts to easily recognize their supporters and even give them a shout out during the event, if they choose,” Sarah Perez writes for TechCrunch.
For the launch, Facebook partnered with public figures: Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA; American football quarterback Russell Wilson; organizer, producer and independent journalist Rosa Clemente; streamer and digital entertainer Omareloff; and social entrepreneur Amanda Nguyen. “They’re focusing more on fostering relationships with the influencer community. And Facebook is setting up a program to pay $1 billion to creators through the end of 2022, part of an effort to bring creators onto its platforms.”
Arielle Pardes accurately notes for WIRED, “Paying creators for their work, and acknowledging their role in propping up social networks, is a step in the right direction. But Facebook’s track record with creators is mixed. Video creators have complained that the platform hardly offers a reliable source of income, in part because of the algorithmic ranking of the feed, which can either promote a post or effectively bury it. Other creators have accused the company of censorship and racist algorithms that unfairly ding posts by marginalized groups. Facebook’s new audio offerings, which will also use an algorithmic feed to surface the most ‘relevant’ content to users, could fall into similar problems.”
So now the important question… how many people will be using and engaging with Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms? How about the other social audio platforms? Let’s look at some statistics...
Will Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms Dominate the Social Audio Space?
The social audio category has become quite crowded indeed. While it is true that Facebook arrives with some competitive advantages — the company already has more than 2 billion users, providing a built-in listener base — that’s not the complete story.
Facebook will experience its slowest growth ever in 2021 at just 0.8%, and engagement rates have been steadily dropping. Their user demographics are also changing. “The ‘young-person exodus’ is hardly a new story for Facebook and continues to depress its overall user growth. While the platform will gain 19.4 million users ages 25 and older between 2019 and 2025, it will lose 4.1 million users ages 12 to 24 during that time frame,” writes Debra Aho Williamson for BusinessInsider.
“Is Facebook just not that cool anymore? Well, unless you think major data breaches and political scandals are cool... it looks like that’s the case.”
On average, users spend 35 minutes per day on their Facebook app. Now, let’s compare that to Clubhouse: Users spend 60+ minutes per day on the app — almost twice as long! Also, over 700,000 rooms are created per day, as of September 5, 2021, and they last for an average of over 70 minutes each.
And we all know: When it comes to social media, whether it’s in text or audio form, engagement matters. Facebook itself actually explains why engagement matters so much: “Interacting with people is associated with a greater sense of well-being… On the other hand, just scrolling through your Facebook feed, passively reading or watching without interacting with others, tends to make people feel worse.” As Mike Eckstein writes, “Facebook uses ‘meaningful engagement’ as an important signal that a post should be prioritized.” The more active and thoughtful interactions your post receives, the more reach it gets. We’ll have to wait and see how these algorithms will work with Live Audio Rooms.
Finally, even Facebook acknowledged a “clear tipping point” at which it wouldn’t be able to recover if usage continued to trend downward, and would fade into obsolescence. “That'll take some time, but the trends are pointing to such a shift,” writes Andrew Hutchinson.
So What is the Future of Chat?
It will be interesting to keep an eye on social audio usage statistics for the other social media giants, too, such as Twitter’s Spaces, and Spotify’s Greenroom.
And Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison said it best: History is on the side of his company’s business model. “Voice is the oldest medium. We’ve been gathering with other people in small groups and talking since the beginning of civilization. Voice is a durable medium.”
And what better way to approach an increasingly audio-forward future than by making virtual conversations sound more human? That’s just what Clubhouse did recently by integrating immersive audio.
People want to gather in groups where they can really understand each other — and the easiest way to do that virtually is with spatial audio. After all, listening to someone’s voice is personal, more so than reading text… and it’s actually easier to comprehend others’ emotions when your virtual interaction is audio-only vs. using video.
If you’re working on a social audio native app (or other native app that has an audio component), you can license High Fidelity’s Local Spatializer, too. Learn more here.
Working on a web application? You can add high quality, real-time voice chat with our API (or create a free developer account below!).