It’s not just Clubhouse anymore — social audio is here to stay, and so is the opportunity that comes along with it: for creators, networking, expressing ideas, monetizing, connecting with new friends in an immersive virtual way, and so much more…
(Let’s not forget, though, that Clubhouse didn’t actually begin the social audio trend, though it popularized it further in the U.S. There are a number of international companies that already had growing user bases interested in these virtual audio “rooms” such as Dizhua, TT Voice, Tiya and Yalla, four audio-based social media apps backed by Chinese developers and investors.)
“Social audio just may be the next frontier for social media. Consumers with Zoom fatigue were first drawn to the audio-only concept while stuck at home during the pandemic, and the market for it has been booming ever since,” Kait Shea writes.
Notably, in June 2021 now, social audio has become fully mainstream: Spotify launched Greenroom and Facebook launched Live Audio Rooms (and podcasts) in the same week. (Let’s not forget that listening to podcasts and spoken word audio has exploded recently, too.) Kaya Yurieff writes, “I’ve spent some time listening to conversations across all four products this week, and the experience feels pretty similar everywhere. These apps will distinguish themselves by the features that get speakers with big followings to stick around.” What will end up being those key features?
“All four share a similar interface: photos and lists of people in each virtual room, an animation to show who’s currently speaking and the ability to leave the app while still listening in the background,” Kaya continues.
So far, Facebook and Twitter are more accessible for those hard of hearing, as they have added auto-captioning. Spotify’s Greenroom offers a Zoom-like chatting function, and there’s a personalized calendar on Clubhouse...
What else will set apart these platforms? What could these social audio apps be missing?
4 Social Audio Apps Changing the Game in 2021
Jeremiah Owyang says it well: “I call [audio] the ‘Goldilocks’ medium for the 2020s: Text is not enough, and video is too much; social audio is just right. It represents the opportunity for social connection and empathy without the downsides of video.” Check out his full forecast of the social audio landscape right here.
It’s really no wonder social audio took off last year.
Sumit Ghosh, co-founder and CEO of Fireside, an Indian audio social app launched in May that also supports vernacular languages, says audio is the “next wave of communication”.
“I don’t think this is a fad (the sudden interest in audio apps),” he says. “As long as users are able to derive some value and learn new things from these audio social products, they will keep coming back.”
Let’s get right into it, and examine each of these social audio apps and features closer.
A social audio app that began as iOS only (and is now on Android) — one of the first to begin the trend in the U.S. last year during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Clubhouse has over 10 million users.
“Clubhouse is voice-only, and we think voice is a very special medium. With no camera on, you don’t have to worry about eye contact, what you’re wearing, or where you are,” Clubhouse shared in a July 2020 update. “The intonation, inflection and emotion conveyed through voice allow you to pick up on nuance and form uniquely human connections with others. You can still challenge each other and have tough conversations—but with voice there is often an ability to build more empathy. This is what drew us to the medium.”
(And let’s note that building more empathy with voice is research backed, too.)
The app announced their “Creator First Program” a few months ago, and have recently been expanding it globally (now Brazil and India!). They write, “As we love to say, Clubhouse is a human platform, a place where meeting new people and discovering the perfect rooms leaves you feeling better after a session.”
As of September 2021, Clubhouse has integrated High Fidelity's Local Spatializer. What does this mean? Not only does spatial audio make conversations feel much more natural and immersive, but it has a less obvious benefit, too. Taylor Hatmaker writes for TechCrunch: "It’s possible that regular, non-spatialized audio in social apps contributes to the pandemic-era phenomenon of Zoom fatigue." There is research to support this, too — spatial audio reduces cognitive load while improving speech intelligibility. Justin Uberti, Head of Streaming at Clubhouse, explains, “Your mind has to figure out who’s talking. Without spatial cues you have to use timbre … that requires more cognitive effort,” Uberti said. “This could actually make for a more enjoyable experience aside from more immersion.”
But more on immersive audio shortly...
First launched to a small group in December 2020, Twitter Spaces went public on May 3rd, meaning anyone with a Twitter account can join as a listener now (any Twitter user with at least 600 followers can operate as the host of a space). Twitter initially plugged the platform as more inclusive than Clubhouse, and outlined that “the first people to be given access to Spaces would be women and people from other marginalized communities, groups who are more likely than others to be subjected to abuse and harassment when trying to engage in conversations in regular, comment-based discussions on the platform.”
Check out this more in depth review of Twitter Spaces vs. Clubhouse specifically. Hootsuite notes some of the differences between the two: “The audio quality on Spaces is better as it is built on Periscopes existing infrastructure. Audiences can react during Spaces with emojis; this feature is not available on Clubhouse. Spaces are more accessible as anyone with the Twitter app can listen, you do not need an invite to join.”
Just as of June 21, 2021, Facebook announced “US-based public figures, as well as certain groups, can start hosting Live Audio Rooms through the main Facebook iOS app. Anyone can be invited up as a speaker with up to 50 people able to speak at once. There’s no cap on the number of listeners allowed in — a major shot at Clubhouse, which imposes room size limitations.”
Bryan Menegus and Ashley Carman continue writing, “It’s also introducing other nifty features, such as live captions, and reactions will be available to to interact throughout the chat. Twitter Spaces, Twitter’s live audio feature, includes captions, but Clubhouse still does not.”
“Facebook is hoping to cast a broader net of influencers with Live Audio Rooms. Among the named public figures who will have access to the feature on launch will be musicians (TOKiMONSTA, D Smoke, Kehlani); media figures (such as Joe Biden); and athletes.”
Greenroom allows artists and other creators to connect with fans, followers, and friends in live audio rooms. “Talk about the music you love. Debate fantasy sports picks. Create rooms for your friends. Be heard on your favorite topics,” writes Spotify.
The Spotify Greenroom app is actually based on Locker Room’s existing code, with the earlier Locker Room app basically updating to become Greenroom. To join the new app, Spotify users sign in with their current Spotify account information.
“The bigger advantage Spotify has here is that its Greenroom sessions are recorded. After a show wraps, the creator can request an audio file which they can then turn into a podcast episode. This ability to straddle both worlds of live and recorded audio could prove to be more useful as the post-COVID world opens up, and users are no longer stuck at home, bored, able to tune in at any time to audio programs.”
Check out other features in this post by Spotify, including: Chat controls, more about the recording capabilities, a new onboarding experience, and more.
And Now Many More Social Audio Apps…
Beyond bigger tech companies, there’s been an explosion of social audio experiences, too. Jeremiah Owyang’s “Social Audio Landscape” list currently includes 43 (as of June 2021; it’s being constantly updated). Startups like Angle, Yoni Circle, Roadtrip, Quilt, Space, Racket (formerly Capiche.fm), Yac, Cappuccino and others have released a wide variety of audio platforms: Improv, social storytelling, radio / music listening together, audio based on self care, voice messaging, daily audio shows, and more.
Ruth Reader writes, “It is a much different experience to hear someone say something or tell a story than it is to read a block of text and try and interpret the tone with which it’s being said. In this way, these new audio social platforms are rethinking what it means to be social online.”
So let’s get back to our original question: What will set these social audio apps apart? And what is missing?
The Best Social Audio Apps are Immersive
Think about the very roots of social audio: People are looking for ways to connect, to create, to share with one another. What better way to do that than with audio that is immersive, and can replicate a more natural, in-person conversation? To enjoy communication that feels like real life, it needs to be spatialized. “When more than one person tries to talk without spatial audio, no one comes across as well.”
Related reading: Learn about the “Cocktail Party Effect”
Research backs up that messages that are difficult to process are statistically less compelling, too. In an experiment, people rated a physicist’s talk at a scientific conference as 19.3% better when they listened to it in high quality audio vs. slightly distorted, echo-prone audio.
Concisely stated by Morgan Evetts, “Good social audio is immersive.” Period.
Clubhouse writes, “The thing we love most is how voice can bring people together. No matter where you live in the world or what networks you have access to, you can be in the room — often with people whose lived experience has been very different from your own.”
Are you working on building a native app for social audio, virtual events, or another platform that uses voice (like Clubhouse)? Then licensing our Local Spatializer is going to be best.