Why Audio Is the Next Big Thing in Social Media

Facebook and Twitter want to join the audio clubhouse

Key Takeaways

  • Social media platforms are developing new audio tools following the popularity of Clubhouse.
  • Twitter and Facebook plan to roll out their own audio chat rooms soon.
  • Experts say audio is popular because it provides a break from Zoom fatigue.
Facebook's Live Audio Rooms on iPhone/iOS

Facebook

Social media platforms are convinced their users want more audio features, but the days are gone when that means picking up the phone and keeping a conversation going.

The invite-only iPhone app Clubhouse has continued its reign as the cool kid in town, inspiring veteran apps like Facebook and Twitter to launch their own audio-based chat rooms. Meanwhile, Facebook also plans to roll out a new tool for creating audio clips and listening to podcasts in the app.

"Other platforms have to explore new trends to keep users," Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, told Lifewire in an email. "People are not brand loyal, they are experience loyal."

Facebook and Twitter’s Own Audio Chats

Clubhouse’s interface separates audio chats into rooms, where moderators control the organization and can invite listeners "on stage" if they want to speak. Likewise, many people choose to just sit back and listen without feeling any pressure to contribute.

"Other platforms have to explore new trends to keep users."

The success of this setup has prompted other social media platforms to create their own audio chat rooms. Facebook says it’s testing a feature in Facebook and Messenger called Live Audio Rooms, which it expects to roll out by the summer. These would allow friends and groups to create audio-based chats centered on different topics.

Twitter also is testing a tool for public, live audio conversations called Spaces that could launch as early as this month. Hosts create each space, allowing up to 11 people to talk at a time, according to the feature’s information page

This builds on the success of other apps that have been innovating how we gather to talk to each other, allowing strangers and friends alike to have more fluid conversations through different combinations of audio, video, and text. 

"Audio chats like Discord and House Party provide a way to not just see a static photo and read a caption, but to be able to interact live and have a semi-private space to hang out (and be more discreet) outside of the more public feeds of other social media sites (e.g., Instagram)," Linda Charmaraman, director of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab at Wellesley College, told Lifewire in an email.

Come Out of Curiosity, Stay For the Influencers

Part of Clubhouse’s popularity is due to celebrities like Kevin Hart and Elon Musk using the app to host candid conversations. Likewise, Facebook says it will invite public figures such as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to use its Live Audio Rooms to chat with other celebrities, influencers, and fans.

Facebook also says it’s working with a "small number of creators" to develop a new feature called Soundbites, including disability lifestyle influencer Lolo Spencer. It says this so-called "new social audio format" of short audio clips will allow people to record jokes, poems, and other anecdotes to share. 

Part of Clubhouse’s appeal is that it provides a forum for influencers to participate in conversations with anyone else who may be interested in a topic, like building passive income or photography. This curiosity leads to serendipity, or the sense that we could find someone interesting or well-known, Rutledge says.

"Clubhouse is like a giant slot machine," Rutledge said, speaking about its appeal for discovering interesting people. "As casinos know, the most effective means of behavior change is unpredictable rewards. You never know who you'll find, but famous early users created some expectations, or at least aspirations, that you'll run into influential people. So, better show up to find out."

We’re Consuming More Online Audio

Clubhouse’s popularity is one factor inspiring other social media platforms to invest in new audio tools, but figures also point to people consuming more online audio in general.

According to an Edison Research study released in March, a record 62% of the US population ages 12 and older now listen to online audio each week. The study also showed that podcast listening and smart speaker usage also are on the rise. 

"At Facebook, we’ve seen the continuing rise of audio on our platforms, from audio calls to audio messages on WhatsApp and Messenger," the social media platform said in an April 19 press release. In addition to its new audio formats, Facebook also will include the ability to listen to podcasts directly in the app.

Will The Audio Features Stick?

So, will these new audio chats be popular with consumers as they become less exclusive and available on more platforms? Time will tell, but audio does have a key advantage—it can be enjoyed without looking at a screen. 

"As we become more busy, time becomes a valuable resource," serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk wrote in a blog post about Clubhouse’s popularity. "Therefore, when you’re looking at a video, that is actively taking up your time. Audio, meanwhile, is incredibly passive."

"People are not brand loyal, they are experience loyal."

Considering the rise in Zoom fatigue from the seemingly-endless video chats prompted by the pandemic, the screen break that audio gives us could be an asset. Audio-based chats are a nice middle ground between impersonal, text-based chat rooms and video calls that can leave us with that invasive feeling of being under a microscope at all times. 

"Like Zoom with your camera off, you don't have to brush your hair or change out of your PJs, but you still get the emotional advantage of voice, which transmits emotions where text does not," Rutledge says. "In fact, without the distraction of video, you hear a lot more in voice, which creates a sense of intimacy and connectedness."

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