“David, you’re up,” the host said.
I flicked the mute button off on my phone and prepared to speak.
I’m an Oklahoma City Thunder fan and moonlight as a salary cap expert. It was NBA draft day and I was on Spotify Greenroom with my friend, reporter Keith Smith. An insider had just dropped the news that the Thunder were going to pick Australian youngster Josh Giddey and Keith asked me to weigh in. Just as I started to speak, a roar came up from the people around me as the commissioner announced the pick. Keith chuckled.
“That was really cool,” he said to the digital crowd listening in. “That’s a live reaction from the Thunder fans.”
That was my first experience with social audio.
Live audio used to dominate media. When radio was king, talk shows, news and other live shows drove audiences and ratings. That didn’t last. TV pushed radio into the shadows with prepackaged content.
Live audio never completely went away; it stuck around in certain formats and for certain audiences. There has always been an appeal for live content. Social audio apps like Clubhouse, Mixlr and Facebook Live Audio Rooms are reviving that live concept.
Social audio takes the digital availability of podcasts and marries it to the “in the moment” nature of live conversations. While it’s still in its early stages, you need to understand how it works now.
What “Social Audio” Actually Means
Social audio apps allow you to create “rooms” for conversation. Each room is run by a host (the person who starts the room). The host sets the topic and is the designated speaker for the room. Other people can join the room to listen, and they’re able to raise their hands to be “asked up to the stage” to speak. The host can pull people in as co-hosts or facilitate a roundtable discussion.
Social audio can feel like a podcast with people listening or it can feel like a radio talk show with the host asking and answering questions with guests or the audience. There’s a great deal of flexibility. Anyone in the audience can become part of the conversation if the host allows it.
The Strength of Social Audio
Social audio combines the strengths of streaming and podcasting into something not quite like either. Streaming allows the host to engage with an audience in real time. Podcasting allows for intimate and easy conversations. Social audio apps have unique advantages that no other audio offering can touch.
When I jumped on Keith’s draft show, we were able to react to draft picks in real time. Audience members were able to digitally “raise their hand” and ask to speak too, and after each pick several people would offer their opinions and ask questions. Live audio allows this to a degree that not even talk radio can.
Social audio levels the playing field and gives content creators access that doesn’t exist elsewhere. NBA star Kevin Durant is known for being plugged into social media. A news story came out on Twitter that painted him in an unfavorable light, and he started responding to fans who tagged him in their comments. A fan named @urkle9 started a Twitter Space and was talking about the story. Durant heard about the audio room and jumped in to hear the discussion. That resulted in this:
Let me speak
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) July 16, 2021
@urkle9 designated Durant as a speaker.
Moments later, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey retweeted the Space.
In seconds, tens of thousands of people joined the room, including NBA players, rappers, reporters and fans curious about what Durant had to say.
No one knew who @urkle9 was (outside of a few Golden State Warriors fans and NBA Twitter diehards) before the audio conversation, but his content became the center of the NBA universe. Everyone was listening to him.
No other platform offers that chance.
Two of the major social audio platforms, Twitter Spaces and Facebook Live Audio Rooms, have a built-in advantage. When someone goes live on one of these audio platforms,Twitter or Facebook will send a push notification to friends or followers who might want to listen in. That gives you a little extra discoverability, especially if you’re among the early adopters.
There are several competing solutions. Each platform has its own strengths and weaknesses.
The Major Players in Social Audio
As of this writing, these are the main Live Audio options. Many of these apps are so new that new features are still rolling out. All of the major platforms offer the basic functionality of social audio. Most also allow you to follow users you enjoy and choose topics or groups to follow. Each one has its own particular quirks.
Clubhouse started the social audio movement. It has a huge advantage as the pioneer in the space, and it still enjoys a great deal of popularity despite not having the resources of some of the competition and still being in open beta.
The app only allowed audio communication for the first several months. In July 2021, it rolled out a DM feature to keep up with its competitors.
The “Clubs” of Clubhouse are groups of rooms organized under a particular administrator. They can also be broken down by topic. A group can keep all their rooms together under one roof as a Club. One caveat to note with Clubhouse: rooms have been capped at 5,000 people, though that may change in the future. Most other platforms do not have room caps.
Greenroom is Spotify’s social audio offering. When Spotify purchased the sports social audio app Locker Room, it extended and adjusted its capabilities. Greenroom’s killer feature is its room recording. It allows the host to save an audio recording which can be repurposed later, often as a podcast. Spotify’s ownership of Anchor opens up options for even further future podcast tie-ins.
Integration with the main Spotify app gives Greenroom a strong recommendation engine, too. Adding social audio discoverability to its main platform helps Greenroom drive listeners.
Greenroom also supports text chat in each room, a feature that Clubhouse doesn’t have. The iOS app includes all the features. Android is still adding some — particularly text chat, which is still in development.
Twitter’s social audio solution is called Spaces. Spaces distinguishes itself by its tight integration with the Twitter app. New Spaces show up at the top of a Twitter user’s timeline. Anytime someone a user follows starts a Space, the user will get a push notification.
Spaces allow tweets to be shared directly in the room, and users can be invited directly through Twitter. This tight integration makes Spaces a great fit for anyone who already has an audience that’s mostly tied to the Twitter platform.
Live Audio Rooms
Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms, like Twitter Spaces, are heavily tied to the Facebook platform. Unlike some of the other platforms, Live Audio Rooms allow hosts to send invites to people who don’t have an account on the platform.
Live Audio Room alerts can be broadcast to a profile, page or group to drive participation. These alerts include Facebook’s calendar functionality too — they can be marked “Yes/No/Maybe” like a regular event. Like Twitter, Facebook allows push notifications when an event is starting. This helps create “appointment setting” behavior which amplifies audience engagement.
One unique feature of Facebook Live Audio Rooms is the ability to post a recording directly to the timeline after the conversation has concluded. The recording shows up as a regular post and can be commented on and interacted with as per usual.
In addition to these big four social audio options, there are many others that have support, especially with niche audiences. Discord Stages, Reddit Talk, Fireside and other apps are rushing to get a piece of the pie.
There Can Only Be One … Or Can There?
It’s hard to say which platform will dominate this technology in the future. Spotify will probably be the platform of choice for many podcasters due to future possibilities with Anchor, while Facebook and Twitter offer greater social integration and Clubhouse has home-field advantage. Your choice of app will depend on where your audience primarily resides and which features stand out to you. Rather than trying to pick a winner, find the audience and build with them.
The platform doesn’t matter nearly as much as your content, though. People didn’t tune into Spotify Greenroom because they love Spotify. They tuned in because they were interested in what Keith and his guests had to say about the NBA Draft. If I had an interesting opinion about the Thunder’s draft picks, they’d listen regardless of which platform I used.
Whatever platform you choose, you should dip your toes in soon. Don’t wait — social audio is on the way up, and you don’t want to miss the boat. Make your social audio success about the content, not the platform and your audience will stick with you even if you have to pivot to a different solution. Need a hand working out a content strategy? Know that you don’t need to go it alone. We’re in this with you. If you need a little help, just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services