The Social Audio RevolutionThe Social Audio Revolution
The Social Audio Revolution
Tags
Tech
Research
Passion Economy
Published
Feb 11, 2021

Authentic Connection

I was in work mode the other day when I got interrupted by a Clubhouse notification, which I reflexively went to dismiss.
On an off chance, I glanced at it and saw that there were 5 people — all of whose names I immediately recognized as thought leaders in my field — who were about to start a live discussion on a topic which is near and dear to my heart.
So I decided to hop into the room and listen in for a few minutes, fully expecting that I'd get bored and move on as is the case with most internet content these days.
And that's when something really surprising happened. As I listened to these experts discuss the broad strokes and nuances around a topic that I'm incredibly passionate about, I started to feel connected with them and their respective thought processes in a subtle way that I've never really felt before outside of real-world conversation.
At the surface level, I felt that just by listening to this discussion, I was actively leveling up my world view and becoming a better version of myself. Everything from their word choices to the inflections of their voices to the casual interplay between the hosts made me feel like I was at an lively dinner party with a unique chance to connect with and learn from these people whom I look up to.
On a deeper level, there was something special about this experience that I've never really felt from passively listening to podcasts, audiobooks, or from watching YouTube videos. It was a feeling of genuine connection, mimicking the in-person networking that I've missed so much during COVID.
And on a more meta level, it kind of felt like my consciousness was hanging out in the same room as these folks' consciousness while our physical bodies faded away. Trippy, huh?
Coming back down to Earth for a minute, what I'm describing was my Aha moment with Clubhouse.
Sure, there's a bit of FOMO going on here. And sure you can get a lot of the same effect via podcasts or certain YouTube channels, but there were two key differences for me:
  • First was the genuine sense of connection that I felt. This feeling was so strong that I ended up cancelling my next two meetings to make sure I could stay for the whole thing. E.g, when's the last time you changed your schedule on the spot to make sure you could listen to a podcast?
  • Second, and this is a big one, was the fact that towards the end of the hour long discussion, I was able to "raise my hand" and join these folks on stage to ask a brief question. This was such an amazing way to end the experience that I can only compare it to being at a high end conference with a panel of industry experts and being able to participate. Except instead of me (or my company) paying thousands of dollars and everyone coming together for an in-person conference, this was free (at least for now), remote, and super lightweight.
 

Why audio?

Audio strikes a nice balance between different formats by being both extremely expressive while also being really low effort to create — you just need to talk. Your voice carries with it a lot of your personality — your vibe — without all the anxiety that comes with filming video.
No need to worry about what you look like or how messy your house might be. You can easily multi-task while listening. You can drop in and dip out quietly. And so the conversation ends up being much more authentic, which lends itself to forming more genuine connections with people.
You can definitely achieve the same effect with video, but there's a much higher barrier to entry. Video's more about projecting the perfect image, getting the lighting right, and wanting everyone who watches to envy your lifestyle (sigh). You still get some of that with social audio, especially when less self-aware folks join and talk about themselves for way too long. But the default is a much more authentic, simple, and grounded experience.
I'd summarize the three main points as:
  • Low effort - social audio is very low effort to create and engage with.
  • Expressiveness - social audio allows creators to express their authentic personality relatively well.
  • High ROI - social audio enables creators to connect with and interact with their audience at scale, in a relatively authentic way.
 
Let me know if you'd like me to go into more detail on this "social audio sweet spot" on Twitter, a platform where it's super low effort to create tweets with a relatively high prospect for engagement and reach at the cost of allowing for only a relatively low amount of expressiveness.Let me know if you'd like me to go into more detail on this "social audio sweet spot" on Twitter, a platform where it's super low effort to create tweets with a relatively high prospect for engagement and reach at the cost of allowing for only a relatively low amount of expressiveness.
Let me know if you'd like me to go into more detail on this "social audio sweet spot" on Twitter, a platform where it's super low effort to create tweets with a relatively high prospect for engagement and reach at the cost of allowing for only a relatively low amount of expressiveness.
 

What about podcasts?

Podcasts have been around for a long time, and I don't see them disappearing anytime soon. There are some obvious tradeoffs between live, social audio and pre-recorded podcasts. I think my "aha moment" story from above captures a few of the key advantages that you get with live audio.
The first advantage is the sense of genuine connection that happens with live audio — it really does tap into the feeling of chilling in the same room as other people.
The second advantage is interactivity — the ability for hosts to call up audience members and participate is really a game changer.
My colleague Shawn Wang refers to these advantages as the warmth of of the format. E.g., long-form written content is cold in that you feel less connected with the author during consumption (think books and newsletters). Pre-recorded audio ala podcasts is lukewarm. Pre-recorded video ala YouTube is warm. And live audio / video is hot 🔥 Oh yeah, and apparently some people still meet in person — I'd classify that as hot af 🔥🔥 but not nearly as accessible.
On the other hand, pre-recorded audio has some important advantages that are worth pointing out:
  • You can listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed as well as skipping forward past irrelevant parts of the conversation.
  • It's easier to break up podcasts into small, bite-sized snippets that can summarize a lengthy conversation.
  • Podcasts are commonly accompanied by transcripts these days, which is great for both accessibility and discovery.
It's worth noting that some popular podcasts are using a multi-channel model to stream live on Clubhouse (which enables audience participation), while also recording the live stream to YouTube and Spotify. A great example of this is the weekly Means of Creation podcast (YouTube, Spotify, Newsletter). It's apparently pretty difficult to get this working seamlessly right now, but I'm sure support for this hybrid use case will normalize over time.
 

Why now?

Clubhouse really got its moment to shine during the pandemic. Social audio has already been massive in China for the past 5-7 years, but it just never really got off the ground in the West.
That all changed during quarantine. People have been isolated for so long and have been naturally missing the ability to network and connect with people outside their bubbles.
Ask yourself: when's the last time you made an authentic connection with a stranger on social media?
In my experience, it doesn't happen too often.
But it can and does happen on Clubhouse. I've already had a few instances where I've connected with another speaker in the room on really detailed, nuanced topics (typically around technical implementation details), and it felt pretty natural to just hop off and join a 1:1 private room together to discuss in-depth. Amazing.
So if the pandemic was the match lighting a fire under social audio in the West, will that fire last once the pandemic evens out and life returns to a state of "new normal"?
This is Josh Constine's answer:
"New social platforms focused on concurrent, synchronous usage like Clubhouse have gotten a jump start from what I call the “quarantine user loan”, and have snowballed large enough to remain vibrant and sustainable when they pay back that loan as quarantines subside."
 

The Players

If the Chinese market is any indicator, this space is going to be massive (425M Chinese users in 2018), and I personally expect that we'll see multiple winners emerge over the next few years.
So who are the actual players in this space? What do they look like, and how should you be viewing the space going forwards?
👇👇
 

Clubhouse

Clubhouse CEO Paul Davidson explains CH much better than I ever could. 💪
 
Example of a typical Clubhouse room which was welcoming progressive politician Andrew Yang to the platform.Example of a typical Clubhouse room which was welcoming progressive politician Andrew Yang to the platform.
Example of a typical Clubhouse room which was welcoming progressive politician Andrew Yang to the platform.
With a $1B valuation, many industry experts are already putting Clubhouse right up alongside the other big social giants. Source: Tae Kim / BloombergWith a $1B valuation, many industry experts are already putting Clubhouse right up alongside the other big social giants. Source: Tae Kim / Bloomberg
With a $1B valuation, many industry experts are already putting Clubhouse right up alongside the other big social giants. Source: Tae Kim / Bloomberg
 
 

Twitter Spaces

Example of a Twitter Space I was part of recently. I love how hosts can showcase tweets to drive the discussion.Example of a Twitter Space I was part of recently. I love how hosts can showcase tweets to drive the discussion.
Example of a Twitter Space I was part of recently. I love how hosts can showcase tweets to drive the discussion.
Last Fall, Twitter announced the launch of Twitter Spaces, their Clubhouse competitor, which is currently in public beta. The two platforms share a lot of overlap in terms of functionality, use cases, and target audience.
In theory, Twitter is extremely well positioned to compete with Clubhouse, with a huge and highly engaged userbase that they can leverage from day one. I'm confident they'll be able to win back a lot of the FOMO mindshare that Clubhouse has built up over the past few months, but in the medium to long-term, it's anyone's game.
For more insight on Twitter's overall strategy around monetization and the creator economy, check out this excellent article from Peter Yang.
And here's the best Twitter Spaces vs Clubhouse breakdown that I've seen:
 

Fireside

Mark Cuban recently announced that he's co-founding a "next-gen podcast app" called Fireside alongside Falon Fatemi, where hosts can talk to fans live and monetize their conversations.
Sound familiar?
When a tech-savvy billionaire like Mark Cuban names himself co-founder of a yet-to-be-released startup, it's a great sign that there's something to the space.
I'd expect Fireside to come to market later this year with a similar feature set as Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, but the key questions will be:
  • Are they too late to the game in a world that moves so fast? (probably not imho)
  • How will they differentiate themselves in the eyes of creators and consumers? (unclear imho)
 

Facebook

Very few details on this one as of yet, but apparently FB is jumping on the bandwagon as well. Hilariously enough, the project's internal codename is "Fireside" which I'm sure Mark Cuban found hilarious.
 

Chinese Apps

Let's make one thing clear: the social audio revolution began in China, it's been booming over there for a while, and it's taken the West a long time to catch on.
These are some of the largest Chinese players. If you really want to cover them properly, it'd require a whole series of articles and a different author.
  • Ximalaya (crunchbase) - Social network that enables users to share audio and personal radio stations.
  • Lizhi (crunchbase) - An online UGC audio community and interactive audio entertainment platform, with a mission to enable everyone to showcase their vocal talents.
  • YY (crunchbase) - Video-based social media platform offering online entertainment, live gaming broadcasting, and real-time communications.
  • Echo (by Tencent) - Live voice social app; "encounter voices that you like."
 
Screenshot of Lizhi: Listeners can send real-time comments and virtual gifts to audio streaming hosts. Image credit: TechCrunchScreenshot of Lizhi: Listeners can send real-time comments and virtual gifts to audio streaming hosts. Image credit: TechCrunch
Screenshot of Lizhi: Listeners can send real-time comments and virtual gifts to audio streaming hosts. Image credit: TechCrunch
 

Honorable Mentions

  • Capiche.fm - Talk to the internet and host interactive shows where viewers can call in on-the-fly.
    • It’s a radio show + live-streamed audio + instant podcasts + realtime updates from your favorite broadcasters, all in one.
  • Quilt (techcrunch) - Vertical social audio network that focuses on wellness and community.
  • Ritual.ly - Bond with your community through daily audio rituals.
  • Stereo - Live broadcast platform that enables people to have and discover real conversations in real time.
  • Stationhead - Live broadcast platform with an emphasis on streaming music and limited audience participation.
    • One thing I really like about their approach is that whenever hosts play a song on their show, all of their listeners count as unique streams on Spotify or Apple Music. A song played for 100K listeners earns 100K unique streams for that artist. 💪
 
Image Credit: Quilt via TechCrunchImage Credit: Quilt via TechCrunch
Image Credit: Quilt via TechCrunch
 

The Best Takes From Twitter

Bull Takes

 

Bear Takes

 
 

Fun Takes

 

Further Reading

 
👉
If you found this article helpful, consider following my journey on twitter @transitive_bs
 

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