Social Audio: The Belle Of The Ball

With the world moving into the ‘new normal’, experts deep dive into the rapidly growing social audio market and assess its future

Alexa, what are we listening today?

Well, the entire audio-based social media concept is back in the scene, even though it has been available for years. Clubhouse & Discord have sure given momentum to this lost gem, audio, and the media giants have been quick in joining the bandwagon too. Whether it is Twitter’s Spaces or Live Audio Rooms and podcasts on Facebook, each of them is eyeing audio’s glittering future, more so because people are looking at ways to explore new virtual ways of functioning. They have grown fatigued by the constant need to sit on a video call. Voice, in this sense, has saved the bacon and is allowing them intimacy and effectiveness. 

Junaid Hakim, National Director, India, Brandie quips that it has come at a time when it was the most needed, “During the time of Covid when people needed to gather around a 'bonfire'; and interact with other people but couldn't do it physically, that's when audio on social media really started to take off.”

Talking Of The Trend

We are all aware that audio has been one of the oldest media and has connected many. Today, it is being seen as the new radio for Gen-z. One prime reason behind its burgeoning popularity is that people needed to get new impressions and touchpoints during the time of Covid and lockdowns. Being bombarded with content that they could not interact with, audio opened up an avenue that democratized a new channel with the outside world (your social bubble). When audio on social media started to take off, it was because it also opened up an avenue where users could express their thoughts and opinions in a less intrusive way. 

Having our eyes (read ears) glued to social audio, it is seen to reduce friction for people to join a session without thinking about where they are. Its many benefits, of allowing multi-tasking, availability in vernacular languages, better user retention of content, ease of communication, etc. are also key to its soaring growth.

Praval Singh, VP, Zoho Corp agrees that such platforms have seen a surge in adoption and usage during the lockdown. “Beyond the usual gimmicks of making it invite-only and go with a phased roll-out approach, these companies knew that social distancing created a void in people's lives. Real-time audio conversations helped fill some of that for their users. Bringing in celebrities like Elon Musk also created an additional viral effect. 

There's a large degree of serendipity that this brings in; because of the real-time conversations that sound more human,” he adds.

Sowmya Iyer, Founder & CEO, DViO Digital further expounds that consumers now prefer more immersive audio experiences. Also, an inclination towards adopting a comforting and luxurious lifestyle has increased. Admitting that voice has extensively become a part of our lives and will only penetrate further, she asserts, “Audio-mediums are extremely convenient. With busy lifestyles and hectic schedules, people prefer consuming information or experiencing entertainment on the go now. 

A lot of imminent changes are anticipated in the way we look at voice and audio on digital and social platforms. I am certain that there will be a lot of impending innovations with social and audio in the near future.”

Audio In Social Media Marketing

The trend of audio networks has made people discover new connections, and listen to those who they were connected with on other networks but had never met in person or heard their voices. By joining relevant rooms, sharing knowledge and expertise, or by asking interesting questions, marketers and founders are using these platforms to increase brand awareness as well as to build their personal brand around a subject.

Manika Juneja, Executive Vice President Operations, WATConsult expresses, “Brands need to analyze the use of this social media tool/feature and its fitment with the target audience by undertaking pilot projects and beta testing it before committing to the medium. Like video, audio is another great way of storytelling & most importantly it helps in establishing a sonic identity for the brand. Having said that, after the beta testing phase it will require the brands to be consistent with creating relevant and valuable content that will make or break brands' decision to sustain & benefit in the long run."

For Hakim, it’s all about ‘thought leadership'. “Marketing is moving towards becoming more granular and democratic. Tapping into these circles where thoughts and opinions are shared in a trusted way will be a massive opportunity for social media marketing,” he believes.

Shahir Muneer, Founder and Director, Divo further points that innovation in this space will be, for now, in how to effectively use this medium, “We have already seen a leading OTT use a leading movie start to use Twitter spaces to promote the movie. Going forward, this will be an area all digital strategists have to arrive how to use audio on social media as a strategy for audience engagement, and driving audience.”

Audio, The Next Big Thing?

Whether it is the increased engagement on Clubhouse or social media platforms launching their own audio features or audio ads garnering eyeballs, it is evident that India is evolving as one of the top markets. 

However, experts foresee it as only an add-on, not replacing the existing formats. Juneja here mentions, “It will have its own norms & practices which will primarily be built on collaboration.”

Hakim also adds, “It won't be ‘the next big player in social media’, but a part of social media. It will continue to fill that need that it fills. Audio will not take away from other forms of interactions on social media - just complement it.”

Singh alerts that while there are new users coming onboard every month, on the privacy and security front, there would be new challenges for data regulators. 

It is only for the future to unfold if voice and audio will dominate the digital and social media world. Perhaps for the short term, it is a great bet for marketers to invest in it, especially in a country like India, where there are limitations that come with writing. The majority of the population here is able to speak the language but unable to write in the same language. “Voice and audio come to the rescue here by eliminating the barrier of writing appropriately and opens up a plethora of languages to create content in,” holds Iyer.