A team of marketers and publicists across Penguin Random House recently conducted internal research and testing of the social audio landscape, and we’re excited to share some key takeaways. Dive in if you are curious!
So, what is social audio anyway?
Social audio is an audio-only experience that allows users to participate in the dialogue—you might think of it as a virtual event with enhanced audience participation. Some call it the Goldilocks medium for the 2020s: Video can be too much, but text is not enough. Like so many types of social media, this format has both advantages and disadvantages. Flexible, intimate, and interactive, social audio can be easy to use as a listener, as a host, and as a participant. On the flip side, with so much content being generated these days across all formats, discoverability and audience development can be especially challenging with social audio.
Why are we talking about it?
Earlier this year, we saw the explosion of Clubhouse, an app that invited users to participate in live audio conversations. Media outlets were writing articles like, “Join Clubhouse! Umm, What Is Clubhouse?” and “Clubhouse Feels Like a Party,” but because the app was invite-only until just recently, for a short while there it seemed that everyone was clamoring for an invite. Just a couple of months later, we saw headlines like “The Clubhouse Party Is Over” and “Does Anyone Actually Like Clubhouse?,” as active users leveled off.
But social audio is far from over—in fact, it’s just getting started. Clubhouse’s success has spurred just about every tech company, from Facebook to Twitter to Spotify to LinkedIn to Reddit, to create their own version. And meanwhile, Clubhouse has opened to the public and made some strategic content hires, so it’s too soon to dismiss the app as just another pandemic fad.
What is it good for?
We are in a bit of a wait-and-see period with social audio—so much is changing and new features and apps are being launched every month. It’s too early to tell whether it will become a staple or fade away. But if you are eager to sample the space, there are a few good ways to test the waters.
We have had several authors host book events on Clubhouse and other social audio platforms, with varying success. During peak Clubhouse mania, Adam Grant created a Think Again book launch with Malcolm Gladwell, hosted by the Clubhouse club Leadership Lab, which had 5,000 people (the room maximum capacity) listening in. If you are uncomfortable with video or want to do a simpler, more casual book talk, social audio might be perfect for you.
Business author Alex Banayan hosted a weekly show on Clubhouse, with attendance ranging from 100 to 3,000 people depending on the week. “The strength of this medium for an author is that a lot of buzz can be created while you are essentially talking on your couch,” Banayan said. “The downside is that most listeners are not tuning in from beginning to end. The best use of the medium right now is to do audience Q&As moderated by notable guests, which do a great job at generating buzz for a new title.” Consistency is key, so if you are looking to really commit to one of these platforms, a weekly conversation is best.
If you are hosting a live and/or virtual event and want to debrief casually with superfans, social audio is a great place for an afterparty. We are testing this concept with season two of the Marlon & Jake Read Dead People podcast. Now after each episode, Marlon and Jake will take to Clubhouse for an afterparty, where listeners can weigh in with questions and reactions.
If you simply want to connect to readers, there are lots of existing book clubs and special interest clubs you can join and/or participate in. Many are looking for content, and offering to do a Q&A is a great way to get to know existing readers in a space.
5 Best Practices:
- Get to know the social audio landscape. We’ve put together this short deck with three things to know about each major player in the space, from Twitter Spaces to Fireside. See which platform might be right for you. Then make a profile, start following people, and listen to lots of conversations to get a sense of what’s working and what’s not.
- Identify your goal and audience. First, get clear on the goal of the conversation and your intended audience. For example, if the goal is to connect with book media, you should probably host the chat on Twitter Spaces, where media tends to congregate. If your intended audience is readers who have never heard of your book, maybe your best approach is to partner with an existing book club on Clubhouse. If you are looking for a wellness audience, you might try Quilt, a social audio app dedicated exclusively to conversations about self-care!
- Try partnering with an existing club and/or someone who already has a following on whatever platform you choose. We have found that with so many conversations available, it can be very difficult to attract an audience—these are two good ways to help do that.
- Schedule and promote the conversation as you would any live event. You should schedule at least a week or two in advance. We’ve found a good time for these conversations is around noon EST. Most social audio apps have a mechanism to promote an event across all your social channels, and ask your co-host (and your imprint, if it’s book-related!) to do the same.
- Be authentic! Perhaps even more than on other types of social media, you should lean into the intimate feel of social audio to be as authentic and transparent as you can. Don’t rehearse, ask questions, and be in the moment with whoever is in the room.
If you still need support with social audio, reach out to your marketing team for additional suggestions and guidance.
Kelsey Manning is Associate Director, Marketing for Penguin Random House.