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The race to win in the audio chat rooms battle is heating up. With Twitter and then Instagram looking to provide an alternative to the invite-only Clubhouse, audio is the talk of the social media town. But is the excitement justified?

The rush to win supremacy in the audio chat room space feels reminiscent of when Twitter launched Periscope in the great live video wars of 2015, leading to the demise of Meerkat (now HouseParty). That feels like a long time ago!

Clubhouse launched in 2020, but really started to become prominent in 2021 as it gained media attention and Twitter launched their own offering (Spaces) in beta. With a full launch due for April, there’s much discussion about how Clubhouse will fare. And, of course, never one to miss out on a ‘new social media feature’ party, Facebook/Instagram are cruising in town with their own features.

Worth the hype?

My (perhaps unpopular!) opinion is that the rise of these audio rooms feels more than a little overhyped – particularly when putting on my “what does it mean for brands?” hat.

When I first logged into Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces I was thinking “this is going to be fantastic for B2B brands!”; an amazing opportunity to wheel out your subject matter experts and demonstrate to clients why they should be working with you. Small, intimate, curated conversations of high value.

However, as I navigated the many, many, many social media themed rooms I quickly got audio room fatigue.

Like everyone, I only have so much time in the day for reading and listening to work related content. We’re totally spoilt for choice, especially in the field of social media, where there’s more content about the subject than we could ever possibly consume. In fact part of the daily challenge is to filter what’s meaningful and what’s likely to impact on my clients’ use of social media.

Audio chat rooms present yet another outlet for expert knowledge sharing – a well established way of building trust and credibility amongst customers and prospects. And that’s all good, but I’m starting to slightly question how audio chat rooms stack up against other online information sources…

The podcast

The grandparent of all things audio-info, the beauty of podcasts is being able to download and listen anytime, anywhere on your mobile device. There are plenty to choose from, but subscribing is a breeze. They’re great for the commute (should those ever return!) or when wandering around the house doing chores. You pick when you want to start, and if you need to listen in chunks, no drama.

Of course there’s no way to interact with the narrative, so they’re essentially a one-way broadcast.

The webinar

The darling of lockdown, the number of webinars run by B2B companies in the last year has increased by over 300% according to on24.

A poor relation to in-person sessions, but very convenient in terms of enabling mass attendance by people who might not otherwise have been able to attend. Often a webinar facilitator will ask the audience to share their questions during the session, so there’s an opportunity to get involved. Typically though, with the audience on mute, questions are managed through the chat function and curated by the webinar administrator… an easy way for particularly challenging questions to get ‘screened out’ perhaps?!

Webinars also offer the benefit of a supporting visual which adds a multimedia element for the viewer, even if it is just a slide deck. However, I wonder what % of webinar attendees are paying full attention to every slide… how many people have another application or browser tab open. If that’s the case then the webinar experience is predominantly audio focused anyway.

The live element of a webinar obviously requires the audience to ‘tune in’ at a certain time, but in most cases they’re recorded and shared later for reference, so if you miss it, it’s not the end of the world.

The audio chat room

Once you’ve found an audio room session of interest (and there’s plenty to choose from), you obviously need to join at the relevant time. Currently, audio rooms offer live only sessions, so if you can’t make it (or get interrupted) you miss the conversation.

It’s important that the presenter(s) of the audio room have some skill at chairing the session, so the chat doesn’t turn into a messy “oh sorry, you go” string of interruptions. There’s no reason this should be the case of course, but they tend to feel a little more organic than webinars right now (not that that’s a bad thing).

Since drafting this post, I’ve read that Twitter Spaces will be extending to a desktop version, which I think is a logical move. It positions it even more closely to a webinar in terms of the user experience, i.e. something to consume at one’s desk, perhaps in parallel to something else.

One big benefit for audio rooms, and possibly a reason Twitter may be victorious in the audio room contest, is you can obviously promote your session directly from the app. Lots of people are on Twitter already, so it’s just another stream of information, instead of feeling like navigating to a whole separate platform.

In conclusion

Like all social network developments and features, users will ultimately decide what’s retained as ‘normal behaviour’ and what activity remains super niche.

Quite where audio rooms will fit into the mix is hard to say, but will they be prominent this time next year, or a passing fad? What do you think?

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