Facebook recently announced plans to launch a suite of social audio products, following the growing popularity of audio-only content on social media. Podcasts have been around for a while, but the launch of Clubhouse in April 2020 provided social network users with another content type. Several players are launching their own versions of Clubhouse but, with billions of existing users, Facebook’s dominant position in social media means it is well-positioned to come out a winner.

Clubhouse, an invite-only audio-based platform, allows creators to hold live discussions and engage with listeners via Q&A sessions. Users can tune in to conversations held in different ‘rooms’ on the app and connect with and hear from individuals on a wide range of discussion topics. The social network is designed to be spontaneous, with discussions only available to listen to in real-time.

Exclusivity has made Clubhouse a success

Clubhouse was an instant success. Millions of users flocked to the platform during the pandemic. The app’s exclusivity combined with uptake by high-profile individuals such as Tesla founder Elon Musk and TV host Oprah Winfrey has added to the hype. It only launched a year ago, but Clubhouse is already valued at $4bn.

In a bid to compete, Facebook will launch a similar Live Audio Rooms feature in Facebook Groups, with plans to also add it to the Messenger app. Alongside this, the company plans to create Soundbites, a tool that allows users to share short audio clips. A podcast service is also set to launch, with users able to listen to podcasts directly on the Facebook app, rather than being directed to third-party streaming sites such as Spotify.

Facebook’s significant investment in audio-only tools targets the emerging trend of social audio. Podcasts, live streams, and voice messages are increasingly popular on social media sites. Compared to text-based content sharing, audio adds a personal touch. It allows content creators to share their thoughts and ideas in a way that mimics an ordinary, in-person conversation. The added advantage of audio-only is that users can listen on the go without having to look at a screen. The arrival of mobile phones saw users replace phone calls with texting, but now audio is back in fashion.

Facebook wants in on the action

Following Clubhouse’s rise to fame, it comes as no surprise that Facebook is creating a copycat chatroom product. The company is well-known for copying competitors’ social media features. For example, Instagram Stories and Reels were ideas taken from Snapchat and TikTok, respectively.

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Facebook will also face competition as other established social media players such as Twitter and Reddit enter the space. Spotify’s acquisition of live audio app Locker Room expands its scope from pre-recorded podcast content to live audio conversations.

With many live audio options for consumers to choose from, companies must distinguish their platforms to compete. A focus on user experience and app interface is key. One determinant will be attracting the right creators to bring in new listeners. Celebrity Clubhouse members will have undoubtedly spurred new signups amongst users hoping to interact with these individuals. Facebook’s proposal to let creators charge subscription fees for certain rooms and a potential tipping tool called Stars aims to incentivise users to move away from Clubhouse.

Content moderation is another challenge, with audio discussions typically harder to moderate. Clubhouse has received several complaints concerning harassment and rooms hosting racist discussions. Developing tools that can identify problematic content in real-time will be challenging but necessary.

Lastly, while users have had time to tune in to live discussions amid Covid-19 lockdowns, live audio app user numbers could fall once normal life resumes. Ultimately, social media habits post-pandemic will determine the success of these new platforms. Offering the option to listen to discussions after they have been broadcast will help sites retain users with busier schedules.