Facebook jumps on social audio trend with live conversation rooms, in-app podcast player

Facebook has unveiled details of its plans to expand into social audio with podcasts, live conversation rooms, and new short-form audio creation tools. (Facebook)

Facebook has unveiled details of its plans to embrace the social audio trend with live conversation rooms, podcasts and new short-form audio creation tools.

The social media platform is essentially building a sound studio into the app, integrating tools like speech-to-text, voice morphing, automatic noise reduction, sound effects and music from Facebook’s Sound Collection. The pillars of its new audio offerings include:

Soundbites: Soundbites – short-form, creative audio clips for capturing anecdotes, jokes or other moments. A small number of creators will begin testing the feature over the next few months.

Podcasts: Within the next few months, you’ll be able to listen to podcasts directly in the Facebook app, both while using the app or in the background. The app will also integrate discovery to recommend new podcasts and episodes based on your interests. Podcast creators will be able to connect with new listeners directly within the app.

Live Audio Rooms in Facebook and Messenger: Facebook will start testing Live Audio Rooms, initially in Groups and with public figures. The feature is expected to be available to everyone on the app by the summer. Facebook will also enable Live Audio Rooms on Messenger.

“We think a lot of magic happens at the intersection of audio formats, as well as at the confluence of text, audio, and video,” wrote Fidji Simo, Head of Facebook App, in a company blog post. “For example, with live audio, creators will be able to turn a live conversation into a podcast for everyone to listen to later. We also want to give creators and fans tools to share the best excerpts from a live audio or podcast and publish them as Soundbites to encourage more discussion. Additionally, we’re going to offer captions on all these audio experiences to make them accessible to all.”

Monetization

Facebook intends to introduce multiple ways for audio creators to monetize. Fans will able to support creators in Live Audio Rooms through Stars and virtual, animated gifts, which can be purchased to send while streaming. For every Star received, Facebook pays out $0.01 USD or will donate to a chosen cause. Facebook will also offer other monetization models, including the ability to charge for access to a Live Audio Room through a one-time fee or a subscription. To kickstart Soundbites, it will introduce an Audio Creator Fund to support emerging audio creators and get early feedback on the new product experience.

Competition in the Social Audio Space

Clubhouse kicked off the live conversation social audio phenomenon last March. Still open to iOS users only, in its early days the invitation-only app gained traction as Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities signed on to the platform.

However, data from Signal Hill Insights and social media monitoring firm, Digital Hug finds that the jury is still out on the app’s long-term prospects with much skepticism around its value and use. An analysis of more than 1 million social media posts about Clubhouse and a survey of 3,000+ Canadians discovered that even among those who have used the app, only two per cent are convinced it’s going to be a big success. Another 14% see it as a fad, while more than 80% were unwilling to weigh in one way or the other.

Facebook enters the social audio field on the heels of Twitter and Reddit unveiling their own Clubhouse-type social audio products, Twitter Spaces and Reddit Talk. Spotify is also entering the live audio space with the acquisition of Betty Labs last month, the creators of Locker Room, a live audio platform for fans and insiders to talk about sports. Spotify plans to expand the app to accommodate a wider range of creators and fans, including music and cultural programming.

Marc Weisblott, editor of Toronto-centric culture blog 12:36, is one of the many experimenting with the Clubhouse app in an attempt to “build clout” as an early adapter.

“I sense an appetite for what drew folks to Zoom, but without the sense of formality or obligation…you can zone in and out of listening, it’s like radio that way,” Weisblott told Broadcast Dialogue. “But like any platform it doesn’t work without the content worth tuning into.”

Weisblott notes that “the seeding” of Clubhouse over the past year was accompanied by a certain amount of programming, much of it tied to Silicon Valley venture capital firm, a16z.