Social audio is probably the hottest startup space right now. Just ask anyone begging for a Clubhouse invite.
The answer, according to analyst Jeremiah Owyang, is that audio is the ‘Goldilocks medium:’ not too much, not too little, but just right.
“What we found is during the quarantine is that text messaging just doesn’t give us the emotion and the nuance that the human condition requires, especially during isolation,” Owyang told me recently on the TechFirst podcast. “On the flip side — aside from this amazing show — Zoom calls and video shows are just too taxing on people.”
We’ve all been on the Zoom call where we’re mostly looking at our own faces, just to ensure that veggies from lunch aren’t still between our teeth. And we’ve also been on Twitter doom-scrolling thousands of tweets wondering why we followed all the people we did.
Social audio, led by front-runner startup Clubhouse, is the happy medium, says Owyang.
“You come as you are,” Owyang says. “You don’t have to be wearing your business suit. You don’t have to be wearing clothes, frankly.”
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Even better, you don’t have to be gorgeously camera-friendly like on Instagram or ridiculously physically talented like on TikTok. You have to have good ideas. You have to be a good conversationalist. You have to like people. You have to be pleasant and polite. But you don’t have to be an internet model.
Clearly, there’s something about quarantine that gave this emerging social media category a boost.
Listen to the interview behind this story:
In a recent recent report Owyang identified 33 different social audio startups. Clubhouse, of course, highlights the list. Big existing players like Twitter, with Spaces, are entering. Facebook is working on something. Mark Cuban has invested in Fireside Chat. Sonar, Chalk, and Discord are in the space. Seventh Ave is launching to give black Americans a social audio space to connect and share. Saga is about preserving family memories in audio form. And the list goes on.
This explosion in players will lead to a secondary explosion, Owyang says: one that we saw in the first social media platform expansion. He’s talking about the analytics and marketing tools that will help celebrities, influencers, and brands understand their impact in the social audio space.
“We can already see little, little tiny startups that are emerging that are doing these. One of them is called social audio analytics,” says Owyang. “The second category is what we call enterprise social audio, and that’s the same features that we’ll see for your workplace.”
The first category is the Radian6 or Hootsuite of social audio. The second category is the Yammer or Socialist which will bring the benefits of social audio to internal enterprise systems.
While the social audio networks might number a hundred or so, these helper applications and ecosystem players will number far more, just like the number of social media tools far outnumber the large social platforms. The tipping point, Owyang says, will be as soon as the social audio companies start offer APIs to ingest, consume, analyze, and share audio content off-platform.
“And at that point, we’ll see an explosion of thousands of apps, just like we do with Twitter apps, and Facebook apps, and Google apps,” Owyang says. “At that point, we’ll also see that the embedding of social audio everywhere around the internet will start to happen, and I call that the colonization phase.”
Colonization in this sense means that audio will enter product listings or blog posts or social platforms, or even our digital assistants like Alexa and Siri.