Trend Alert: Social Audio

Trend Alert introduces you to the latest trends that are impacting the daily lives of 16-24s.

From TikTok to Instagram Stories, video has dominated the social media landscape of the past five years. Improvements in devices and connectivity have made it easier to upload and stream video, while in-app editing functionality has democratised the ability to make fun, creative video content with the power to go viral. Now, investors are looking for the next social media trend to back before it gets big, and attention has turned to social audio.

The hype around social audio has grown thanks to the Silicon Valley buzz surrounding one particular app, Clubhouse. The startup has been valued at $100 million, and has already attracted some big name users, from Oprah to Virgil Abloh. Clubhouse is comparable to Houseparty, as it brings together users for spontaneous group chats in private rooms, but in this case the conversation is audio only. By making the platform invite-only, but allowing celebrities and influencers to join, Clubhouse has created a sense of exclusivity that drives FOMO among aspiring members.

Screengrabs of the Clubhouse app shared by Business Insider
Screengrabs of the Clubhouse app shared by Business Insider

As Gen Z is so strongly associated with the social video trend, and known for their dislike of phone calls, we have to question whether this generation, which usually makes or breaks a social media trend, will get on board with this one. However, there are some ways they are using audio chat that suggest they may be interested. For example, Gen Z gamers use audio chat while playing video games together, often through a third-party app like Discord, and the use of voicenotes on WhatsApp is on the rise. Instagram jumped on the trend in 2018 by adding voicenote functionality to its direct messaging feature. Social audio can also be linked to the growing popularity of podcasts, showing there is demand for audio-only content.

Whether Clubhouse can live up to the hype remains to be seen, and based on their celebrity and influencer strategy so far, which strongly targets the Millennial and Gen X audiences, it’s unlikely that Gen Z will embrace the startup. It’s also been tarnished by allegations of a toxic ‘Silicon Valley bro’ culture within the community. However, audio chat is definitely a trend to watch, and one that brands should be preparing a strategy for. For example, there could be opportunities to host conversations between celebrities and influencers relevant to your target audience, to take your brand loyalists behind the scenes via audio updates, or to place ads on the emerging class of social audio apps.

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