Companies are reviving the form of voice-based communication tweaked with fresh touches to address modern markets
A study done by the IDC found nearly 80% of smartphone users are on their devices within 15 minutes of waking up. It’s safe to say that social media has become an integral part of our everyday lives. It’s a place where you can go to check up on friends, update yourself on world events, and share your thoughts. However, as an increasing number of the global population is gaining access to smartphones and the internet, the social media space is becoming crowded. And it’s becoming more and more challenging to have your voice heard. This set the stage for the introduction of voice-based social media. Companies are reviving the form of voice-based communication tweaked with fresh touches to address the modern markets. To understand this new trend, we’ll take a look at what voice-based social media is along with its benefits, who and how they’re impacting the market, and its potential in Bangladesh.
What is voice-based social media?
At its core, voice-based social media are online chat rooms where people can join a conversation. This has a few variations among different apps and companies but the idea is the same. Social media platforms these days have become overrun with fake accounts, fake news, bots farming engagement and extreme spreading of misinformation. Although social media platform policies are being constantly adjusted and updated, new ways of spreading harmful and often false content remain a prominent problem. To address those problems, companies decided to try a new route: Audio.
Communication involving voice is always much more intimate. A voice can express emotions, tones, and nuances that can often be missed or misunderstood through text. Understanding that, companies decided to hone in on the opportunity. Most popular social media platforms are dominated mainly by pictures and videos. Communication and work via Zoom meetings over the course of a year due to Covid-19 has created new problems like “Zoom fatigue”. Much of the time spent on social media becomes a cycle of absent-minded scrolling between apps, with the occasional engagement. Ironically, something that was meant to bring people and communities closer together instead led to more isolation.
This is where the idea of voice-based social media managed to gain traction. While talking on the phone may seem like an age-old idea, it’s making a surprising comeback in the age of likes and comments. Since social media is generally flooded with likes, comments, and shares, it can often become hard to get a word in. It seems only the wittiest and fastest fingers are able to shine, while others with often valid and constructive points are overshadowed. Voice-based social media, in essence, is joining a conversation happening online. No typing, no video; just you and your voice. This cuts out all the stress of having to look half-decent before turning on the dreaded front-cam or not up to personal-confidence standards of resolution webcams.
What are some benefits?
Alongside addressing the challenges that exist across current social media platforms, the voice-based social media trend is helping to improve inclusivity. With other 250+ million visually impaired individuals around the world, voice-based social networks will provide a new level of accessibility to many overlooked.
Advertising will also be impacted, as desensitization from the constant bombardment of text and visual ads are often ignored. Voice can create opportunities to develop an actual persona to be more engaging, interactive and a unique way for companies to really stand out from the crowd.
Social media has come a long way from the early days of MySpace and YouTube. It’s important to note the evolution of communication among societies across the globe. It can serve as a reliable compass towards predicting what is to come in the future.
How are they impacting the market?
Audio messaging is not a new concept. WeChat audio messages in China and voice memos on WhatsApp in India have been massively popular for several years now. However, the brilliant timing and execution of Clubhouse and their new type of voice-based social network lead to them setting off a chain-trend reaction among the entire social media and communication industry. Since the spring of 2020, voice-based social platforms have quickly become a hot online segment. Recent advances in technology have seen the growing accommodation of podcasts, voice-based controls and virtual assistants, so it seems almost fitting that social media would take a similar turn. Let’s take a brief look at a few of the key companies who are jet-setting this latest internet sensation.
Clubhouse is currently an invite-only audio-chat social network. Created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth and launched in April, 2020 it started off for iPhone users but has also launched its Android version in May. Putting ‘voice’ at the core of their communication model is helping them to address several problems while offering a fresh way of getting your voice literally heard. Clubhouse managed to combine perfect timing with opportunity as Covid-19 put a hard-brake on global movement. Since more people were spending time at home, they wanted a new way to engage the social networking world.
Based solely on voice-audio, Clubhouse works by allowing existing members to invite others to join in on rooms where conversations are happening within the app. Conversations include anything and everything; you’ll just have to find what you’re interested in. Participation can be controlled by the moderator and all conversations are temporary -- meaning once everyone leaves the chat, it’s done. No data stored. It has attracted the likes of politicians, public figures and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Drake, and Elon Musk.
Clubhouse stats at a glance:
Weekly active users: 10 million; funds raised: $10+ million. Surprisingly, only 3+ million users are from the US, whereas it is currently the #1 most-downloaded app in countries like Germany, Turkey, Japan, and Slovakia. In China, Clubhouse invite codes are being sold for as much as 188 Yuan ($29). The current valuation stands at $4 billion (May 2021), up from $100 million in May 2020, achieving Unicorn status alongside giants Uber and AirBnB.
Twitter has always been a favourite among many of the world’s most influential. And given Clubhouse’s success, it was only natural that they would pivot towards audio based social as well. Twitter, like Clubhouse was ahead of the game. Back in June 2020, Twitter first launched the voice tweet feature and later in December 2020, they launched Spaces. Twitter Spaces did have a few pre-requisites, mainly a Twitter account with more than 600 followers, allowing one to host a conversation. People following the account or having received a link of the conversation can find themselves able to partake in discussions. USPs helping Twitter Spaces stand out are the accessibility of scrolling Twitter feed while participating in conversation and allowing one’s speech to be captioned with live subtitles using the latest AI and machine learning technology. This could for example, play a huge impact in journalism and news media.
Taking note of Clubhouse’s massive success, Facebook finally joined the conversation by launching its competitor version, Facebook Live Audio Rooms, recently in spring along with a few other new audio features, accessible from within the Facebook app. Live Audio rooms are groups on Facebook who can host live chat rooms and its members can participate in real-time discussions. Facebook also revealed their in-app podcast listening and discovery tools, allowing users to listen to podcasts from the app, even when it is running in the background. Another audio tool Facebook revealed was giving the ability to convert live conversations into podcasts for current and new followers to listen to.
During an interview, Facebook mentioned: “Fans will be able to support their favorite creators and public figures through Stars. We’ll also offer other monetization models, like the ability to charge for access to a Live Audio Room through a single purchase or a subscription.” While Clubhouse has a similar plan, Facebook seems to be pushing more for the monetization route. Facebook, already having such an incredibly dominant role in the tech and media industry, will be able to create far more demand for itself if it can manage to adopt voice-based social networking effectively.
A few other note-wrothy platforms where voice-based communication are growing increasingly while being adopted by larger audiences are Discord, Reddit, Swell, Spotify, Cappucino, and LinkedIn.
While the new voice-based social media trend is exciting, it does not come without its problems. Racism, misogyny, hate-speech, and extremism are also spreading within these platforms. It is not new to voice-based only, but it is a common problem that is yet to be solved. The complexity of moderation, especially live conversations, is a core factor still in need of appropriate correction. Perhaps the advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning combined with digital hygiene education can play positive roles in addressing such delicate problems.
Potential in Bangladesh:
So where does Bangladesh fit in with the latest voice-based social media trend? With human interaction, mainly phone calls, still being a critical component across societies in much of South Asia, the intimate touch of voice-based social media is introducing new channels and opportunities for connectivity. In Bangladesh, one of those new channels and opportunities has been podcasts. What makes them so popular in Bangladesh? They’re convenient downloadable audio format makes listening on the go easy, while being engaged with exactly the type content they want. And in a busy, bustling city like Dhaka, making the most of every second counts, especially for the more selective and fast-paced newer generations.
The digital creators’ scene has also seen a massive boom, since Covid-19 led to people having more time to find creative and entertaining methods of communication. Some of the current notable podcast creators in Bangladesh are The Bangladeshi Perspective, BhaiBrothers and State of the Creators. They have all found recipes to create engaging, interactive and intelligent content catering to a variety of people across Bangladesh. Given that nearly half of Bangladesh’s current population comprises the youth and young adults, the way content is consumed is changing rapidly. Finding and expressing your voice directly on social platforms has the potential to really convey the passion behind a cause or understand the gravity of a situation. It can inspire, motivate, and lead to action.
The recent and long overdue entrance of Spotify in Bangladesh is also going to be a key player in garnering acceptance and growth of voice-based social media platforms. It will likely attract more youth to create their own content like podcasts and chat rooms or participate in others’. Combined with growing access to smartphones, the internet and the right serendipitous conditions, a young child listening somewhere in a rural corner of Bangladesh can become inspired to initiate immense change. Using existing platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, brands can utilize resources to create an actual voice, helping to distinguish themselves from previously untapped markets.
This space is still new and open for the taking. The social and technology scenes in Bangladesh are rapidly developing and changing so it’s going to be critical for companies and individuals to carefully cooperate and position themselves to complementarity growth in this area in the coming months.
Voice-based social media is essentially providing that human touch in an ever-increasingly artificial world. When was the last time you had a conversation that changed your life? Vocal communication creates a path for serendipity more than any other form of communication. For better or worse, voice-based social media presents a unique and exciting new take on the tried and true platforms we’re all familiar with today. Many challenges similarly faced by YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and many others still lie ahead for voice-based social media. A constantly changing world will require the joint efforts of constantly innovating individuals in order to build a better tomorrow. Who knows? You could be one click or tap away from the next million dollar idea. Join the conversation and find out.