Facebook's new feature
Image credit: Facebook

Given the popularity that Clubhouse has amassed in such a short period, it was really only a matter of time before the competition cottoned on to the social audio market. Many top social platforms have plans to incorporate similar features and some already have begun to do so. This week Facebook made an announcement. They are about to release multiple audio and voice-related products over the course of the next few months. Some of the products will start with a limited number of users on a trial basis before becoming widespread. 

What Facebook plans to do?

The products will allow users to put their voice over videos, and images but Facebook is also bringing out a Live Audio Room feature which is in direct competition with the Clubhouse social audio app. The feature is expected to be available this coming summer, rolling out first to groups and figureheads. Eventually, it will become a feature within Facebook Messenger allowing users to record conversations and distribute them. The feature will also enable users to charge access to their audio rooms, via subscription sign-ups or one-time fees. 

You can put your voice over the content
The Soundbite creation tool will let people put effects on their voices. Image credit: Facebook

In principal, Facebook will front an Audio Creator Fund to encourage people to get on board and “support emerging audio creators.” Eventually, another planned feature will mean that conversation recordings will also be able to be turned into soundbites. THen people will be able to share short-form audio clips, it will be like replying with a meme or GIF but in an audible form of response. The company is developing an algorithmic feed for promotion, it will be like Youtube shorts or TikTok but audio-only. In fact, CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself has equated Soundbites to Reels on Instagram.

In a recent article at The Verge by Ashley Carman, some of the more trivial details were divulged. Unlike the Live Audio Rooms, the Soundbites feature will be within your News Feed itself. It will utilize a separate tool for recording. A quote, unquote “sound studio in your pocket.” This audio-over video or images feature will change communication. The speedier process will allow people to multitask making hosting a conversation more convenient.

“The high-level picture here is that we think that audio is, of course, also going to be a first-class medium and that there are all these different products to build across this whole spectrum,” Zuckerberg said. 

What about podcasts? 

The recent audio-led developments come at just the right time as Facebook also plans to expand into the world of podcasting. The company says it’ll start Initially this will be very small-scale interest, using its already functioning algorithms and data collection to recommend podcast episodes based on a user’s interests. The company knows there is a large potential market there. Around 170 million people on Facebook follow specific podcast pages and over 35 million people are members of podcast fan groups. So it is a logical expansion.

Monetize your content
Facebook wants to support podcasts with direct monetization. Image credit: Facebook

Add to that Zuckerberg’s Spotify connections and the world of Facebook look to be very audio-centric in the future. The company’s player will be brought over to Facebook itself so that users will be able to stream from their News Feeds directly. This will be music-focused, but you will be able to of course share podcasts that are already Spotify steamed. So users will no longer have to leave the Facebook platform to listen to their playlists or other people’s recommendations.

“Our ambition has always been to make Spotify ubiquitous across platforms and devices — bringing music and podcasts to more people — and our new integration with Facebook is another step in these efforts,” a Spotify spokesperson said in a statement. “We look forward to a continued partnership with Facebook, fueling audio discovery around the world.”

Facebook will allow creators monetize their content

Another thing that will facilitate audio content creators is that Facebook plans to add Stars to its forthcoming Live Audio Rooms. ‘Stars’ lets users generate an income by monetizing their content, and functions sort of like a virtual tip-jar with Stars as virtual coins so to speak. So for creators and public figures, the audio will be profitable as well.

There is certainly a large discussion going on right now in regards to social audio, and Zuckerberg is throwing out a tonne of ideas. But only time will tell how serious Facebook is. Ultimately it depends on how users respond. Do we actually want the format? The audio industry is clearly popular for the time being and many major tech companies are delving into the podcasting market. Clubhouse has shown that live audio interaction has its merits and many platforms are integrating similar formats.

However, it is important to remember that Clubhouse thrived under the restrictions of a pandemic. This could be a pretty big factor contributing to the audio-apps success. Human interaction has been at an all-time low with the majority of the world confined to the four walls of their homes. So it is fair to say audio interaction could simply be a passing craze rather than the next big thing. On the other hand, people have enjoyed podcasts for years and if the live format continues to survive ten more audio-related tools such as Soundbites could be a great move forward. 

You can never really predict the success of any new format with the times changing as quickly as they appear to do in our modern world. Facebook has previously jumped on the wrong bandwagon in the past. With IGTV for example it gave users the option of long-form video sharing only to shift its focus to Reels, its TikTok competition, which has proven far more popular. Facebook Live content also fell on its face despite the company investing a lot of time and effort and subsidizing it heavily. Facebook is a big enough platform to succeed with the audio format but only if that is genuinely what the users want. For now, it is anybody’s guess.