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Opinion: Audio-first communities

Opinion: Are audio communities the future? Or it's just a feature for the communities not the whole product?

Anna Grigoryan
Anna Grigoryan
5 min read
Opinion: Audio-first communities

Let's call this a Clubhouse effect, shall we?

Have you been stalked by the face of young Bill Murray all over the internet? Then chances are you are a tech-savvy person who learned about Clubhouse somewhere around May of this year.

What's the success behind Clubhouse?

Some will say that they hit the market at the right place and at the right time. However, if you ask me it was a combination of two important factors:

  • the hellish pandemic,
  • all-star early users (like investors from a16z).

It started not as a social audio-first community it was a place where Silicon Valley can transfer it's the magical environment. What will be when all of a sudden pitch competitions that happened all over the Bay Area suddenly became virtual? Yup, you guessed it the tech community will rush to the one specific app where those investors are located, which as a result will create wide media coverage, huge waitlists, and a new emerging market.

While the pandemic already created millions of competitors of Zoom, Clubhouse opened up a conversation about another target market. Audio-first communities.

Audio-first is not something new

Alongside the boom of the virtual event industry, 2020 brought us something more. Now everyone has a podcast, now everyone is live streaming or doing something similar.

Podcasting is taking it's place not only in the lives of regular people but also it's catching a lot of spotlight in marketing. Legitimizing it's monetization strategies and making it possible to start a podcast and make money with it.

Platforms like Anchor made podcasting not only easy to start: using only telephone and nothing more. But also made it possible to make money directly from their platform, by adding a sponsored segment in 2 clicks.

Some more impressive statistics here:

  1. Over 55% of the US population have listened to a podcast
  2. In 2020 over 155 million people listen to a podcast every week
  3. Around 24% of the US population (68 million) listen to podcasts weekly
  4. Podcast listeners consume an average of seven different shows per week
  5. There are over 700,000 active podcasts and 29 million podcast episodes available
  6. The most popular age group for podcasts listeners is 25-44 which make up 49% of total listeners

People listen to a podcast during a ride to work, while working, while doing dishes and so much more.

Livestreaming is a bit trickier. As a person who did 3 live streams (super expert here!!!), it's quite a confusing process with a heck of a learning curve. However, from the consumer's point of view, it's still nothing other than a podcast.

Audio-first platforms

Clubhouse made audio-first meta, but is not the only place you can roll out a community. Let's explore what are the ways and platforms that can help you to create an audio-first community.

Discord

I feel like Discord is one of those companies that are having a blast this year. Not only it managed to dethrone Slack as a go-to place for communities but also introduced a lot of funky/geeky features that can help you build a community. Without going too deep into the differences between Discord and Slack, I'll mention the biggest one: audio/video channels. You can start a server and start your audio-first community on discord in 10 minutes.

Superpeer

A new player in the game of virtual communities. While it's not a place where you can roll out an audio-only community it's offering something interesting in that realm. Launched new functionality a few days ago which inspired this article.

You can view Superpeer as a hybrid solution between Twitch, Teachable, and Slack. A place where experts can charge for consultations, manage their calendar, and also have members-only channels for paying members.

Superpeer read the room. Because before starting something remotely similar to their platform creators needs to use at least 3 platforms and Zapier or Integromat for integrations. Sometimes all-in-one platforms are what the market needs. And creators' market is very fragmentized.

Read also community building stacks.

Honorable mentions

High Fidelity - audio spaces for your crowd.

Soapbox - audio-first community builder.

Issues with audio-first communities

I think in the first section I mentioned quite a few good sides for audio-first communities that can make them the next big thing.

However, I can't ignore a few disadvantages they have currently. All of them can be summed up in one single word "privacy".

We are not new to private conversations being flashed out to the public for one reason or another. However audio-first communities take these actions to the next level.

Earlier this year the tech twitter was following along a twitter drama that did not deserve the attention it got. But one thing brought it to the next level. Drum roll...

Privacy and moderation issues on audio-first communities

The conversation of two investors about the twitter drama (I'm not gonna argue about the content of this!) was recorded and flashed out to the media.

While this was an isolated incident it's important to talk about privacy and security issues of audio-first communities.

How the platform owner can secure the conversations between the users and at the same time keep the level of moderation other text-based communities can have.

It's easy to moderate the text-based community and track the changes in the discussions and the language that is being used. In terms of audio and especially in the business model of the Clubhouse it's a different game.

There are a few ways they can go about it:

  • save the recording of the infinite conversation (which is not a long term or smart move),
  • have a huge team of standby moderators in the room,
  • encourage community creators to be more proactive in their moderation,
  • build or borrow an AI solution that can moderate the conversation on the go or post-factum by giving "strikes' for inappropriate behavior.

‍According to their fairly fresh release they are actively taking measures to improve the moderation process.

Use case: Communities Show

Not an audio-first community per se, but a player in that segment. While their main product is to help companies to launch engaging virtual events with their team of game dev experts. DevRel also offers something very soothing - weekly audio-first meetups.

Once a week you join an audio-only call with 5-7 very different people and talk about everything that comes to mind. A great way to relax after the hard week and forget about the work (or do the work while the team is discussing something funny or interesting about 2020).

I enjoy the pleasure of knowing the founders and here's what they had to say about their idea of starting an audio-first community.

From Karina:

Well, I guess, I personally feel connected when I know there are people all over at many other different places who feel same, don't want to be isolated. It's super fun what we discuss on Fridays. Also, I used to travel a lot and meet and talk to people constantly and then all of a sudden that stopped, and here is another way to do it.

From Olle:

In 2020 you, me, we, the world has changed the conscious and unconscious habits of content consumption. We just see, use, watch everything differently. And voice is a new medium to explore along this forced evolution. It is infinitely hard to make voice work today on a bigger scale, but in this community we explore and experiment a lot for voice to make sense as the main community tool. We're not there, honestly, but in this case the process is the result, and everyone is welcome to be a part of it.

I think it's something very cool and definitely worth an experimentation.

Note: I'm a member of this community so I'm very biased.

Are we there yet?

In my opinion audio-first communities are here to stay, but as the community building market in general it's still too new. The tools are not settled on something stable, and the stacks (be it a newsletter, community or podcast) are very different from platform to platform and niche to niche.

It's too early to say how the audio-first communities can work and what are their use cases. However, they are here to stay.

Audio

Anna Grigoryan

Profiling Creator Economy. Ex SmartGateVc, ex Armenia Startup Academy.