By Rachel Lerman
It’s been a long year full of child care challenges, pet interruptions and Wi-Fi blips for the millions of people across the country who suddenly needed to work from home full-time. And then there’s the video calls. So, so many video calls.
Video calls that may have made some people resentful of the FaceTime or Zoom calls that came after-hours to catch up with friends or family or to try to professionally network. Tech companies know there is video fatigue out there.
Their solution? Audio.
Instagram said this week that it would now allow people to turn off their video and mute themselves, during Live Rooms, a feature the social media company launched last month that allows up to four people to chat and live broadcast together. Effectively, that means there could be an audio-only Live Room.
Twitter launched a similar function to some users starting in December, called Spaces, which allows one person to start a live chat room that speakers and participants can join. Facebook said earlier this month that its seeing a “continuing rise of audio” on its apps and is working on audio creation features. Slack said it is testing voice messaging and rooms. Spotify is reportedly hiring 100 people to build out its live audio features, according to Bloomberg.
Even LinkedIn wants in – the professional networking company confirmed to TechCrunch that its testing a social audio feature.
The traditional social media companies’ interest in audio follows the breakaway success of audio-only social media app Clubhouse. The app lets people create “rooms” to discuss a certain topic (or just chat), and designate others who join to also speak. It’s become popular with artists, Black creators, and techies who want to discuss entrepreneurship or cryptocurrency.
Clubhouse did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the increasingly hot market. The app still has a strong head-start in many ways. Research from Sensor Tower estimates that the app has been downloaded 16.6 million times and the analytics company said there is “strong retention” among Clubhouse users.
Still, it can be hard to compete with the entrenched tech giants that have millions or billions of users already committed to using their apps. And Facebook has faced criticism for copying competitors in the past. Congress grilled CEO Mark Zuckerberg on some of those points last summer.
Facebook’s Stories function on both its flagship platform and Instagram is similar to Snapchat’s earlier feature. More recently, the company added Reels to Instagram, which critics said appeared to be an answer to video app TikTok.
(Zuckerberg appeared on Clubhouse to talk about the company’s competing audio features earlier this month.)
Audio streaming, whether talking or bingeing a podcast or listening to an audiobook, has become a favorite pandemic habit for many people. Listening to audio content is at an all-time high, according to a March report from Edison Research and Triton Digital.
It’s easier to multitask while listening to just audio, and people certainly have video fatigue from the past year, said Jamie Gilpin, chief marketing officer of social media analytics company Sprout Social.
“We’re seeing some companies create their own social-audio apps, while others are retrofitting their existing offerings to have audio-only features,” she said in an email. “This represents a new wave of social media, one that capitalizes on accessible, intimate engagement.”
And the tech giants are trying to take advantage of that.
On its earnings call with analysts this week, Zuckerberg said the company believes live audio rooms will be “especially useful for groups and communities.”
Meanwhile, Twitter is moving faster on expanding Spaces, chief executive Jack Dorsey said on the company’s earnings call Thursday. Answering a question from an analyst, Dorsey said Twitter is “pushing really hard on this,” though he declined to share user metrics yet.
“But we do believe it’s an important part of serving conversation, one important format that complements what people do with tweets and what will complement what people will do with long-form content as well,” he said.
The Washington Post