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Opinion: The future of social audio in APAC remains strong

Opinion: The future of social audio in APAC remains strong

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Over the last few years, social audio has been going through the ebbs and flow that every new format cycle through as the world determines its application. From the steep rise and fall of Clubhouse, to the trial and error from the big social platforms, some may question whether it’s worth getting involved in social audio.

If a brand has a point of view and wants to forge real relationships with potent audiences, then the answer is yes.

Social audio is simply voice-based social media — a platform where people interact through voice or audio in real time. Many people have already engaged in social audio in some form; perhaps they’ve sent a voice message on WhatsApp or joined a virtual conversation room. As social audio emerges across APAC, the major platforms have been investing heavily in creating less-intrusive social media formats that don’t rely on video production.

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Clubhouse wasn’t a first mover in the space, but it upended the category by launching in 2020 during the pandemic, when people were craving social connection. Originally an invite-only app, Clubhouse drove massive demand for access to listen in to live conversations with buzzworthy people like Elon Musk, similar to a live podcast. Southeast Asians were selling Clubhouse invites on ecommerce platforms, and interest from Chinese listeners piqued.

Ten days after the Chinese government blocked Clubhouse, multiple clones of the platform emerged, calling themselves Clubhorse, Clubchat, and Capital eCoffee, aimed at high-profile individuals to “serve China’s venture capital community, not America’s.”

Regardless, virtual conversation platforms provided users with a new way to connect with notable people, and for those notable people to build rapport with fans. However, when COVID-19 restrictions eased, the void that Clubhouse was filling dissipated. In February 2021, Clubhouse enjoyed 10 million monthly downloads; just two months later it reported downloads were less than 10% of that number, per tracking data from Sensor Tower.

Since then, big tech platforms like Meta, Spotify, LinkedIn, and Twitter have followed suit to capitalize on the consumer need to connect over a shared interest in real time. Twitter Spaces was launched in November 2020 – allowing anyone with more than 600 followers to host an audio space for meaningful conversations. Growth in places like Indonesia was driven by K-fandom and horror story fans.

Although Spaces is public, users are required to have a link or be following the host on Twitter to access the Space. This means that to drive scale, brands have to involve influencers or celebrities people will want to listen to, and supplement with content drivers. Local brands like Indonesian telco IM3 Ooredoo are using Spaces to connect with local audiences; in one case it hosted local Indonesian artists to celebrate Ramadan.

twitter spaces usage in sea jan to aug 2022

Growing demand in Asia is increasingly captured by local platforms, creating virtual audio spaces tailored to Asian markets, with a more diverse range of topics and language. BlablaENM is an audio-based Meta community based in South Korea where users can share their stories, chat with friends and strangers, and connect over passions. Blabla is gaining traction across Vietnam, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia, largely driven by exclusive KPOP idol content on the platform such as Seongjong Lee reading pages from “My Diary”, providing fans a more intimate experience.

Perhaps the most successful social audio platform in Asia and globally is Discord. The platform was created in 2015 by a couple of gamers disappointed by existing voice platforms; it allows gamers to connect through voice chat during gameplay. Every channel has a dedicated space for voice chat, and anyone who drops in is immediately connected and able to take part in the conversation. The experience is similar to walking through different rooms in a house to see who’s there.

Fans claim that Discord “unknowingly created the future of social media.” It’s easy to imagine how this could be a gateway to the Metaverse. Globally, the Philippines ranks just behind the U.S. with the second-highest volume of monthly traffic at 24 million visits.  Overall, APAC accounts for 21% of Discord’s traffic, driven by India and Indonesia, per data from Similar Web.

The introduction of Discord Stage Channels in March 2021 has pushed the platform toward a Clubhouse-style function, where people can host conversations on an audio-only virtual stage. With more than 30% of their channels dedicated to non-gaming communities, Discord is bustling with highly engaged communities from around the world such as study groups, origami enthusiasts, and sneaker-shopping crews; users can find almost any topic on which to connect with people. Unlike other social audio platforms that are trying to build a new behavior, the Discord community has a predisposition to interact with social audio formats.

Chart title: Share of Discord users worldwide interested in selected hobbies and topics, Q4 2021

share of discord users worldwide interested in selected hobbies and topics q4 2021

For brands that want to leverage social audio to reach and engage audiences, paid formats are largely in their infancy. Still, this can be the best time to test the limits of the platform and be a first mover. Expect to see a rise in regular live social audio programs with typical audio formats emerge, such as live-reads from the presenters.  However, where scale is the primary objective, these may not be the best avenue in APAC yet.

At this stage, brands need to develop organic integrations on platforms, working with influencers and notable personalities to host live, branded audio conversations. They can also partner with influencers who are already using these formats to integrate into their community conversations.

One limitation for brands is scale. However, for a brand that believes in activating the pointy end of a specific community to influence the masses, social audio can be a great way to build advocates, engage audiences in the brand personality, or inject a point of view into popular culture.

The trick is bonding over a shared interest. When people are interested in something relevant to a brand, it’s important to get that brand in the middle of the conversation. Creating a clear link between a brand and the topic, while balancing something that people actually want to listen to, is the challenge. It’s important to keep in mind that social audio is competing with other entertainment platforms like TikTok, podcasts, and SVOD.

Marketers need to consider the strength of their brand, what they want it to be known for, and how the brand message will sound in an audio format.

The article was written by Grace Espinoza, regional strategy director, UM APAC.

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