Listening Is the New Watching: How Brands Can Leverage Social Media Audio Platforms
Amy Gilbert

It is human nature to want to listen to stories. Whether it’s bedtime stories we hear as children, family histories told over dinners at grandma’s house, those tall fishing or golf tales told by friends over beers, or the type of sage advice dispensed by wise colleagues over business dinners or event, so much of what we know about ourselves has been told to us.

That’s why, despite access to the most dazzling high-res, LED screens of all sizes, something as basic as podcasts are one of the most popular formats for consuming content today. This throwback to the 1930s radio attracts some 32 percent of all Americans at least once a month, according to a report this year from Edison Research.

It also explains the recent surge in popularity of audio social media platforms such as Clubhouse, or recently released Reddit Talk and Facebook’s audio-only Rooms. All that is great, to be sure, but as with all social media, brands are starting to ask themselves: do we need to be on audio social media platforms; and if so, how?

The short answer is yes, provided you have the right strategy.

The Sound of Branding:

Some brands have jumped right into consumer’s ears, like Pedigree dog food and agency BBDO, New York, which teamed up with shelters across the country via the Pedigree Foundation to use Clubhouse to help adoptable dogs find their forever homes. Spotlighting 20 adoptable dogs, the initiative gave each dog its own “room” where visitors could click on the dog profiles and find out how they could adopt them.

But for success stories like that social audio media apps like Clubhouse do need strategic thinking among many brand’s marketing teams.

First, there’s the voyeuristic feeling that users generally experience when engaging on these platforms. When you join you are presented with a myriad of conversations happening all around and all you can do is listen. There’s a cool factor to that, but from a human perspective, there’s that slightly squishy feeling that you’re eavesdropping on a conversation that you shouldn’t be.

From a marketer’s perspective though, what I think is most interesting is that these platforms present brands the opportunity to do market research in a different way. You get to listen to conversations in ways that you can’t on other social channels. People say things differently when they talk versus when they write, even informally in a text or email. Brands can use audio features to learn about their audience’s true interests and feelings in ways that performative platforms, such as Instagram where people share the best version of themselves, can’t.

Here are some tips to think about before testing the mic in the world of social audio:

  • Definitely prepare, to avoid dead air. But it’s most important to let the conversation flow freely and don’t try to steer it too much.
  • Don’t worry too much if the conversation goes off the rails. Platforms like Clubhouse are ephemeral, there’s no archive function, so whatever is said will be gone. If you want a record of the chat for research then plan to record it via a third-party app.
  • Make it exclusive. Clubhouse and others are meant to be an exclusive and immersive experience for those who took the time to attend, so make it that way. Offer specials or one-time opportunities for those who took the time to attend.
  • Think long term. Clubhouse and audio should not be a one-and-done type of event but rather an ongoing conversation. Create a community, keep the conversation going so people come back for more.

The noted writer Margaret Atwood once said, “You’re never going to kill storytelling because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.” Platforms like Clubhouse are merely an extension of the human plan to tell our collective stories — and one that smart brands can harness positively — provided they’re listening, and not just talking.

Amy Gilbert is Head of Social for The Social Element