Requires Sound Strategy
Eric Seay,Co-Founder & CXO, Audio UX
If you haven’t heard, audio is going social. While music streaming services and social networking apps have co-existed before, there hasn’t been a single platform to sync them until now. Social audio apps like Clubhouse offer a revolutionary way to tune in to global conversations in real-time and to chime in.
Best of Both Worlds
Digital audio has had social features for years yet the interactions have remained somewhat static. You could comment directly on a song with SoundCloud, or share podcast links via Spotify. But you couldn’t ask the host a question in the middle of an episode. Now with social audio, the guest list has become democratized as the audience becomes the panelists.
While social media has been dominated by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter’s visual feeds, content strategists continue to vie for eyes while we approach an inevitable saturation point: peak screen. There has been less of an investment on our ears, especially considering an estimated 85% of videos are watched on mute. As the demand for higher engagement escalates, audio may become the final thumb stopper.
Social Audio Adoption
Clubhouse downloads skyrocketed during the pandemic. Since entering the App Store with 10k iOS users, that number has grown a thousandfold. Now available on Android, these 10 million plus users are eager to adopt audio experiences. And, while Clubhouse may be cooling down, the competition is heating up with new entrants including: Spaces by Twitter, Greenroom by Spotify, and Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms.
Setting the Stage for Sound Strategy
Social audio contributes to the conversation about sonic branding in several ways. Foremost, it forces brands to think about what they sound like as the essence of branding has to be communicated with music, sounds, and voices.
Second, users are beginning to discuss the power of sound. Different rooms/spaces/channels are being dedicated to discussing audio branding as a subject unto itself.
Finally, the platforms are deploying audio branding assets, such as earcons, to help users navigate the experience, and to differentiate from the competition.
Use Cases for Audio Branding
For brands with existing audio identities, there are a few things to consider. Arguably the most important sound on social audio is the voice of your brand. This persona will be responsible for communicating your messaging to each person partaking in the experience. Stakeholders must ask themselves if this voice is an ambassador that speaks authentically to the audience.
Due to the live nature of these dialogs, the persona(s) may be more or less candid. From one brand to another, this can mean something entirely different—that’s part of what makes this medium so unexpectedly delightful. In one room, you can have Elon Musk chatting with consumers and CEOs. In another, mascots become moderators, as with the Kool-Aid Man interjecting with his catchphrase, “Oh yeah!”
This opens the door for conversational caricatures such as the GEICO Gecko or Cheetos’ Chester Cheetah. Whatever the case, be sure to upgrade the fidelity with an external microphone. Speaking directly into your smartphone may be common but the feedback can distract from the content. Similarly, users of AirPods or similar hearables will be able to isolate inputs and outputs, but many Bluetooth codecs will sound compressed without a microphone plugged directly into the headphone jack.
Secondary to voice talent, make the most of music. To fill unwanted silences as speakers get ready, on-brand music can establish from whom they are about to hear. For brands with anthems, podcasts themes, or music libraries, this can be as simple as porting to a new touchpoint. For those wishing to curate their experience, intros, outros, loops, and interjections packaged with audio logos and UX sounds can help score the experience. Thanks to the new Music Mode feature on Clubhouse, streaming audio has become more accessible to all.
Lastly, think about product sounds and immersive soundscapes. This can be a soundbite from a sporting event, sound effects from a movie, UI sounds from your devices, or in the case of a multinational breakfast brand, the sizzling sound of bacon. To promote their Steakhouse Premium Bacon, IHOP recently hosted a room exclusively featuring the frying sounds of their pork product.
Conversations about Audio Branding
There are countless clubs dedicated to discussing sounds. The Power of Sound is a great place to pick up tips for creating better experiences. The Society of Sound Thinking tackles topics such as sonic diversity. Beyond casting talent for audio ads, social audio is a place to be cognizant of transcending the sonic color line.
Social Audio Branding
What are the sounds of social audio?
There’s a key differentiator between a push notification from an app like Slack versus Clubhouse: the earcons. While many apps default to the signature sound of the operating system, Slack’s iconic “knock-brush” indicates that a colleague has messaged you. Clubhouse likewise has a two-note indicator for events. During conversations, sound can assist in state changes. How do you know when someone invites you to the stage? A higher pitched three-note melody plays. There’s a suite of sounds to guide users into taking the correct action.
The audio aesthetic of Clubhouse is significantly more digital sounding than Greenroom, which opts for a hybrid approach akin to a synthetic xylophone performing each earcon. Take note of subtle differences, such as when a speaker joins or exits Greenroom, the sounds pan left to right, and right to left, respectively. The key takeaway – sounds can say a lot.
The Future of Social Audio Branding
During the lockdown, listening habits have increased across the board. This increased appetite for audio has fed the hype of a new interactive listening format. Especially for sufferers of “Zoom Fatigue” social audio may be a welcomed cure for the common conference call. In fact, this new networking format could eliminate the causes of this syndrome as audio-only eliminates straining to make eye contact, the distraction of seeing yourself talking, and best of all, you’re free to roam the room.
Social audio is still in its infancy but has the potential to become more accessible and interactive. For those suffering from various degrees of hearing loss, introducing features like live transcriptions and translations can broaden the audience. Similarly, for anyone having trouble seeing the names or profiles of speakers, earcons and text-to-speech voices can assist in narrating the experience.
Whether or not Clubhouse becomes fully eponymous with social audio, or if we one day refer to the interactions as “Firesiding” or “Greenrooming”, the evidence points to a future filled with one-click conversations at our fingertips. Whichever audio-first application flourishes, it’s a no brainer for marketers to deploy their audio branding in this space.
About the Author: Eric Seay is Co-Founder & CXO of Audio UX where he combines his passion for the artistic expression of music and the study of psychoacoustics. From soldering circuit boards to sonically branding global corporations, he has a deep understanding of the entire vertical market of sound.