Digital audio was the fastest-growing form of digital media in 2020. According to PQ Media, consumer spending on digital audio subscription services rose 40% and reached $30.98 billion worldwide. In the United States alone, podcasting grew 30% and reached more than 100 million listeners. Players like Spotify deserve some of the credit, but the popularity of non-music audio is greater than podcasting. Clubhouse, a social networking app that lets people gather in audio chat rooms, is currently enjoying explosive growth. To leverage these trends, brands need to understand what’s driving them.

COVID and Consumer Behavior

In a recent article, The Washington Post explained how podcasting and social chat are providing consumers with a way to “escape the monotony of pandemic life”. In the case of Clubhouse, listeners have also found “a way to socialize remotely”. Remote workers who spend their days on Zoom may enjoy high-tech features like animated filters, but it’s the low-tech sound of a human voice that provides a sense of emotional connection. Plus, unlike Zoom, Clubhouse is video-free. People can participate fully without being seen. There isn’t any social pressure to participate either.

In the case of podcasts, people who listen with earbuds often report feeling like they know the host. Along with a powerful sense of connection, podcast listeners gain insights from sources they trust and subjects they choose. Podcasts can also provide a substitute for “water cooler conversation”, especially when there’s some banter between guest and host. As a communications professional in Seattle explained, “I’m filling my time – what would usually be my human interactions – with a one-way listening stream of someone else’s human interactions.”

Podcasting and Social Audio

Perhaps the same is true for other forms of entertainment such as radio morning shows, TV sitcoms, and big-screen movies. And maybe that’s why The New York Times recently wondered whether Hollywood would help or hurt podcasting’s future. Yet, COVID-19 lockdowns have changed consumer behavior. Even as vaccines become increasingly available, 62% of the U.S. population age 12 and up now listens to podcasts every week. According to The Infinite Dial, a digital audio survey from Edison Research, these listeners are demographically diverse, too.

Clubhouse, an audio-based smartphone app, proves that the rise of digital audio is about more than the popularity of podcasting or the worst of the pandemic. According to Tech Crunch, Clubhouse topped 8 million global downloads in February 2021. In a 15-day period alone, the social audio channel more than doubled its number of downloads. Today, rivals include Dizhua, Tiya, and Yalla. Now Twitter is building an app for audio chat called Spaces, even as The Verge reports that Twitter could acquire Clubhouse itself.

LinkedIn is also getting into the act. As reports, the social network for business professionals is testing an audio social feature so that members can interact in a way that is “authentic and engaging”, according to LinkedIn’s chief product officer. Meanwhile, reports that Facebook is no longer the go-to brand for a majority of social media users. Today, just 47% of social media users say that Facebook is the platform they use most. That’s down from 62% in 2016 and 54% in 2019. Not surprisingly then, Facebook is now testing its own Clubhouse-like app.

What’s Next for Digital Audio?

Will the explosive growth of digital audio continue to create new habits and products? Voice Express, a leader in innovative ways to record and playback short-form audio content, recently launched VoiceLP™. If you’re old enough to remember compact discs (CDs), you’ll notice that this card-like device is about the size of a CD jewel case. VoiceLP™ is available on Amazon and can store and playback over two hours of audio in multiple tracks and is easy-to-program using a standard USB cable. It’s perfect for archiving your brand’s audio content (such as podcasts) so you can easily share it.

Thank you for engaging Voice Express and learning more about the power of voice. We also invite you to read these recent articles.