5 changes social-audio apps should consider making now

As social-audio apps like Clubhouse, Beams, Pludo, Racket and Quest have gained popularity in the last year, more marketers, product teams and up-and-coming competitors are beginning to explore the strategies that are making and breaking the user experience in this space.

On one side, these products were fairly straightforward when they first hit the market because content creators could simply sign up, create audio rooms or short-form podcasts, and then set a time for a broadcast. But as more and more negative user feedback bubbles to the top of internet forums, now is a good stopping point to consider just how “social” social audio should be.

We know social audio isn’t meant to imitate YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, whose user experiences are largely built around one-way communication. But if we exclude them, who should social-audio companies consider while developing their strategy?

Given my background in television and marketing, it should come as no surprise that I believe social audio needs to leverage the same strategies used by major news organizations.

Based on my experience, here are five of the easiest ways social-audio app teams can do it.

Organize for inclusion

When we think about the design of apps, the things that typically come to mind are the placement of the hamburger stack, the font types and the ease of the ability of the user to get in and out of their account.

But what we rarely think about is how the design supports or doesn’t support disabled users. A notable — and reasonable — concern that emerged last year as social audio took off was the lack of accessibility features for people with impaired sight or hearing.

Small text makes it harder for people with impaired vision to navigate the apps, and the lack of captioning makes it difficult for those who are deaf to enjoy the conversations.

If you think about it, restaurants and movie theaters typically have a way for patrons to use a different menu in Braille or larger print, or they offer captioning for audience members who need an additional layer of support to enjoy the show. Social audio app teams and designers should include accessibility checkpoints in the workflow to address these concerns early in the development road map.

In the first year, leverage journalists and hosts

Marketing social-audio apps to content creators is a great way to pull in early adopters, but it could be better to identify experienced hosts and journalists that are willing to work with your brand in its beta stage as well.

Why? Because when you’re building an app that will eventually take up a portion of the media market, credibility is king.

Content creation and credibility aren’t mutually exclusive. And vetting by experienced journalists and hosts who have experience producing live shows and moderating public feedback can improve the audience’s experience.

Not to mention, if you start with a lineup of talent that knows the ropes, you can buy yourself time on the user education offerings. By having credible figureheads lead your conversations, they will also set the tone for how creators who are onboarded after them should use the platform effectively.

Mimic big media

What do Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, ABC, NBC, CBS and the BBC all have in common? Programming.

If someone wants to know what’s coming on at 8 o’clock tonight on ABC, it’s easy for them to find out and set aside time to watch a show. With Netflix, audiences know about changes in the lineup weeks if not months in advance.

Consider having a lineup of rooms or shows that are produced by in-house talent. This way, the user audience has a reason to be on the platform even if their favorite creators are on hiatus.

Yes, some content creators are savvy enough to let their audience know when they will be back, but not all have the support of a producer or experienced team to make sure they can maintain a presence.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a big issue to the app teams, because you’re betting on the content creator to come back and bring their audience. But this is where the apps are actually losing engagement: If the creators aren’t consistent and the audience doesn’t know when to expect them back, and the user doesn’t receive suggestions to similar audio rooms or shows quickly, they lose interest and stop returning.

And later, when they are asked why they stopped using the platforms, their review is typically negative because they didn’t see the continued value.

When creators receive complaints, educate immediately

When entertainers mess up, all it takes is a few groups of people to air their concerns, and before you know it, their career takes a huge hit. Sometimes this happens because the content creator has acted maliciously, but other times it’s due to honest mistakes or sheer ignorance.

Here’s the thing: If you’re swift to remove the creator, not only does it tarnish their career, but it strips others in the community of the education needed about what to do in a similar circumstance — and how to reconcile the initial concerns privately and publicly.

Given the live nature of these platforms, these snafus are guaranteed to pop up, and for that reason, it’s a good idea to figure out how to address issues in a way that’s supportive to all involved.

The suggestion here is to either create a training program that the content creator would have to complete before they are allowed to return to the platform, or your company can partner with online or in-person training courses to educate people on topics relating to things like race, culture or social issues.

I liken it to getting a ticket for a moving violation and being required to attend traffic school. These app teams should think of a similar solution that allows creators to navigate being in the public eye and learning as they go. Not all content creators are trained as journalists. If they are targeted in the marketing, there should be a strategy to retain them as active participants on the platform, even after mistakes come up.

Launch a content council

Last but certainly not least, the moment your company goes into beta testing, it would be wise to create a content council to address any areas of sensitivity that may come up on your platform.

In the same way that startups have advisory boards, consider forming a content council with industry experts in diversity, equity and inclusion, disabilities, global affairs, politics, LGBTQIA advocacy, race, healthcare and social justice, just to name a few. This takes the pressure off of the internal employees to know how to tackle tough topics on the platform. It also provides the company with someone who is engaged with the business internally. These experts could be helpful if the platform faces any controversy around hot-button topics.

As the social-audio space continues to expand, so will the ways creators and audiences engage with the platforms. But whether that growth continues to spike through the rest of 2021, one thing is for sure, the social-audio space may be bigger than what it’s currently portraying itself to be, and as a content creator and end user, I can’t wait to see what opportunities will open up in this space.