"The Sell Sider" is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today's column is written by Jonathan Gill, CEO and founder of Backtracks.
Clubhouse entered the year with a bang. Whether it goes out with a mic drop, crackle of static or becomes the next defining social network, its staying power is less important than what its existence alone signifies for audio -- and publishers should be paying attention.
Even before Clubhouse took the realm of digital influencers by storm earlier this year, 2021 was already predicted to be a big year for audio. A steady increase in listenership had finally propelled podcasting into the mainstream and brands were paying attention to the tune of an estimated $1 billion.
What’s interesting about the current moment is that just as audio and podcasting were gaining traction among publishers as a channel to be taken seriously, Clubhouse exploded onto the scene with a new model: audio as a social network.
The exclusivity of Clubhouse’s Facebook-like rollout strategy created initial demand, but the greater impact will be “democratized audio,” or user-generated audio content. Similar as to how YouTube capitalized on virtually unlimited video inventory without producing original content, Clubhouse could create a platform that follow YouTube’s.
A user-generated audio platform poses the greatest threat for publishers who have spent significant resources developing quality original audio content. Publishers must consider the impact of user-generated content on other formats of media in order to successfully develop their own audio strategies in a media environment that includes Clubhouse.
A new equilibrium
A platform such as Clubhouse opens the floodgates for new audio content and creators, shifting the balance of power from publisher to platform. In this new equilibrium, high production value, publisher-backed audio content competes with low production value, quick-to-produce, user-generated content.
Prior to Clubhouse’s social network-based approach to audio, competition among audio content creators was relatively limited. They had to pay for their content to be created. Without this barrier to entry, we can expect to see an influx of new content to the medium.
YouTube as a platform produces more content that could possibly be effectively advertised against. We are still far away from a similar type of environment in audio. But Clubhouse is swinging the pendulum in that direction.
Soon, audio publishers will be competing for ad dollars in a way and to a scale we haven’t yet seen.
Publishers’ brand advantage
As publishers determine how to work audio into their media mix, there are two pieces of advice they should consider:
1. Invest in brand and content above all else.
Brand, reputation and quality of content become critical differentiating factors as a user-generated content platform like Clubhouse enables an influx of new content.
Establishing a distinct audio niche that aligns with and reinforces a publisher’s brand will distinguish that content when listeners are searching different topics or areas of interest.
2. Be strategic.
This sounds obvious, but publishers should approach audio in ways that best support their established core competencies, not just for the sake of saying they have a podcast or a Clubhouse invite.
Start with the ways in which audio will add value to your business model and implement from there. This may mean creating owned audio channels, a presence on third-party platforms like Clubhouse, and likely, some combination of both.
There are reasons that audiobooks, podcasts, and radio are clearly identified by consumers. Understanding where your strengths are as a publisher will help you define the audio strategy that works best for you. Charging ahead with audio, or any other new channel, platform or technology, without really understanding the “why” of how your particular brand belongs there is rarely the answer.
Even if Clubhouse isn’t viable long-term, either it or a future competitor will end up “owning” this space. Remember, Friendster (RIP) predated Facebook. Vimeo (in its original incarnation as a video sharing platform) predated YouTube. Publishers need to pay attention to the significance of this moment for the audio medium. As more creators enter the audio medium, a sound foundation in brand and content will enable publishers to be nimble and take advantage of audio in the ways that most make sense for their business and growth plans.