Why audio is reigning supreme when it comes to content

John Crossley

17 Mar 2021

In an online world where almost anything is possible, there’s a simple, pegged-back content format in vogue with audiences right now.  

And it’s something that has been around for a very, very long time – audioThe first wireless radio broadcast in the UK was in 1920, and next year, we celebrate 100 years since the formation of the BBCDigital radio today continues to be prevalent across the media landscape, but the internet era is continuing to evolve it further 

Fast forward to today, and the audio format of podcasting is booming. This trend was boosted further by the launch of audio-only social network Clubhouse, along with Twitter’s foray into audio, with Spaces (currently in Beta). To me this feels like a particularly interesting moment in time, as marketers and PR professionals look for new and effective ways to reach their audiences.  

In this blog post, I’m going to explore what’s driving this appetite for audio-only content vs other formats, and how it may be linked to how the internet age is rewiring our brains. 

Feeding our hungry ears 

In the world before Covid-19 (whenever that was), podcasting was enjoying its moment in the sun. Many expected the pandemic to impact listenership, but YouGov found it in fact increased from 27% to 33% in the UK. 

Of the 700,000 podcasts that have been created since 2005 – more than 30 million episodes – a third of that content was created after 2018.  

At a time when we have hyper-fast broadband and the arrival of 5G, the potential for 8K video, plus an explosion of possibilities from the ever-expanding multi-verse of software and applications, audio is still booming in popularity. 

Is it possible that in our crowded, busy, lives, all of these options are a bit too much? In content, we can strip away layer-upon-layer of complexity, be that interactivity, flashy motion graphics, or even a brilliant piece of design. When all that’s left is audio, theres still the possibility to create something informative, entertaining, and immersive, without the need to command the full attention of an active brain.  

This isn’t to discount other formats in your content armoury – far from it. Instead, this is about thinking what will work best for the story you’re trying to tell, and how your target audience will consume that content.  

Could switch-tasking and ‘Zoom fatigue’ be putting people off video?  

The explosion of video conferencing over the last year has left many people feeling quite tired. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real thing 

Combine the new way of meeting and connecting with colleagues, along with messaging platforms, email, social media all at our fingertips – focussing all our attention on one thing is harder than ever. And when we try to do it all at once it feels exhausting; our brains just can’t sustain that range of focus to do any of those things well.  

I’d argue audio formats actually work a lot better when youre a passive participant (i.e. just listening in), and this could further influence how people want to consume content on the go. Audio-only allows for all three types of attention that our brains are capable of – sustained, selective and divided, whereas other content formats can only be sustained for a short time.  

This is backed up by research which found nearly half of podcast listeners report multi-tasking while listeningwhether when working out, going for a walk, or just relaxing at home – all prime lockdown activities. When framed this way, an audio-only format feels like the perfect pairing for the lives many of us are living right now.  

Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces – the new players in town 

Both of these are arriving at a time when were starting to get to grips surrounding a new ‘hybrid’ world of work and leisure.  

For PR and comms professionals, they both offer new ways to increase the profile of their brand, or drive thought leadership. These platforms give the ability to connect with an audience in what can feel like an exclusive or intimate setting – even if the reality is it’s via an app on a smartphone or if the ‘connection’ is being shared with thousands of people 

The web has once more removed a barrier to access for would-be content creators or publishers. The same happened with the arrival of blogs, YouTube and social media. And this could be a moment of things coming full circle in a sense, as anyone (with an invite to Clubhouse) can now be a talk radio broadcaster – with every smartphone owner a potential listener. Twitter’s take on this, Spaces, will be rolled out globally in April. 

With that in mind, you can see why Clubhouse has grown in popularity within the B2B space so quickly. It can feel like it mimics the experience of being at an industry event or conference, as you select which room to join from the ‘lobby/hallway’. But once you’re in, if you want to just listen, it’s easy enough to put this into the background. And if you want to get more involved in the conversation, you can wait your turn to talk (or even start your own club).  

This format isn’t going to replace video or other formats. Rather, this is another tool in the box for marketers and comms professionals, offering a new way to solve comms challenges 

Key takeaways: 

  • Podcasting continues to be a great route for owned content  have a chat with us about how to plan this out and make it a success in a noisy marketplaceCheck out some of our recent work with Mimecast here. 
  • Consider experimenting with Clubhouse – it’s a great way to build the profile of a spokesperson who wants to be known on a certain topic 
  • No matter what format you’re using – telling a great story is what matters