Are podcasts anti-social? We believe social-audio is possible.

No doubt podcasting has become a fun and exciting topic. The growth is exhilarating, the content is stimulating, the listener demographics are lucrative, the medium is fresh, and the concept is entering into the mainstream consciousness via massive celebrity participation.

But there’s something bigger happening and podcasts are playing a specific role. We’re entering into an era of audio and of voice-enabled interfaces. I believe that it’s no longer a hypothetical and there’s no turning back.

Airpods are the new iPhone.

Yet despite these exciting advancements, podcasting has remained safely snuggled in the arms of Apple, its creator and benevolent overlord.

While no one knows Apple’s intentions, there is simply not been enough money for titans like Apple or Google to really care. For example, Apple has 50x more revenue in one quarter than the entire podcast industry in an entire year.

Furthermore, it is entirely not clear where the winds are blowing and what podcasting will look like 5 years from now. If you stand still, you can literally watch the landscape shift under your feet.

Will there be a “bundling” in which all major publishers centralize under several distributors or will podcasting maintain a democratized DNA?

What we do know is that Airpods are here to stay, audio has strong utility advantages, and voice is able to create intimate and imaginative social experiences.

Socal audio is the next frontier.

I’m confident that interactive “social audio” is coming, we just don’t know when or how. Ultimately, I believe that it is a question of user experience design. Eventually, when enough experiments are conducted, at just the right time, there will emerge an experience that will captivate imaginations and spread like wildfire.

I believe it will be a hybrid interface that can function with or without a screen. An experience in which you only need your Airpods to connect with your friends, create content, find fascinating like-minded people, and have meaningful human conversations at scale.

Our goal at the Listen App is to understand audio from first principles and create social interactivity that’s fresh, intuitive, easy, and taps into deep psychological needs only voice-enabled experiences can access.

This means we can’t borrow interfaces and must design from first principles.

So, where do we start?

There’s a danger in being so innovative that the experience is totally foreign and the learning curve too steep.

I believe that podcasting is a perfect framework for giving birth to social-audio. It’s hard to do anything in audio outside of podcasting because podcast content is hard to compete with. It’s really good! This is why I believe Anchor had to pivot from “podcasting for everyone” to “podcasting creation toolset”.

During the past year, I’ve attempted to understand the fundamental psychology of podcast listening. Here are some of the observations:

  • Listener loyalty: Podcast listeners are more loyal than any other form of media. 88% of subscribers listen to every new episode posted!
  • Medium intimacy: Podcasters speak when they’re close to the mic and listeners use headphones. It feels like you’re right next to the host.
  • Personality driven content: The personality and energy of the host define most podcasts.

As a result, the para-social dynamics are stronger than most people realize. This is why live podcast events are doing so well.

Therefore, fans are desperate for access to the podcasters they’ve grown to love.

Okay, that’s real and interesting.

Second, I believe podcast subscribers are naturally occurring communities based on common interestswhich are completely untapped.

  • Interest-based: When you fanatically listen to a show that caters to your specific interests, other fanatic listeners are people you’ll naturally find interesting.
  • Built-in conversation triggers: When you listen to an interesting episode, followup questions and points of discussion are valuable and organic.

Third, podcasters need to build communities to retain, grow, and monetize their core listeners.

  • Great new podcasts are created daily. The best moat to retain listeners is by creating a meaningful community.
  • Listeners who feel a strong connection with the show host are much more likely to buy from ads and subscribe to premium offerings.
  • Activated fans who are engaged in a meaningful community talk to their friends about the show.

So there it is. The Listen App framework for creating a product that we believe will meet the needs of podcast listeners and creators alike.

What will it look like?

Having identified these social needs in the existing podcast environment, we are starting with a kind of, “Fan-clubs for podcast communities“. Here’s how it works.

Imagine when you’re listening to any episode, you can enter into a virtual room with all of the other people who have listened to this episode and start having conversations with them using your voice.

Our goal was to re-create a “book club” dynamic at scale using the human voice. A magical place, where you can “walk-up” to anyone and start a conversation based on what you heard.

Like I mentioned earlier, subscribing to a podcast and listening to an episode creates an organically curated community. We’re simply giving the members access to one another.

Now imagine that the podcast host also walks into the room and starts to interact with the conversations… using their own voice!

I can assure you that the listeners would be even more loyal and talk about the show with their friends. It’s an experience that “one-ups” all other podcasts.

Finally, the entire experience is community curated whereby each listener can up-vote the best comments to limit trolling and promote helpful responses.

After nearly a year of prototyping and experimenting, I believe we’ve created the best possible solution for podcasters looking to build loyal communities and fan clubs.

The Listen App starts with a specific existing and identifiable problem in the podcast social dynamic. But then it gets even more exciting.

Keep reading in the next post for a sneak peek into the bigger vision.

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