They have both been in development for some time and have been tested in various forms. But now Facebook is officially launching a new audio room option, as well as an in-app podcast discovery and playback feature.
First about audio rooms, Facebook’s response to the social audio trend led by Clubhouse. Having announced the option back in April, then tested it among users in Taiwan over the past month, Facebook now offers a live audio-room feature to selected public figures and Facebook groups in the U.S.
As you can see here, audio rooms launched by people and/or groups you follow will appear at the top of your Facebook News Feed, above the Stories panel. This may indicate the value that Facebook sees in this option – but then again, that’s where your video conversations in Messenger Rooms already appear, so it’s pretty much consistent with this option.
Users will be able to sign up for reminders about upcoming audio rooms, similar to events, and you’ll also be able to connect to audio rooms from posts in your feed (as shown in the second screenshot above).
In the top example, you’ll notice that the listener list will also have “First Row,” which will be reserved for paid subscribers.
As Facebook explains:
“Listeners can also show their support and appreciation for a public figure who hosts a live audio booth by sending “Stars” that elevate listeners to “Front Row.” The “front row” is a special section that highlights the people who sent in stars so that presenters can acknowledge supporters (and maybe even greet them during the conversation!).
This will provide creators with another way to monetize their efforts on Facebook: “Stars” will be displayed on the screen to grab the attention of the host/hosts.
Presenters will be able to invite speakers in advance or select listeners during the stream to join the conversation. For audio rooms in Facebook groups, administrators will be able to control whether moderators, group members or other administrators can create a live audio room.
“In public groups, both members and visitors can listen to the audio room, while in private groups, only members can listen to the audio room.”
The number of rooms will be limited to 50 speakers, while there is no limit to the number of listeners who can connect.
In addition, Live Audio Room hosts will be able to select a nonprofit organization or charity to support during the conversation, and listeners and speakers will be able to donate in the stream.
The audio rooms will be available to individual public figures and groups at the initial launch, and Facebook will enlist a number of popular authors to promote the option:
- Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA will discuss female excellence and overcoming obstacles
- American soccer quarterback Russell Wilson will talk about how to train your mind as an elite athlete.
- Organizer, producer, freelance journalist and activist scholar Rosa Clemente will lead a discussion on affirming blackness in the Latino community.
- Listen to what it’s like to live the life of a professional esports player in the Live Audio Room, hosted by streamer, artist and Internet personality Omareloff
- Social entrepreneur Amanda Nguyen will chat with fellow changemakers about the pursuit of justice and making progress in extremely polarized times.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also tested the feature last week, which points to an upcoming launch, and since these popular users have also tried out the feature, there’s no doubt many Facebook users will connect to it and get an idea of how the audio social tools will work.
“In the coming weeks, we’ll be expanding the options for more public figures and live audio room groups, and in the coming months we’ll introduce new features for both features.”
Facebook is somewhat late to the party: Twitter’s Spaces now seems to be leading the audio-social app race, as Clubhouse is slow to load on iOS (it’s still growing on Android after the recent launch of the Android app).
Nevertheless, Facebook can still win, as the focus on attracting audio rooms to groups will help ensure that audio broadcasts are relevant and capture the attention of users who have shown interest in those topics and speakers.
Discoverability is the next key challenge for social audio tools. If users go into Clubhouse and can’t easily find the rooms they want, they will quickly abandon them, and the same can be said for Twitter, which still doesn’t know how to highlight the right topics based on their usage. But Facebook is avoiding any algorithm inconsistencies in this regard by focusing specifically on groups and well-known public figures, which may end up being the best way to maximize the number of users.
In addition, Facebook is also officially launching new podcast support options that will allow users to find and listen to podcasts without leaving the app.
Facebook has been testing the new options for the past month, and is now going to launch them with a select group of popular podcasters.
“For starters, the first podcasts will include Joe Budden from The Joe Budden Podcast; Carefully Reckless’s Jess Humor from The Black Effect Podcast Network and iHeartRadio; Kelty Knight, Becca Tobin and Jack Vanek from LadyGang; and Nickayla Matthews Okom from Side Hustle Pro. We will continue to add new podcasts in the coming weeks.”
The option will facilitate podcast discovery in the Facebook app, along with a “miniplayer or full-screen player” for in-stream playback.
“Later this summer, we will introduce additional features such as titles and the ability to create and share short podcast clips. Over time, we will create a more unique social experience around podcasts that takes advantage of Facebook’s best interactive and personalized features.”
Note the mention of the new “short clips” option, which will eventually allow Facebook users to create and share short snippets (less than a minute) of podcast audio in the app. This could provide a significant boost for podcasters looking to maximize the promotion and discovery of their audio content, adding new ways to reach Facebook’s 2.85 billion users.
As noted, both options have been in development for some time, so it’s no surprise that they got a proper launch. However, this is an important next step for the social network, which aims to create more monetization and promotion opportunities for creators of all types to provide them with more incentives to publish on Facebook and keep their audience on the platform.
Facebook also notes that additional audio products, “such as a central listening spot and background audio for videos,” will begin testing in the near future.
This could provide more options for discovering and interacting with audio content in the app – and, as noted, this could lead to Facebook ultimately winning the new social audio race.