Reesha Howard, who calls herself “Queen of Spaces”, was one of the first users of Twitter’s audio rooms, the so-called Spaces. Hide caption courtesy of Reesha Howard
Courtesy Reesha Howard
Courtesy Reesha Howard
During the pandemic, Reesha Howard was addicted to live audio chat from her smartphone. First used them Clubhouse, the busy invite-only app that has grown in popularity over the past year with freewheeling conversations, Game shows and celebrity appearances.
Then Twitter invited her to become an early tester of his new audio room called Spaces. As with Clubhouse, these conversations are live and short-lived – once they’re over, they’re gone. (Unless a host records them, there NPR recently did it with a conversation between host Audie Cornish and surgeon General Vivek Murthy.)
“They said they wanted it to feel like a dinner party, they wanted you to be like people in your living room,” says Howard. “Well, that’s my thing. I love having people in my living room. I love when we sit on the couch with a glass of wine in hand and just have fun together for hours.”
Howard now regularly hosts Spaces on Twitter, including one called Viral Talk, where she interviews someone whose social media post has gone viral. She’s had chats with rapper Soulja Boy – whom Howard said she didn’t even follow when she first sent him a direct message.
“My little old me, I slipped into Soulja Boy’s DMs, like ‘Hey, come with me on Twitter Spaces’,” she laughs. “And he said, ‘Sounds good.’ And I think, ‘What !?’ “
In just a few months, Howard has grown from fewer than 100 followers on Twitter to over 5,000. In her Twitter biography, she calls herself the “Queen of Rooms”.
Howard is one of many people who are making a name for themselves in social audio. Now tech companies from Facebook up Reddit to LinkedIn trying to launch audio capabilities in hopes of turning a pandemic-era fad into a permanent boom.
From tips to tickets: starting a business “from the start”
But there is another important piece of the puzzle for Facebook and other social networks: developing tools for people like Howard to make serious money in audio.
“We see it as something that needs to be turned into a business for [creators] from the start, “said Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook app. In April, Facebook announced It worked on a number of features including short audio posts, sound effects and “voice morphing”, as well as live chat rooms similar to Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.
The social media companies do a lot of gaining the loyalty of the creators. Audio chats could keep people in their apps longer. And companies could eventually cut their audio stars’ revenues.
So they are racing to find ways to get hosts to be paid. That’s a big change, says Esther Crawford, senior product manager at Twitter who works on spaces and other functions.
“Creators have long borne the burden of making money,” she said. “You had to do a lot of footwork to get sponsors and advertisers.”
Clubhouse and Facebook pay some YouTubers to start shows. They and other companies also let listeners tip their favorite hosts and explore ticket sales for exclusive events.
“This is an opportunity for YouTubers to be rewarded for the time and energy they invest in these public conversations on Twitter,” said Crawford.
Jazerai Allen-Lord hosts a weekly chat about sneaker culture on Twitter Spaces. Hide caption courtesy of Dawn Martin
Courtesy Dawn Martin
Courtesy Dawn Martin
It’s welcome news for Jazerai Allen-Lord, a brand strategist who hosts a weekly Twitter space on sneaker culture called The Kickback.
She says she would be interested in charging people $ 5 for Twitter versions of the workshops and office hours she runs on “how to put your pitch deck together or how to get a sneaker deal.”
Howard, the host of Viral Talk, says marketing is important too. It can be difficult for people to find Spaces on Twitter, she says. But the company just rolled out a new tab in their app for audio, and they’re optimistic.
“The difference will be how they get us there,” she said. “So as long as they understand that some of the best voices on Twitter are undiscovered voices, we’ll be A-OK.”
Will the appeal of social audio outlast the pandemic?
However, the timing of all of these audio chat features seems a little late. Pandemic restrictions have eased in many places and people are starting to make more contacts in real life.
The risk, like Jason Citron, the CEO of the messaging app discord, puts it this way: “People are obviously going to spend less time on these services, right?”
Still, Citron says he is confident that people “made new habits” during the pandemic, and some of them will stay.
“At the end of a school day or at the end of a work day, people will still come home and their friends will still be on their Discord,” he said.
Discord has had audio chat for years. Now the audio share is doubling with live events and paid tickets – areas where there will be a lot of competition.
Editor’s note: Facebook and LinkedIn are among the financial backers of NPR.