Listening to digital audio is becoming a lot more common these days, thanks to the podcast renaissance that ushered in the likes of Serial and TED Radio Hour. Still, browse your news feed and you’ll notice that audio content rarely gets shared, unlike hundreds of cat pictures and hilarious YouTube videos that seem to be mainstays in your feed. In fact, among all shareable media, audio is the least shared, especially when compared to videos and photos.
There are barriers that often keep audio content out of the viral loop. According to Eric Athas of NPR Digital Services, one of the hurdles is the time-consuming process of finding shareable audio. Unlike articles where you can simply copy and paste the text that you want to tweet, audio requires you to sift through a five-minute or hour-long podcast just to find the tweet-worthy gems buried in it. At the moment, there is no easy way to extract and share chunks of audio taken from bigger pieces on social media, unless you have a professional app that lets you tweak with audio content. You have to share the entire thing, and people who see your post might be too lazy to sift through the whole audio piece.
Portability is also a problem, as people often listen to audio while they’re doing something else, like driving or working out. This makes them unable to share the content at the moment. Shareable audio also doesn’t come with a context, like an image or headline. After all, audio is a medium that isn’t produced for the sake of going viral. It doesn’t translate to the Internet the same way that a photo does. Radio stories often need to be “webified,” that is, transcribed into text, essentially changing the medium.
Athas shared some observations on the type of audio that people often share on social media. Audio explainers are one of them, since this type of content teaches something through a quick and interesting audio clip. For instance, the BBC Learning English podcast available on digital audio platform Audioboom Group PLC (AIM: BOOM) garnered 44,000 listens in spite of having just 26 posts.
Sounds that also make you say “whoa” also get shared more frequently than others because they create a unique listening experience. WNPR’s hummingbird chirp sound got 75,000 listens because it captures the fascinating sound of nature that would not be as exciting if it is delivered as a photo or article.
Captivating stories also have the potential to go viral. Though subjects often have amazing stories to tell, it is the way their stories are told that captures the listener’s attention. Just look at how Sarah Koenig’s compelling narration and true crime subject matter propelled Serial to the top of the podcast charts, getting more than five million downloads from iTunes users alone.
In producing shareable audio content, what Aristotle once said of speech writing holds true—it has to appeal to the logic, emotion, or ethics of an individual. Though there are still a lot of technicalities to be ironed out when it comes to making audio shareable, what matters is the content. Content is king, even in audio.