Everyone is trying to get in on the audio game right now, and the cool new kid on the block is Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms and its offering for podcasts.

On June 21, Mark Zuckerberg and his squad rolled out the new functions, the former of which is currently only available to public figures and select Facebook groups in the U.S.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll expand the ability for more public figures and Groups to host a Live Audio Room and introduce new features for both experiences in the coming months,” Fidji Simo, head of Facebook App, wrote in an announcement on Facebook’s Newsroom.

Let’s first dive into how these functions work, then take a look at how they could affect you as an independent podcaster. 

How Facebook’s social audio product works

What are Live Audio Rooms? 

Live Audio Rooms on Facebook “enable you to discover, listen in on and join live conversations with public figures, experts and others about topics you’re interested in.” 

TLDR; this is Facebook’s version of Clubhouse. Public figures can invite friends, followers, verified public figures, or any listeners in the room to be a speaker, just like Clubhouse, and the host can invite speakers in advance or during the conversation. There’s no limit to the number of listeners, but there’s a maximum of 50 speakers per Live Audio Room. 

Groups are the Facebook version of Clubs, where admins can control whether moderators, group members or other admins can create a Live Audio Room. In public Groups, both members and visitors can listen to the Live Audio Room, but in private Groups, only members can listen.

The logistics of Live Audio Rooms

The layout of a Live Audio Room — a function that is available on iOS and Android — is very similar to Clubhouse, with the speakers’ names and profile photos shown at the top. The listeners following the Room are underneath the speakers, then all other listeners listed underneath them. 

When someone is speaking, a blue ring pops up around their profile photo, and like a Facebook Live, you can see how many people are listening (rather than viewing) at the top of the screen while the conversation is live. 

Listeners can also raise their hand to request to speak just like on Clubhouse. Facebook’s twist is that it has added reaction buttons so listeners can like, love, etc. in real time to engage with the speakers. 

A notable feature in Live Audio Room: hosts can select a nonprofit or cause to support, and listeners and speakers can directly donate during the conversation. Clubhouse has this function as well through an integration with donation platform Pledge. Facebook’s donation feature looks exactly like the Fundraiser function users can implement to raise money for a cause on their  birthdays. 

Listeners find Rooms via the News Feed and notifications, and because Facebook already has a Groups function, users can of course join Live Audio Rooms within Facebook Groups. Facebook users can sign up to be reminded when a Live Audio Room goes live, and get a notification when friends and followers join as well. 

An added engagement feature: “Listeners can also offer support and show appreciation to the public figure host of the Live Audio Room by sending Stars, which bumps those listeners up to the ‘front row,’” according to the Facebook announcement. 

“The ‘front row’ is a special section that highlights people who sent Stars, so hosts can recognize supporters (and maybe even give them a shout out during the conversation!). Listeners can purchase Stars packs during the conversation and send them anytime.”

What are Facebook podcasts?

This function is less fleshed out than the Live Audio Rooms, but interesting nonetheless. 

Facebook has updated its mobile app so that it’s still part social media platform you know and love (or hate?), part podcast platform. The initial slate of podcasts users will be able to listen to includes The Joe Budden Podcast, The LadyGang and Side Hustle Pro, with plenty more to come. 

The logistics of Facebook podcasts

People can listen to podcasts while browsing the Facebook App, via a miniplayer or full-screen player experience with playback options. Users can listen to select podcast creators on their Facebook Pages and News Feed, and they can react to, comment on, bookmark and share their favorite episodes.

Facebook says it will roll out additional features this summer, including captions and the ability to create and share short clips of a podcast. 

What this all means for indie podcasters

The power of Facebook podcasts shrinks when looking at certain demographics

Alban Brooke, head of marketing for Buzzsprout, noted in a Twitter thread that Facebook’s podcast platform is unique for four reasons: 

  1. It makes the social media platform a full podcast app
  2. There’s a Podcast tab on Facebook pages
  3. There’s the opportunity for automatic podcast promotion on Facebook
  4. Podcast audiograms have a feature called Soundbites

He also noted that Facebook is going to automatically create News Feed posts for new episodes and any episodes released in the two weeks prior to opting in, which could be a life saver for indie podcasters (especially those riding completely solo, with no extra set of hands). 

It’s awesome that followers of a page will get notified when new episodes are released, but unless you have a large following on Facebook, you’re probably not going to get the full benefit. 

As Alban pointed out in his Twitter thread, Facebook is planning to release Soundbites, its own native audiograms to promote the podcast episode in the News Feed, sometime in 2021.

“It looks like this is part of a larger push towards an ‘audio-only TikTok’ where anybody can create and share short audio clips,” he wrote in the thread. 

Bottom line: The potential for audience growth is there, but you’re still going to need to build a following on the platform. 

Facebook podcasts is so new and so limited right now, there’s a lot we don’t know

Facebook podcasts is currently invite-only and the vast majority of podcasters haven’t been invited. It’s also unclear how Facebook selected the initial podcasts to include. But one thing we do know is that it’s too early to evaluate how helpful this will be.  

Buzzsprout’s How to Start a Podcast show was invited, for example, which makes sense at first look because it has the most downloads of the company’s three podcasts, but the show also has not published an episode in nearly a year. 

Currently, the process of getting your show on Facebook podcasts looks like this:

At the end of these steps, you have a page where you can manage your podcast. 

Alban noted that there are also many unanswered questions around stats and transcriptions, but it does look like Facebook will eventually allow podcasters to connect their RSS feed directly to their Facebook Page.

He’s intrigued by that as well as the commenting feature, which was something many Joe Rogan fans have been vocal about missing since he moved to Spotify exclusively. 

Bottom line: It’s early days for Facebook’s podcast experience. There are definitely some intriguing elements, but there are way too many unanswered questions and functionality issues to determine how helpful it will ultimately be for indie podcasters. 

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