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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

For Axios, social audio builds journalists’ profiles and skillset

April 7, 2022 | By Jessica Patterson – Independent Media Reporter

For the last two years, social audio platforms have provided space hang out and chat. Businesses, brands, and groups have found that social audio fills a gap they were missing during the pandemic. Media companies have enthusiastically jumped into this format as a way to extend their brand and increase audience engagement and interaction. It’s also been a space for digital content companies like Axios to build their reporters’ on air experience and boost their profiles.

Neal Rothschild, director of Audience & Growth at Axios, says that they primarily use social audio for major news discussions, product launches, or new initiatives within the company. “We’re like, how can we add a little extra boom on top of it? And so we’ll do a Twitter Space for it.”

As Axios is still figuring out how to maximize potential of social audio, they are cautious about topic selection. “What we think is most impactful is you really need to make it about the topic that people care about, not just about Axios,” Rothschild explained.

For example, Axios hosted a Twitter Space in April 2021 about Biden’s first 100 days with reporters Alayna Treene, Hans Nichols, Stef Kight, and Sara Fischer. A few months later, Axios hosted a Twitter Space around the launch of their What’s Next daily newsletter with reporters Sam Ro, Joann Muller, and Erica Pandey.

Audience building

As is the case with the media’s exploration of many social channels, the hope is that the investment pays off in exposure to new audiences.

Reporters and journalists already live on Twitter, Rothschild explained. Thus, they have built-in audiences that carry over to their use of Twitter Spaces. However, those included in the Space – experts or guests – may also be popular on Twitter, which can be beneficial to increase reach and visibility.

“Using Twitter Spaces seems like a good bet for a media company, given the existing audiences and the ability to reach new audiences. If you’re doing a Twitter Spaces and you want to bring someone on as a guest and they have a huge following, you can have some cross-pollination and introduce your following to theirs. The potential is certainly there.”

The sound of success

However, beyond engaging in topical discussions and extending audience reach, Axios has found another interesting use for Twitter Spaces: providing its journalists with exposure and experience in the audio format.

“Some reporters are the type to go on MSNBC, CNN. Others are doing radio hits.” However, Rothschild points out that social audio is “definitely a nice option for kind reporters that don’t have as big of a public profile to have the opportunity to do live, on air experience.”

Digital content companies that want to build a brand for their reporters – many of whom are great, charismatic speakers – can use social audio as a way to introduce those personalities to the world, at a low cost.

“I think it’s important to many journalists — not all — to develop on-air skills. You never know when you might be invited onto a podcast or a radio hit or a TV hit, so getting reps in is valuable,” he said. “From a glory standpoint, it’s also a cool thing to show your friends, family and professional network. There’s a little more shine to being seen or heard than just having a byline on articles.”

Social audio hosting

But there a formula for social audio hosting. Like podcasts, hearing the “voice” of a host – both figuratively and literally – is an important component in social audio spaces. However, effective social audio hosts require a careful balance. While radio and television broadcasters deliver information in a natural voice with well-paced delivery and controlled breathing, this type of performance may sound too rehearsed on social audio platforms. On the other end of the performance spectrum, people who are less charismatic or animated will sound boring. Social audio hosts also run the risk of talking too much and overwhelming guests or the audience.

“I really think that the value of these products is that it sounds like an authentic conversation, and like you’re chatting in the living room among people. There’s cutting in and interrupting, with some give and take,” Rothschild says, “And its not just, here’s me doing my rehearsed two-minute sound bite like they might be used to on TV or radio.”

Many journalists studied writing and never planned for on air-careers. For media brands, it is always a plus to have their most popular writers extend their expertise into formats beyond text[jessica p1] . For them, social audio has the benefit of being audio-only. Hosts (and listeners) don’t have to worry about their appearance. Rothschild says that this comes through on the audio as sounding more relaxed and conversational – unlike Zoom events. “After two to three years of Zoom, I’m done. I’m so done,” he says. (And he’s not the only one.)

Spaces have potential

For digital content companies that need to see more data before jumping into social audio-based spaces, there are some interesting developments in the works. For example, Twitter has added replay stats for recorded events, so digital content companies can see how their audiences are tuning in after the fact, which could affect strategy and broadcast times. Twitter also offers Spaces analytics, which gives hosts access to data on replays for recorded Spaces, how many listeners tuned in, and how many replays the session had. Twitter also reports that it is testing other analytics tools for Spaces including total speakers in a session, duration, and monetization tracking for ticketed Spaces.

Social audio is still in its early stages so monetization and other concrete benefits have not yet crystalized. However, early forays into the format have offered different takeaways and reveal much potential. While Axios is still feeling its way through the new platform, they plan to continue to host spaces for the time being with the hopes that it will deliver audience reach. They also believe that social audio offers Axios’ journalists another way to raise their profile and promote their work as well as audio experience to broaden their skill set for the converged era of journalism we find ourselves in.

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