Facebook invests in audio with short-form Soundbites feature, podcast support and a Clubhouse clone

Sarah Perez and Lucas Matney
·6 min read

Facebook today officially announced a suite of new audio products -- an indication that it's taking the threat from Clubhouse and other audio platforms more seriously. The company is doing more than just building its own take on Clubhouse, however, it's also announcing tools that allow podcast creators to share long-form audio, a new Spotify integration for music and a brand-new short-form experience called Soundbites.

The Clubhouse clone was probably the most-discussed of the new products ahead of today's announcement, given the increased interest in the audio networking market.

Like Clubhouse, the Facebook experience will also involve live audio rooms, where users can engage in topical discussions.

"I think the areas where I'm most excited about it on Facebook are basically in the large number of communities and groups that exist. I think that you already have these communities that are organized around interests, and allowing people to come together and have rooms where they can talk is -- I think it'd be a very useful thing," said Zuckerberg, in a friendly interview with Platformer, timed alongside the official announcement. "When we launched video rooms earlier last year, groups and communities were one of the bigger areas where that took off. So, I think around audio, just given how much more accessible it is, that'll be a pretty exciting area as well."

Image Credits: Facebook

The Live Audio Rooms will be available across both Facebook and Messenger, Facebook says in an official blog post.

The company will first test Live Audio Rooms in Groups, reaching Groups' 1.8 billion monthly users. They'll also be made available to public figures and experts. Early adopters of the feature will include American football quarterback Russell Wilson, Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA, artist and director Elle Moxley and five-time Olympic medalist and entrepreneur Nastia Liukin, Facebook says.

Live Audio Rooms will be available to everyone on Facebook this summer. Also this summer, Live Audio Rooms will be made available on Messenger, for an experience that allows friends to hang out, too.

In addition to products that rehash audio functionality available in tech products from other companies, Zuckerberg also revealed that the company was working on an audio-only version of its TikTok competitor Instagram Reels that allows users to quickly move through algorithmically sorted short audio clips, a project being called Soundbites. In its blog post, Facebook detailed that they will be testing Soundbites over the next few months with a small group of creators before making it widely available.

Image Credits: Facebook

"The idea here is it's short-form audio clips, whether it's people sharing things that they find funny… or kind of pithy things that people want to share that cover a bunch of different genres and topics," Zuckerberg said.

For podcast creators, Zuckerberg said the company will build out tools for those who follow podcasts and creators through Facebook Pages, but don't currently have a way to access podcast content via the social network. He noted that there are now 170 million Facebook users who are connected to a Page for a podcast, which is why it wants to ensure they have a way to access this audio content more easily.

Image Credits: Facebook

For these users, they'll be able to discover the audio and start playing it, even in the background. Or they could choose to launch a second app to continue to play it, Zuckerberg said. We understand that the experience will actually allow users to directly open Spotify, if they would prefer to listen to the music or audio there, instead.

The feature will also help users with new podcast discovery based on your interests, and users will be able to comment on podcasts and recommend them to friends.

Related to these audio efforts, Zuckerberg referenced Facebook's partnership with Spotify, which is now being expanded with something it has internally referred to as "Project Boombox" -- an integration that would allow people to share content from their favorite artists, playlists and other types of audio in their feed. That content would then appear in a little, in-line player for others to click and play.

We understand from sources familiar with the Spotify integration that this player will support both music and podcasts. It has already been tested in non-U.S. markets, including Mexico and Thailand. It's expected to arrive in about a week.

"Facebook’s interest in audio is further validation of the category and reinforces what we’ve known all along — the power and potential for audio is limitless," a spokesperson for Spotify told TechCrunch. "Our ambition has always been to make Spotify ubiquitous across platforms and devices — bringing music and podcasts to more people — and our new integration with Facebook is another step in these efforts. We look forward to a continued partnership with Facebook, fueling audio discovery around the world," they added.

Zuckerberg also referenced the need to serve the growing creator economy with its new products.

With Live Audio Rooms, fans will be able to support creators through Stars, Facebook's existing in-app tipping feature, or donate to causes. Facebook says it will later offer other monetization tools like access to Live Audio Rooms on subscriptions. There's also an Audio Creator Fund being made available to kick off the launch of Soundbites.

The exec also spoke about Facebook's plans for a newsletter product, all under the umbrella of serving the creator community with a suite of tools -- something Twitter is now doing, too, with its plans for Super Follow.

"I think a product where a journalist or a creator can basically create a subscription for people who want to follow them, that spans both a newsletter and a podcast, is going to be a really powerful thing," said Zuckerberg. "So that's a big part of what we're going to enable with some of the monetization tools around podcasts. That dovetails with the work that we're planning to do...our work on our newsletters and giving tools for for independent journalists. I think enabling both of those things to come together on extremely favorable terms to journalists and creators, will be a pretty powerful thing," he noted.

The product launches, which Vox scooped on Sunday, indicate how seriously Facebook considers the disruption to its dominance that could be attributed to the growing number of places where fans connect with creators. The threat for Facebook today is not just a new app like Clubhouse or Substack's newsletters or even Patreon, but the fact that the creator economy, in general, isn't being centralized and owned by Facebook itself.