Twitter’s strategy with adding new features has been to put stuff in users’ noses and see what sticks. And to Twitter’s credit, it sometimes works. Spaces was quite successful on its own, and it remained relevant despite a decline in popularity from Clubhouse, the app from which it borrowed its main concept. The app ventures further into the audio space by adding a new podcasts feature to Spaces. That’s not a bad idea per se – after all, improving a good new thing should be one of the highest priorities for business right now. We’re normally less confident about Twitter uploads after errors like NFT profile pictures and fleets. But if executed well, Twitter may be able to earn new stripes and gain real popularity – perhaps overtaking Snapchat and reaching Facebook.
What are Twitter Podcasts?
The addition of podcasts to Twitter was recently announced by the company after a previous leak. A test of a new version of Twitter Spaces will be rolled out to a random group of users around the world, with a focus on podcasts at the forefront.
On the current version of Twitter Spaces, everything revolves around live audio. You can connect to a live conversation, listen to a conversation in progress and, if the host allows it, participate in it as well. Spaces can also be saved and made available for everyone to listen to whenever they want through Saved Spaces. But still, even these are based on live conversations. They can be considered podcasts in a way, but sometimes you just want a nice old fashioned podcast.
That’s probably why Twitter expands the spaces and including podcasts as part of them. Of course, he doesn’t just want to be another streamer and he won’t have the production and talent that Spotify has acquired. So what does he do to stand out from the crowd?
The app rethinks the way it currently does Spaces, grouping rooms into “hubs” for categories like news, music, sports and other topics. These hubs will contain both podcasts and the live spaces as you know them now. Twitter’s take on podcasts also wants to try and figure out what other podcast platforms haven’t quite gotten right – recommendations. It will use what it already knows about you and your interests to recommend podcasts to you, just as it is currently able to recommend live spaces to you.
This isn’t a big deal on its own, as most podcast platforms have some sort of recommendation system that learns from you. But just like Spaces, it will also take into account what the people you follow like and listen to, creating a sort of social listening environment. By doing this, Twitter is going after the experience of “another user recommending something to you,” as senior product manager Evan Jones told The Verge. Normal people would call it ‘word of mouth’, but good marketers would only have one word to describe it: ‘powerful’.
Why Podcasts on Twitter Could Succeed
Twitter takes the natural progression by gluing podcasts with Spaces. After all, people are already listening to live spaces, so why not leverage that, go all out, and allow pre-recorded podcasts to be on the platform as well?
We don’t have clear numbers on how many people listen to Spaces on a daily basis, but what we do know is that on Twitter, functionality is a high priority. According to a Washington Post report, during its development and after its release, Spaces was the #1 priority on Twitter’s roadmap. The fact that Twitter is ready to double that indicates that it is doing well overall. The company isn’t known for throwing its full weight behind features it knows are failing.
Twitter Podcasts also adds a social element to podcast discovery, tapping on people you follow and tapping into their interests, to give you recommendations. Word of mouth remains one of the most common ways to discover new podcasts, and it has the potential to be pretty close to that. Apps like Spotify have recently tried to be more social, but a streaming-focused company can’t do it the way an already established social network does. So Twitter has a chance to get some breathing room against Spotify and Apple if it blocks podcasts.
But what if they don’t?
But it is, after all, Twitter. As we mentioned at the start of the article, the company is known for brainstorming live and out loud, releasing multiple features and experiences, hoping one sticks.
Twitter has never been an audio app, at least until recently. For most of his life he barely deviated from his 140 character (later 280) formula. It allowed people to post photos, videos, and even live stream video with Periscope, but that’s about it. As he sees himself struggling to stay relevant against competitors like Instagram, he looks for a way to stand out.
With Spaces, you can say it worked, but Twitter has had more failed experiments than successful ones. Twitter’s premium subscription service, Blue, launched to a cold reception and only got colder with a price hike. If you can remember what Super Followers are, you’re a better historian than me. NFT profile pictures are, thankfully, a passing fad. And just look how the fleets turned out in the end. Doubling down on a successful addition like Spaces can be a recipe for success, but it may not be foolproof, especially if Twitter suddenly ends up losing interest.
There’s also the fact that Twitter is not only firing on competitors like Facebook or Instagram here, but also established audio platforms like Spotify. Twitter data indicates that 45% of users also listen to podcasts frequently. Podcast platforms already have an established user base, so it remains to be seen if Twitter has a compelling enough proposition to entice those users to switch their listening to the platform. People who are currently in podcasts may not necessarily be in Spaces Live Conversations and Twitter lumps the two together. In its current state, it seems more likely to help people who aren’t currently into podcasts to try them than to entice existing podcast listeners to switch. It will also depend on the number of podcasts that will actually be available on the app.
Our take: Twitter has a shot
Twitter has a compelling proposition here. While competition in the podcast space is fierce, the app is taking a different, social-first spin while leveraging its established Spaces brand to drive it forward.
The feature is currently in the experimental stage and is reaching a small number of users. Whether or not it reaches your phone will depend on whether it passes (or fails) the current test. But even if it launches for everyone, its success will also depend on whether Twitter actually considers how people use the feature when it comes to further development. It can’t afford to monetize Spaces early on, at least directly to users through Blue — the company might be tempted to raise its falling valuation in order to rein in potential acquirer Elon Musk — but if it is quick to provide publicity opportunities, he may be able to have his cake and eat it too.
Spaces just need to be well laid out.