Video goes viral, but what about audio? I have never even heard the expression “viral audio,” have you?
“Going viral” means “being shared.” So why is it so tough to share audio online?
In some cases the sharing capability is clunky or nonexistent. But even where conventional sharing functions exist there are two larger problems: Consumption and discovery.
Online audio is hard to consume. Okay, not hard, but taxing. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then it takes a thousand words to communicate one picture and – more importantly – the time to consume a thousand words.
Time is the ultimate scarcity. That’s why we share pictures and short videos but not audio files, many of which are long, longer, and longest.
I recently wrote a post that went “viral.” The metrics indicated that while the post had 4,100 reads, it had almost 11,000 shares. That’s right – more than twice as many people shared the post than read it. In other words, they weren’t sharing the post, they were sharing the title of the post. Short, shorter, and shortest.
Search generally works via text. Unless your audio is accompanied by a transcript or other meaningful editorial, you carry a bare minimum of text. That makes your content almost invisible to anyone searching for what might be in it.
Together, consumption and discovery, these twin troubles, make the sharability of audio content online difficult if not impossible.
But to folks who grow up in radio, this is not the problem it seems.
The audio of radio, you see, has never been sharable. It’s ephemeral. It exists and then it’s over like a ray of sunlight. And all that’s left is a memory.
So in radio we don’t share the audio, we share the memory of the audio – we share the conversation about the audio. We talk about what we heard.
How did you discover the Serial podcast? By someone sharing the audio with you? Or by someone sharing the conversation about the audio with you?
“Have you heard the Serial podcast yet?”
“No, what is it?”
Aided, in fact, by virtual word-of-mouth – not the sharing of audio online but the sharing of conversation about the audio online – and not only by consumers (via Twitter, Facebook, etc.), but also by influential sources with their own audience followings – the Mashables and NYT’s of the world.
Witness this screen cap from the Hollywood Reporter, which finishes with an audio clip from the Howard Stern Show.
Why is this audio here? Because it’s Howard’s conversation with Robert Downey Jr. explaining why he walked out on an uncomfortable junket interview for the Avengers sequel.
But why is this audio really here? See, the content of the audio was almost completely covered in the editorial that preceded it – the “conversation” about the audio rather than the audio itself.
From THR’s perspective, this audio is “color”: Useful and engaging, but no substitute for the play-by-play of the editorial content. That’s why it comes at the end of the article!
So the audio literally spawned this article and now the article – the “conversation” – doesn’t need the audio!
From SiriusXM’s perspective, however, this article dramatically improves the ability to consume this audio because everything worth listening to in the audio is already in the article – the article pitches the audio. It also magnifies the ability to discover this audio, thanks to Google’s built-in bias for text search.
So as a content-maker, why should you bother creating this audio if folks don’t even need to listen to it?
Because it reminds us of what we missed this day and what we miss every day we don’t listen to Howard Stern. It is, in other words, marketing. And the best marketing of all – the kind that perfectly encapsulates the value it promises.
And it does so not only on Howard’s Soundcloud page or at SiriusXM, but on the pages of highly trafficked entertainment media sites which magnify the marketing effect even further.
So how do you make your online audio go viral?
Maybe you don’t.
You must make it easy to share by adding in all the appropriate sharing buttons, of course. But making it easy isn’t the same as getting it shared. How many audio clips have you seen with zero shares?
In fact, it’s more important that what’s in the audio be worth talking about from the get-go: Focus on conversation, not audio.
If I’m not going to share a conversation about your audio, there’s no chance I’ll share your audio itself. Indeed, stop putting so much effort on the audio and put more effort on what’s in the audio and how you communicate that to the world.
…because if the conversation surrounding your audio is not worth sharing, then who says your audio is worth listening to?