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Facebook to add podcasts and 'soundbites' in new audio-only push

Audio-only social apps have blossomed during the coronavirus pandemic, and Facebook is following a path set out by Clubhouse and other buzzy startups.
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Facebook is launching features to capitalize on the popularity of social audio.Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto via Getty Images file

Facebook said Monday it is planning to add podcasts to its app and release other features to try to catch a wave of interest in a burgeoning area of social media: audio-only experiences.

The coronavirus pandemic sparked interest in audio-only chatrooms and performances hosted by startups such as Locker Room and Clubhouse and more established companies such as Twitter, after years in which tech companies focused on video content.

Facebook said that more than 170 million people are already following podcast pages on its platform, giving it a foothold in the podcasting world.

"But until now, you had to leave the Facebook app to listen to these episodes," the company said in a statement. Users will be able to listen to podcasts "within the next few months," the company said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called audio a "first-class medium" Monday in an interview with the journalist Casey Newton, Axios reported.

"Every once in a while, a new medium comes along that can be adopted into a lot of different areas," Zuckerberg said, according to Axios. (He had a six-episode podcast series in 2019.)

Podcasting, named for Apple's iPod, has been around for almost two decades, but other forms of audio experiences are just now taking off. Clubhouse, founded last year, features virtual rooms for presenting and discussing topics — but without text or video to distract from the talking.

Facebook plans to add live audio rooms by this summer, the company said, making them available through its groups and Messenger app.

It also plans to add a feature it's calling Soundbites: "short-form, creative audio clips for capturing anecdotes, jokes, moments of inspiration, poems, and many other things we haven't yet imagined."