Will Twitter’s pivot to podcasts get more people to use it?

Twitter‘s strategy with adding new features has pretty much consisted of shoving stuff up the noses of users and seeing what sticks. And to Twitter’s credit, it occasionally works. Spaces has been pretty successful on its own and it has stayed relevant despite a dip in popularity of Clubhouse, the app it borrowed its main concept from. The app is venturing further into the audio space by adding a new podcasts feature to Spaces. It’s not a bad idea in itself – after all, making a good new thing better should be one of the company’s biggest priorities right now. We’re normally less than confident on Twitter’s additions after flubs like NFT profile pictures and Fleets. But if executed right, Twitter just may be able to earn some new stripes and gain some real popularity – perhaps surpassing Snapchat and coming up to the likes of Facebook.

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What are Twitter podcasts?

The addition of podcasts to Twitter was recently announced by the company after it was previously leaked. A test of a new version of Twitter Spaces will be rolled out to a random group of users around the world with the focus on podcasts front and center.

On the current version of Twitter Spaces, it’s all about live audio. You can tune into a live conversation, listen to an ongoing talk, and, if allowed by the host, also participate. Spaces can also be recorded and made available for anyone to listen whenever they want through Recorded Spaces. But still, even those are based on live conversations. They can be considered podcasts in a way, but sometimes, you just want a nice, old-fashioned podcast to drift away to.

This is most likely why Twitter is extending Spaces and including podcasts as an element of them. Of course, it doesn’t just want to be another feed reader and it won’t have the production and talent clout that Spotify has acquired its way towards having. So what is it doing to make itself stand out from the crowd?

The app rethinks how it’s doing Spaces currently, regrouping 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 right now. Twitter’s take on podcasts also wants to try and nail what other podcast platforms haven’t quite gotten right – recommendations. It’ll draw from what it already knows about you, and your interests, to recommend you podcasts just like it’s currently able to recommend you live Spaces.

That’s not a big deal in itself, as most podcast platforms have some sort of recommendation system that learns from you. But just like Spaces, it’ll also take into account what people you’re following like and are listening to, creating sort of a social listening environment. By doing this, Twitter is going after the experience of “another user recommending you something,” as senior product manager Evan Jones told The Verge. Normal people would call this “word of mouth,” but good marketers would have one word for it: “powerful.”


Why podcasts on Twitter could succeed

Twitter is taking the natural progression with by sticking podcasts with Spaces. After all, people are already listening to live Spaces, so why not tap into that, go the full mile, and also allow for pre-recorded podcasts to be on the platform?

We don’t have clear numbers on how many people are listening to Spaces on a daily basis, but what we do know is that at Twitter, the feature is a big priority. According to a report by The Washington Post, over its development, and after its release, Spaces was the # 1 priority on Twitter’s roadmap. The fact that Twitter is willing to double down on it signals that it’s doing well all-in-all. The company is not known to put its weight behind features that it knows are failing.

Twitter’s podcasts also add a social element to podcast discovery, by tapping on the people you follow, and grabbing their interests, to give recommendations to you. Word of mouth remains one of the most common ways to discover new podcasts, and this has the potential to be pretty close to that. Apps like Spotify have recently tried to be more social, but a streaming-first company can’t do it like an already-established social network does it. So, Twitter has a chance of making some breathing room against Spotify and Apple if it nails podcasts down.

But what if they don’t?

But this is, after all, Twitter. As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, the company is known to do live, loud brainstorming, launching several features and experiments, hoping that any of them stick.

Twitter has never been an audio app – at least not until recently, that is. For most of its lifetime, it has barely deviated from its 140-character (later 280) formula. It has allowed people to post pictures, videos, and even stream live video with Periscope, but that’s about it. As it sees itself struggle to stay relevant to competitors like Instagram, it’s looking 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 cold reception and it’s only gotten chillier with a price hike. If you can recall what Super Followers are, you’re a better historian than I am. NFT profile pictures are, thankfully, a passing fad. And just look at how Fleets turned out in the end. Doubling down on a successful addition like Spaces can be a recipe to success, but it might not be a surefire one, especially if Twitter ends up suddenly losing interest.

There’s also the fact that Twitter is gunning not only at competitors like Facebook or Instagram here, but also established audio platforms like Spotify. Twitter’s data says 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 get those users to switch their listening over to the pIatform. People who are currently into podcasts might not necessarily be into live Spaces conversations and Twitter is lumping both together. In its current state, it seems more likely that this will help get people who aren’t currently into podcasts to give them a try rather than luring existing podcast listeners to switch over. It’ll also depend on how many podcasts will actually be available on the app, too.


Our take: Twitter has one shot

Twitter has a compelling proposition here. While competition in the podcast space is fierce, the app takes a different, social-first spin while also leveraging its established Spaces branding to bring it forward.

The feature is in an experimental stage right now and it’s reaching a small number of users. Whether it reaches your phone or not will depend on how successful (or not) the ongoing test is. 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 furthering development. It can’t afford to monetize off Spaces early on, at least directly from users through Blue – the company might be tempted to kick up its sunken valuation in order to bring potential acquirer Elon Musk to heel – but if it’s quick to offer ad opportunities , it may be able to have its cake and eat it, too.

Spaces just needs to be done right.