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March 10, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:07am

Twitter Spaces: Pros and cons of the community-building live audio platform

By Andrew Kersley

What are Twitter Spaces, why are so many outlets experimenting with the new audio feature and why are some betting on it going viral in the future? We found out in our latest in the Platform Profile series.

[See also: InstagramNewsNowSubstackShutterstockUpdayLinkedInApple News/ Apple News+TwitterAcast, AuthoryPocket, TikTok and Twitter Moments].

Last year, many Twitter users may have noticed a slight change to their app. Now atop news feeds sit a line of circles with events hosted by some of the big names you follow.

These ‘Twitter Spaces’ were launched as the app’s latest feature as a beta test in March 2021, before being fully launched allowing all users to host spaces in October 2021.

In recent months, more journalistic outlets are turning to Twitter Spaces to host discussions on the biggest news events and reach readers in a new way. But what do they see in it? And what’s the key to mastering Twitter Spaces?

What is Twitter Spaces?

Twitter Spaces works a bit like an interactive, live podcast. A set group of up to 13 hosts and speakers discuss a certain topic, while an unlimited number of listeners can hear what they are saying in real-time, with the discussion able to be recorded so that it can be listened to afterwards for up to 30 days.

It mirrors the function of other audio apps like Discord or Clubhouse. Unlike both, Spaces are generally free and easy to access without having to join a group or get an exclusive invite beforehand.

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Anyone can host a space, or co-host with other Twitter users, though it has increasingly proved popular with news outlets, including The FT, The New Statesman, The Telegraph, Tortoise and Bloomberg.

Twitter Spaces also gives publishers the ability to schedule and set reminders for followers to join a Space on time and even pin certain tweets so that listeners can easily access and read any articles or information being discussed without it interrupting the discussion audio.

Last year, Twitter previewed ticketed Twitter Spaces, where those with more than 1,000 followers that had used Spaces three times in the last 30 days could charge a fee for attending certain Spaces. A Twitter spokesperson told Press Gazette that a “limited group” of users would be allowed to use ticketed Spaces in the “coming months”.

However, the cut taken by tech giants makes the new option less exciting than it seems for publishers. For example, on an iPhone if you charge £10 to attend an event, Apple would take the 30% fee it charges on all iOS transactions, then Twitter would reportedly take 20% of the remaining £7, leaving hosts to just take home £5.60 of the initial £10 charge.

What’s the appeal of Twitter Spaces for publishers?

Some news outlets using Twitter Spaces see it as a middle ground between a podcast and a conventional social media post.

The Financial Times has been using Twitter Spaces since December 2021. The title's head of social media and development Rachel Banning-Lover said: “As always with social media platforms, it’s about building awareness of our journalists, content and brand.

"It’s another step on the ladder toward converting them into subscribers. In many cases, the listeners aren’t yet following the relevant FT Twitter account, so we suspect the Spaces are sometimes the first time some people are interacting with the FT.”

The New Statesman has spent the last few months experimenting with Twitter Spaces, hosting live conversations between a member of its social media team and a journalist where they do a deep dive into a popular article.

"We know we've got excellent content, it's about making sure that we are reaching new audiences. And at the moment, Twitter Spaces is one of the languages on Twitter that can convey our stories," said Elise Johnson, head of audience at The New Statesman. "And we know that if we create an engaged audience on these platforms, our content is surfaced to them more regularly. If we are asking questions, if we're getting them to engage, if they're listening, they will automatically see more New Statesman articles on their feeds."

"I think it's about putting a voice to the name that you're reading. And giving that interaction to your audience and creating that community," Johnson added, going on to explain that there were upticks on engagement with any articles that had been a subject of a Twitter Spaces discussion.

According to Twitter, the reasons people are using the feature are diverse.

Polling for the tech giant of Spaces users found that 87% wanted to build connections and status within their respective communities, 80% were interested in the newness of social audio and 73% saw it as another avenue to monetise their audience.

Twitter’s senior manager for news partnerships Heather Bowen said: “For many publishers, the power lies in the size and interest-level of the audience. We recently spoke to the engagement editor of American news outlet NPR for Twitter’s blog and he outlined how they’ve had conversations from Spaces turn into digital stories, found new sources and even conducted interviews there.”

How many people listen to a newspaper's Twitter Spaces?

Since first starting in December, The FT reports that its average space gets around 300-400 live listeners, with 3,000 to 5,000 tuning in afterwards to watch recordings. Big topics, like discussions around new Covid variants, can reportedly pull in almost five times as many live listeners, Banning-Lover told Press Gazette. A tweet promoting an FT Twitter Space covering NFTs was even turned into an NFT itself.

While Twitter did not disclose overall engagement or news outlet-specific engagement with Twitter Spaces, its spokesperson did tell Press Gazette that the earliest news publishers to adopt using Spaces are “sticking around” and the number of publishers using the feature is “increasing steadily”.

How will Spaces change in the future?

The exact changes and updates in store for Spaces are uncertain, though Press Gazette understands that it will be one of the major focuses of development for Twitter in the coming year.

The New Statesman says it is set to host roughly two Twitter Spaces a week in the coming months involving a shifting selection of the outlet's biggest writers. One will be reacting to the biggest news that week and one will be part of an ongoing series.

The FT meanwhile says it wants to keep using Spaces as a more-accessible alternative to its day-to-day reporting. “We want to retain it as a powerful, yet resource-light tool that journalists can jump on without too much training to dissect an engaging item in the news agenda. A quick way to connect our journalists directly with listeners” explained Banning-Lover.

Publishers can’t currently directly advertise in a Twitter Space, but this could change in the future. As one example, Twitter Fleets, the service’s now-defunct answer to the 'stories' feature in other apps, integrated full-screen adverts before the entire offering was removed from the app on 3 August 2021.

How to make a good Twitter Spaces broadcast, as explained by the FT and NS

Twitter offered an array of advice on how to increase engagement on Spaces, from promoting events in advance and using its "pinning" features to covering trending topics.

The New Statesman's current approach to Spaces is to theme each discussion around a single article published that week that had done well with audiences on social media and Google and use the Twitter Space to help boost engagement on that piece further.

But according to Johnson that is reliant on Spaces being part of a much wider strategy - getting topics featured on Twitter Spaces, and Moments as well as just tweeting about the article itself. "It's just about owning that whole subject," she explained.

The publication also benefits from a team of journalists with podcasting experience, who can easily adapt to speaking to a crowd of listeners in Twitter Spaces.

In the future, Johnson says The News Statesman will be more "experimental" with the way it uses Spaces, including by working more with the hosts of its popular politics podcast.

The FT pinpoints building real audience participation and engagement as one of the keys to its success. Banning-Lover told Press Gazette that the publication opened its Twitter DMs for reader questions, and ensured every question had a response even if it was written and sent afterwards.

The verdict

Twitter Spaces is still in its early stages. What that means for publishers is that they have the chance to be the pioneers of a new trend that may only grow in the future.

But at the same time it comes with its risks and downsides. For one, the fact Spaces is so early in its lifespan means Twitter has yet to give it meaningful analytics. While it's possible to track how many people tune into your Spaces, it's hard to exactly track how many listeners click on any articles mentioned in the event (although Press Gazette understands Twitter is working to improve analytics).

It's also far from certain that Spaces will still be here in the long term - or whether it will joins the likes Fleets, Vine and Periscope on the Twitter scrapheap.

But despite all the risks, there's still a lot that Spaces can offer publishers. It allows for deeper dives into your reporting and can give insights into what ideas are interesting to readers. It can drive traffic to articles and improve the personal branding of your reporters by putting a human voice to a byline. It can help build a sense of community and membership among readers.

Picture: Twitter

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