Is audio platform Anchor the next big thing for social media?

There are big-name social apps for creating, sharing and discussing nearly every form of media. The spoken word, however, had been sorely under-represented, until this past February, when Anchor dropped.

Sure, SoundCloud has been making major inroads as a podcast distribution solution, but that’s just one of its use cases, and that app has no features for creating audio content. The other big players in podcasting, Stitcher and iTunes, are significantly less focused on user-generated content. When it comes to truly democratized audio posting, Anchor has filled a bona fide void.

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Anchor is a free iPhone app that allows people to broadcast short audio clips, which are called “waves.” Listeners can stream this content on demand and respond with their own one-minute clips.

Waves can be embedded in websites and shared across other social networks, like this one from influential social media strategist Frank Danna.

Anchor’s origin story

The app’s co-founders, Nir Zicherman and Michael Mignano, got the idea for Anchor after working together at Aviary, the integration-happy photo editing platform that was acquired by Adobe in the fall of 2014.

Zicherman and Mignano noticed that, despite the increasing popularity of podcasts, there weren’t many user-friendly options for people who wanted to publish their own podcasts. Audio equipment can be expensive, and it’s difficult to get content in front of listeners without a built-in audience. What’s more, traditional radio shows and podcasts lack the interactive element that is the lifeblood of social media.

So they wanted to democratize radio by making it something that everyone can participate in, and that’s where Anchor came in. “Unlike traditional radio, Anchor is multi-directional. It’s not a one-way broadcast.

When you listen to the radio, there’s no way to interact with it, Mignano recently told Business Insider. “On Anchor, you can reply to everything you hear to start a real discussion.”

Will Anchor last?

Sure, Anchor is beautifully designed, easy to onboard and easy to use. And the buzz over it at SXSW seems to be continuing to ripple, with the right niche communities (marketers, startup scene trackers and fans of Periscope and podcasting) getting in on the Anchor action, according to this analysis by betaworks Chief Data Scientist Gilad Lotan.

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The right influencers are singing its praises, too, including Gary Vaynerchuk and Questlove.

On the other hand, at the time of writing, no official figures about app download volume or active users have been released, which might make the skeptics among us wonder about Anchor’s longevity potential. It seems like every few months, a new app is hailed as the next big thing, only to fizzle out shortly thereafter.

Invite-only, ad-free platform Ello was crowned the anti-Facebook, and it reported receiving up to 31,000 invite requests per hour at its peak popularity. Nowadays, many say Ello is dead. People couldn’t stop talking about Meerkat after it launched at SXSW 2015, but now it has been outpaced by Periscope, its Twitter-owned rival.

Anchor may suffer a similar fate, falling prey to the tech hype echo chamber. But the audio app does have several factors working in its favor.

Why Anchor may take hold

Anchor is an easy sell for media brands that want to stake their claim in up-and-coming social media channels and find new ways to engage with their audiences. WNYC and Radiolab were the app’s official launch partners, and a clip published by WNYC a few months ago has over 7k plays and 31 replies, which is strong engagement for an asset on an emerging platform.

Moreover, Anchor has made it exceptionally easy to share waves on other social platforms and embed them on websites, which means that Anchor content can easily spread across the web.

And Zicherman and Mignano’s timing may in fact be perfect. Anchor hits on several trends that are shaping the future of media and marketing. Jay Baer of Convince and Convert points out that monthly podcast listenership has jumped 75% since 2013.

Today there are popular podcasts that cover virtually every topic, from accounting agency life to vertebrate palaeontology. Podcasting is having a moment, but because of the aforementioned barriers to entry, no one has figured out yet how to parlay this trend into a successful social media product.

Messaging apps dominate on mobile, and brands are finding new ways to reach consumers through these products. Because it’s audio-driven, Anchor isn’t technically a messaging app, but to the extent that it’s a snackable, mobile conversation platform, so too are Messenger, Peach, Kik and the like.

Social media as a whole, moreover, seems to be moving away from text and towards communication modes that have less friction. Messaging apps are turning into bot-powered command prompts, with keystroke shortcuts to make typing faster and make all kinds of other things happen.

Conversation in the mobile age is all about minimizing friction. This is why emoji are all the rage. It’s also why Facebook rolled out “reactions” and Twitter developed GIF search for people to use while writing their tweets. Broadcasting quick audio brain-dumps surely has a place in this context.

Conversation across channels

Only time will tell if Anchor has staying power. But the combination of smart timing, a relatively untapped niche and a successful launch are combining to make for a great start.

On another level, it doesn’t really matter if Anchor becomes a ghost town at some point in the future. As of right now, it’s the only platform that influential media figures and brands are using to drive audio interaction across channels. That should be reason enough to try it out and incorporate it into the mix of formats you use.

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