Audio-social: Are new platforms the answer to hearing patient voices?

A wave of new audio-social apps and audio features on established social media channels are launching at this time of mass social isolation and screen fatigue. We’ve taken a look at the prominent audio-based platforms and functions coming our way in 2021 and what they mean for the pharmaceutical industry and patient communities.

Who are the players?

First up is Clubhouse, an exclusive invitation-only social media app which leaped from 3,500 users at the beginning of December 2020 to around two million in March 2021. It has drawn plenty of media attention due to its “listen now or miss it” messaging and a host of celebrities being “in the club”. With its audio-only format, users can eavesdrop, join or start their own conversations. The app has been used for everything from Broadway singing auditions to debates, lectures and comedy shows.

Stereo, described as a live broadcast social platform which “enables people to have and discover real conversations in real time” looks to be Clubhouse’s nearest rival, without the exclusivity. It aims to combat loneliness, provide a space for debate and education, and act as a vehicle to advance purpose and cause-related campaigning. Users can listen-in, seek-out topics, or join conversations, and are free to choose whether they’re a host, a guest or a listener.

Twitter, a long-established channel, is also looking to broaden its platform with the launch of “Spaces”, offering group audio chat. Twitter claims that these spaces, or discussion groups, will offer users a safe way to discuss issues freely without being restricted to 280 characters. The creator of the “Space” can invite users and only the administrators can decide who can speak. They’ll also be able to delete, report and block members in the conversation as well as close the discussion down entirely.

On the surface, these platforms seem to be based on one thing – authentic, real time conversations which capitalise on the rise of easy-to-consume content seen during the pandemic.

Can these new formats improve inclusivity and diversity across patient communities?

We really need to consider the claim of inclusivity, and in turn diversity.

One article claims that Clubhouse allows inclusion for “real outsiders”, a term coined by Nait Jones (someone with a high following on Clubhouse already). But it is hard to believe that this particular app, built on exclusivity really can be that inclusive. With Stereo and Twitter, there’s no real exclusivity – the topics and “rooms” are open to all, with the hosts or administrators in charge of who does and doesn’t speak.

Audio formats do open the doors to a different kind of conversation but, for pharmaceutical companies to gain real insights from patients, we must consider how many will use these platforms and how long it will take for them to become mainstream. As highlighted in one of our recent blogs, there are an estimated nine million people in the UK alone who are unable to use the internet independently. For exclusive apps, it is only the well-connected who’ll be invited. Some of the platforms are only available on iOS, with Android users left out in the cold. And if conversations move to audio-only, what does that mean for those who are hard of hearing?

So how can patient communities and the pharmaceutical industry use these platforms?

During the pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry has moved to using a variety of digital channels to replicate meeting with patient groups or communities as best as possible. Platforms like Zoom allow us to engage face-to-face but focusing on what is happening on each of the small windows can distract from really listening, hearing and responding. Potentially, audio platforms could be the solution.

For patients, these platforms can help keep them connected. For example, for people with cystic fibrosis, being close to others with the disease puts them at greater risk of cross-infection, so an audio platform could help forge connections and build on existing online communities. Opening another line of communication could further connect rare disease patients, families and patient organisations to develop online communities and take part in conversations that span continents and languages.

Audio-social platforms may also help us to reach more people who are passive on existing channels to start or expand conversations. However, reaching the digitally disengaged and giving them a voice in the development of patient programmes continues to be vital for pharmaceutical companies.

At Aurora, listening, learning, and applying insights from patients is something we embed in all our work. To find out more or to discuss how to use digital and social media to collaborate with patient communities, please contact or the Patient Involvement team


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