How to be social in 2024
Lessons on AI-generated listenable articles, a snapshot of predictions for next year and a Reddit reality check.
Long time, no newsletter! A few things have happened since the last issue back in August (yikes). I went to Bath and ate everything (Chequers is extremely good); I got Covid for the first time (extremely not good); and I spoke at Newsrewired 2023 about subscription models (very fun!). Here are just a few things that have caught my eye recently. Thanks for not unsubscribing. LFG!
Now hear this: listenable articles on Dazed
I’ve been playing around with ElevenLabs whose AI-powered text-to-speech tools are pretty incredible. At Dazed, we’re using them to create a small number of listenable articles, including our superb recent cover story on France’s abaya ban. We’ve also created audio versions of our most popular stories of the year.
Listenable articles are nothing new – loads of news sites have been running them for years – but AI-generated speech has improved so much recently. In the example above, ElevenLabs’ model delivers natural-sounding intonation for both the author’s words and in quotes from sources. (ElevenLabs aren’t paying me or Dazed anything, btw.)
I’ve also played around with BeyondWords and love their workflow. Their tools can ingest everything you publish from an RSS feed, meaning it’s generating speech is much slicker, and then it can automatically embed players into stories via an API. In that respect, BeyondWords seems more suited to publishers than ElevenLabs.
There are flaws though, both with the technology and the medium:
Text-to-speech AI still struggles with some pronunciations. I’m sure that will improve in time.
Narration doesn’t work for visual stories, which many Dazed stories are, because the AI can’t describe embeds or galleries. If you’re reading a review of a Chanel show, you probably want to look rather than listen.
Likewise, it’s not right for listicles, although I don’t know why you’d want to be read a list, bar a couple of exceptions for accessibility.
Finally, Q&A-style interviews are tricky as you need to assign a voice for the interviewer and another voice for the interviewee.
None of these are major blockers though. The real question is: do audiences want listenable articles?
Reality check, Reddit edition
I'm seeing this piece – and specifically this sentence – being shared without vital context: "One thing Reddit is extremely effective at is driving traffic to websites."
Yes, Reddit is excellent at driving traffic. One link can bring hundreds of thousands of views. But based on the data I've seen from years in audience dev, it's rare that those views are active for long. Or to put it another way: people aren't actually reading the piece. Often, readers from Reddit bounce off the page within seconds of landing and engagement is low. It's classic "sugar rush" traffic.
To be clear, I’m not throwing shade at Taylor Lorenz, who wrote the piece and the excellent book, Extremely Online. It’s just weird to read conversations about audiences that are only focused on traffic and not engagement.
Big predictions for 2024
You probably already know about Nieman Lab’s annual series of predictions for the year ahead so I won’t list them all here. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re worth checking out. A few recommendations from my to-read list:
If you only read one piece from the series, make it Sarah Marshall’s. Sarah wrote about the “post-platform” era and the importance of meeting the needs of our audiences – something which still, even in 2023, publishers struggle to do.
At Dazed, we’re spending a lot of time on this by checking the vibe between what we think our audiences want versus what they actually engage with. It’s an especially fine balance for us because the question of taste, and who has it, is both vital to what we do and totally subjective.
How to be social next year
On the subject of where to meet audiences next year, I’ve been thinking about the social networks that matter to us and our audiences. Of course, this is all subject to change and this list is just about social networks, so newsletters, the on-platform experience, aggregators, SEO etc. aren’t included here. Here’s what matters, in order of priority:
Instagram (including channels).
YouTube (specifically, YouTube Shorts).
One last thing
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