Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Music to my ears, eyes and thumbs: why you need to stop ignoring audio on social

By Duncan McLauchlan, Strategy Director at ENGINE

On social no one can hear you scream. Or that’s what we were told. With figures saying upwards of 85% of people will watch video content on Facebook without sound, it can feel like a quick budget win just to not do it. Right?

Wrong. Do not underestimate the importance of sound on social and the impact that it has.

If you work on social channels you will, of course, know the importance of beautiful striking visuals to get thumbs stopping, but how much thought are you putting into the audio? I’d wager, not much.

If you look at the rest of the industry, sound is such a key element. Radio would be impossible without it and TV ads are synonymous with carefully curated, beautiful audio.

Forgive me, I know it’s *too early*, but I just need to type ‘Holidays are coming’ and I’ll have you thinking of a snowy landscape, big red trucks, Santa winking and humming the line, ‘Always Coca-Cola’. Or, if that didn’t convince you, how about imagining any John Lewis ad without the emotional re-recorded nostalgic classic? Exactly.

The last social campaign playing with sound that I remember thinking was good (well, apart from our own, but more on that later) was in 2015. 2015!! It was using their mascot (Captain Obvious, in case you were unaware) to cleverly work around the automatically muted Facebook ads of the day – and even then, it was predominantly about SILENCE (although the point was if you turned your sound on, you received a ‘reward’ of sorts).

Social has moved on considerably since 2015. Snapchat introduced transient content, then Instagram perfected it with Stories and now Influencers have you turning your sound up, not off. Then we have the TikTok revolution.

Without sound you’re not just missing the magic of TikTok, you’re also missing the point. Audiences, consumers, whatever you like to call the people you’re targeting, have retrained and are willing to give content an extra tap to unmute.

At this point, if you aren’t including sound in your social, you aren’t doing social. And yes, we watch content with sound off on our phones. And yes, we should *also* ‘design for sound off’. But do you also watch things with sound on too?

Well, there you go. Facebook confirms that 60% watch Stories with sound on, so that’s 60% of people you could be hitting with extra emotional sound cues that you’re currently not. In which other channel would that be acceptable? Spoiler; none.

Sound is an incredibly powerful tool to help people remember your ads. Your brain uses the same part to process music as it does for emotion and, you’ve guessed it, memory. If you aren’t stimulating the whole temporal cortex package, then you’re not giving your brands the best chance.

When some of the best measurement we have for impact on social requires your target audience to remember you, you should be doing all you can to get your brand lodged in their minds.

Mainstream digital channels are also adapting and bringing sound to the fore. WhatsApp’s voice memos have been one of its most used features with an estimated 200 million voice messages sent on the platform each day. Twitter launched – and then we all quickly forgot about –its tool to tweet voice messages (although that’s not stopping Twitter bringing it to DMs or LinkedIn following suit). And you have Instagram getting in on the TikTok action with Reels.

If that wasn’t enough (it’s never enough), there are the huge cultural moments based around sound that wouldn’t have happened without social. We’re not the only ones being sent into a trance by Harry Style’s ASMR, grinding on the floor to WAP or being shouted at during our at-home workouts through Insta.

At ENGINE, we’re no stranger to making noise. We’ve put listeners at the heart of an F1 pitstop with BOSE, helped new RAF recruits find the right role for them with RAF Sound Skills and poked fun at the dullness of subtitles with our flavour filled McCoy’s social.

Most recently we brought the chill to Churchill with a series of mindfulness podcasts for children and families in lockdown with our Little Chapters of Chill. At its core, this was a truly social campaign that utilised the reach of social platforms and the power of influencers – in this case Giovanna Fletcher lending her soothing tones and adding her seal of approval.

By making audio part of our narrative in each social asset, not only did we significantly beat internal, industry and platform benchmarks for audience attention triggers (fourfold in some cases), but we also sent Churchill’s Little Chapters of Chill to #1 in Apple Podcasts’ ‘Family & Kids’ charts, with over 70k listens (equating to just over 10 months of brand listening time).

So, the moral of this story is don’t neglect your social sound. It’s a powerful, but currently pretty ignored, tool. Just make sure you give your audience a good reason to tap unmute.

We know we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground and screen… question is, will you?