The Future of Communications

Here’s why innovators are embracing the flexibility of voice communications.
By Lindsey Marlowe

Last Updated: October 7, 2020

Published: September 21, 2020


The world in which we’re currently living has never before seen consumer behavior change so quickly. We expect to continue to see these seismic changes over the next decade. At M13, we invest in companies that are building defensible businesses around emerging consumer behaviors in the essential areas of consumer’s daily lives: food, health, communication, and financial services.

Our 2020 Summer Series “Future Perfect” conversations brought together leaders who have been shaping current and future generations of great businesses. Together, we seek to further understand how today’s health and economic crises are accelerating behaviors and white spaces for new necessities, innovations, and investments.

Communication is central to the human experience. Our relationships, cultures, and knowledge are all built on it. And yet, innovation in voice communications lags behind that of image and video in our obsession to create, share, and connect.

The dynamism of podcasting is finally changing this, and so is COVID-19. Voice is emerging from our “Zoom fatigue” and desire for intimate connection as the mechanism best suited to a future of social distancing and quick-click creation.

This conversation on The Future of Communications is moderated by M13 Partner (and former SVP Corporate Communications at Virgin Group) Christine Choi, featuring innovation pioneers in the communications industry:

  • Jarl Mohn, President Emeritus at NPR and NPR Foundation board memberr. began his career as a radio DJ. He went on to become an investor and advisor to a plethora of media companies, as well as the creator. former president. and CEO of E! Entertainment Television.

  • Jessi Hempel, Senior Editor at Large at LinkedIn and host of the “Hello Monday” podcast, explores the changing nature of work and how that work is changing us. Hempel, who previously reported on the business of tech for WIRED, Fortune, and BusinessWeek, has helped to shape our understanding of the forces at play on the internet, social media, and mobile platforms.

  • Brian Norgard is the former Chief Product Officer at Tinder, the world’s top-grossing mobile app. Norgard is also an investor and entrepreneur, having built one of the fastest-growing Facebook apps ever (Chill), as well as other companies including the ad network, At age 25, he became News Corp’s youngest GM, heading up MySpace News after his company Newsroo was acquired.

    Given that our panelists’ paths in communications have led them to voice, we wanted to find out more about what drew them to this format and what they think the future holds.

What’s so compelling about the voice as a medium?

Text messaging has become transactional and, despite the addition of emojis, it lacks emotion and sentiment. Voice, on the other hand, is an incredibly intimate format with the capability to provide a rich density of information tinged with genuine feeling.

Speakers of complex written languages, like Mandarin, are already increasingly turning to voice. China sends around 14 billion voice messages a day.

The power of voice lies in more than the human element, but the multimodal aspects of it. Whether you’re mountain biking or taking a walk, you can still be listening. There are very few formats that allow such flexibility of interaction.

Orson Welles’s favorite medium was radio because it required the audience/participant/listener to be engaged. This still applies today.


What is the future of the voice?

The last decade has focused on evolving video and images to the point that now anyone can create something that could be widely distributed. Still, the evolution of voice has lagged.

Users are already embracing a more intimate relationship with audio technology. AirPods and other hearable devices sit in our heads and allow for an instant drop-in to an amazing aural experience.

In the way that the labor-intensive blogs of the past morphed into today’s easy-to-post social media, podcasting will follow a similar trajectory. Five years from now, it will be a simple and intuitive consumer experience.

Discovery is the opportunity. Browsing podcast episodes to find one covering a topic of interest to you is currently too cumbersome and time-consuming. A tool for personalized recommendations from a vast catalog is needed to unearth the gems that will keep us listening and the creator community thriving.

Social distancing can be emotionally distancing. What ripple effect is COVID-19 causing in voice communications?

At the beginning of the pandemic, Zoom and similar video apps filled our immediate need to see the faces of those we know. But as time passed, we turned off our cameras and returned to and relied on voice. During the pandemic, the length of an average phone call increased by 33%. Verizon CEO told CNBC that in March 2020, they saw 800 million calls per day, which is double the amount of calls that normally occur on their busiest day of the year (Mother's Day).

COVID-19 is speeding up innovations in voice communications and seeing the founding of the companies that will be household names in the years to come.

How can companies and sharing platforms proactively build trust around data privacy while also fostering engagement?

The keyword is “proactive.” In the past, software companies were reactive, focusing on product development and technological scaling, while trust and safety were afterthoughts. Building the fixes to mitigate abuse of privacy would typically only happen once the abuse had occurred.

It has never been more difficult to launch a community and yet, there’s never been a better time as customers are safer than they once were. The focus is now on getting ahead of any issues by proactively building software with trust and safety top of mind.

Where there are new safety issues, there are also new tactics to combat them.