The Youth Lab


"Every time I've ever gotten a 4-minute, 3-minute podcast voice message, it's always like, let me grab my little popcorn. Something's going to be said that is going to be entertaining. It's going to have a beginning, middle and end. It's a storytelling experience." Hope, 24, via NPR

As technology evolves, how young people use it evolves too. This, in turn, influences their communication codes. A format that is increasing in popularity is sending voice notes, instead of a text or picture. For 52INSIGHTS this week, we will explain the popularity of the audio messaging format, why it’s a new love language and what that means for brands.


However you like to call them, voice notes or memo, audio or ‘voiceys’, are becoming a preferred way to communicate among Gen Z when you’ve got anything more than a few sentences to communicate. The feature was first rolled out by the Chinese messaging app WeChat in 2011. Now, nearly every social media platform, dating app and beyond has some form of the feature installed into their messaging services. Why? For many young people, they’re fast and easy, thus making it suitable for multitasking situations. Emily, 25, who we spoke to via The Love Network, says “voice notes are so handy for catching up with friends, especially if you’re in different time zones or have different time commitments. It means you can catch up without trying to play telephone tennis.” Communicating via voice notes has the effect of real-time conversation, without the pressure of an actual call - yes, phone anxiety is real for Gen Z. It allows you to tell a long, complicated story, give advice to a friend, or just shoot the breeze. They remove the intensity of video calls, scheduling time to talk or alternatively, writing a long life update essay as an SMS message. The medium also allows the receiver to answer at their own time, thus creating a sense of control - you choose when you want to listen to one rather than being forced to answer an intrusive telephone call which for some such only be used in ‘an emergency’.

​​“Phone calls, for me and many others of my generation, are reserved for the important moments, for catastrophic situations warranting a certain level of immediate panic.” Shaeden Berry, Why do Gen Z and Millennials hate phone calls so much? ​​Fashion Journal, Australia

The continued growth in popularity of sending a voice note in recent years is also a response to overloaded screens with long-form written texts, pictures, gifs and short-form video. Coming out of the pandemic, Gen Z felt like they had hit peak screen-time, with 76% saying they felt they spent too much time on their phones. Not everyone is a fan though. Speaking to Vox, Matt Navorro says “I don’t want to have to stop and listen to you talk for three minutes or whatever. I just want to have a back-and-forth conversation. It can be quite annoying that you are monopolizing their time.” Listening to other people’s free flowing conversation isn’t necessarily enjoyable, especially if it's a rant. In 2021, audio-only app Clubhouse rose to popularity quickly before losing relevance. Without the one-to-one conversation capabilities, it lost its charm.


A third of 18-24-year-olds in Britain now use voice notes to communicate, up 10% from three years ago, according to a 2022 study by, a phone provider. In fact, more than half of the participants found sending voice notes easier than other forms of communication. The same survey shared that 65% of Gen Z and Millennials prefer sending voice notes to friends, rather than relatives or colleagues.

It makes stories feel more real, and I feel closer to [the sender]. It just lands better when I hear someone's voice.Jim, 22 via source

Letting people hear your voice fosters connections, so unsurprisingly, it’s becoming a part of young people’s dating lives. Speaking to NPR, Amit Kumar, Assistant Professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas-Austin describes that “there is a fundamental mode of communication that connects human beings and their social needs, and that's hearing a voice". Moreover, it removes any potential for misunderstanding if someone misreads a text, as the receiver can hear your tone. Amy, 24, shared via The Love Network - “I like voice messages because it's a quicker way to message someone, as texting a long message can get frustrating and tedious. I also like how you can easily express your emotions through voice messaging. It's like a phone call with alloted speaking time.”


Dating app Hinge introduced the feature where people could add audio prompts to their profiles. By using voice prompts, people using the app are 80% more likely to go on a date, according to research from the dating platform. It’s a reason to even use the app according to Caroline, shared on her TikTok - “At this point, the voice prompt feature is the only reason I use Hinge.” The most popular use is sharing the correct pronunciation of your name. For young BIPOC people, not taking the time to learn an unfamiliar name is a form of unconscious bias. This feature gives the person back autonomy and helps to reduce bias. Bumble, another dating app, introduced audio in their messaging feature, which helped young people vibe check with new matches in a more effective way. After testing Bumble’s new feature, Alisha wrote about her experience sending and receiving audio messages, “’ll have to take my word for it when I say the delivery and that cheeky laugh of his… ooooooft! well… it left me wanting to know more.” However, these personal sound bites can result in internet trolling. TikTok account @Hingevoicenotes shares the audio people highlight on their profile, asking followers if it is a skip or match. The comments under their viral videos can often become full of people weighing in, judging the unknown individual - it can get cruel.

Of course, voice controlled messaging extends beyond the world of dating and peer-to-peer communication into nearly aspect of life - from asking Alexa to turn off the lights, to getting your banking app to move money around, to asking your car to open its windows (we are obsessed with BYD’s voice control in their electric vehicles - just a call out of ‘Hi BYD’ and BYD comes to your assistance). Haven’t heard of BYD? It’s the biggest car brand you’ve never heard of… Watch this space, you’ll be hearing a lot more about BYD as it expands across Europe, into markets such as Ireland, UK, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany and the Netherlands.


Open The Audio Line Of Communication - To engage with younger audiences, it’s important to develop more natural ways of communicating with them, native to how they are doing it with their friends on social media. Explore how you can invite audio into the mix.

"Whether you think voice notes are entertaining or tedious, there's no denying how they are now recognised as the key method of communication for Gen Z users across Whatsapp and social. Our current brand work for Orchard Thieves ‘Obey Your Instinct’ campaign reflects this evolution, giving our audience a chance to speak directly with the brand via voice message. By encouraging more expressive messaging formats like this, brands can cultivate stronger relationships with their communities. We see this function becoming even more popular in the next 12 months as brands look to build feelings of warmth and authenticity among their audience." Dylan Newe, Senior Manager Social and Digital Innovation