By Rebecca Jones, Communications Director.
What is it?
Clubhouse is the latest hot new social app being talked about, having launched in Spring 2020. (Yes, we all probably missed it at the time as we concerned ourselves with a global pandemic and impending lockdown.) Created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, it was designed to be a ‘more human’ social channel, driven by conversation rather than ‘posts’. Some believe its creation was inevitable. It has taken audio and the increasing popularity of podcasts and both democratised and transformed the format. The most obvious difference between Clubhouse and podcasts is how much easier it is to both create a conversation and to listen to one. This step change is very much in line with the shift from blogging to Twitter, from website publishing to Instagram, or from YouTube to TikTok.
How does it work?
Basically, it’s a virtual, audio only conversation and conference space, currently only accessible via invitation and only on iPhone. A series of rooms, talks or events that can be tuned into like a live, unedited podcast. The rooms can be set up to be public or private and are moderated by the host, who guides the flow of the conversation and decides who gets to speak when, with users asking to participate by raising a virtual hand. Once invited into the app, users are given the opportunity to streamline the content they’re served by interest (parenting, entrepreneurship, wellness, religion etc.) and by following people or clubs they might like to join.
What’s so special about it?
Well, the fact that it’s currently invitation only immediately makes it a desirable place to be. Once in, it’s the fact that you have the opportunity to join conversations which any number of high-profile names might drop into. Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Oprah Winfrey to name a few.
What are the opportunities for brands and businesses?
Right now, it’s not completely clear. Listening should be the first step. Understanding what the app offers to people and what their motivations are for using it. However,
- Tactically, it feels like it might be a good space for PR and sales. In a continuingly remote world, private rooms might make good spaces for press events and stakeholder discussions. But how is that different for any of the many other online conference platforms we’ve all become so used to?
- A brand might consider working with influencers on the app, hosting a panel discussion, or promoting a brand. But I’d argue that as influencer marketing works best in more visual categories (fashion, beauty, interiors, food), an audio-only space might not be as effective.
- Early adopters appear to be from tech and marketing backgrounds, with a recent study of the most popular topics showing Sales, Social media and Deep tech as subjects winning out*. If you’re selling to those industries, there might be some early opportunities to harness.
- If you’re working with an A-List celebrity, leveraging their popularity might be a way to reach an audience in this space.
What are the problems?
Unlike other social apps, where users leave a digital footprint behind through the images they share or the comments they make, Clubhouse’s real time conversations have the ability to hide those sharing misinformation, or worse, hate and discrimination, with no real way to hold people accountable. The conversations in Clubhouse are erased once the room closes and currently there are no internal or independent moderators to ensure the conversations taking place are monitored.
It’s also likely that most of the current conversations will be terrible. That, though, is the case for all user-generated content. The key for Clubhouse will be in honing its algorithms so that every time a listener opens the app they are presented with a conversation that is interesting and relevant to them. This is a work in progress as currently the app feels very American.
And finally, the current social giants are likely to take the most successful elements of this new channel, add them to their offer and push them to more people. Twitter is already in beta testing with their version ‘Twitter Spaces’ and Facebook, although a little behind, is also said to be developing a similar service.
How and even if Clubhouse will succeed is still to be seen. But right now, an offer of an invitation still made me the most popular person in the business (if only for a minute) so I guess it’s still on the rise and definitely a space worth watching – sorry – listening to.
*Source: Social sharing and conversations. Brandwatch. Date: Jan 2020 – Feb 2021
About the author:
Rebecca Jones is Communications Director at CreativeRace. She has 21 years experience in communications; specialising in PR, social media and influencer relations, having worked on local and global campaigns for a wide range of brands from head and shoulders and Pantene to John West and Fiat 500.