Clubhouse Sparks Next Great Race in Social Platform Copycatting

By Beth Thompson, VP, Group Account Director, Gatesman
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If you’ve been paying attention to major headlines the last few weeks, you’ve likely read about Clubhouse, one of the newest social media apps on the market that offers an invite only audio networking experience. It’s exclusive. It’s intimate (in a non-creepy way). It makes you feel like you’re in the know. But how long will the platform maintain its alluring appeal? If past is precedent, we can anticipate another great race in social platform development, generating more competition against the drop-in audio experience.

But before we discuss who is going to enter the Clubhouse competitor ring, it’s important to share a bit more about the new platform, what makes it unique, experiences that can be had and opportunities for brands in the future. Let’s start with the basics. 

Who uses Clubhouse and what’s it for?

With more than 10 million users, up from just 2 million in January 2021, Clubhouse listeners spend on average 11-22 hours per week on the platform. Likely contributing to high volumes of time spent on the app, users have the opportunity to tailor their profile by selecting specific areas of interest to follow categories like wellness, world affairs, life, knowledge, tech, languages and entertainment to name a few. 

From COVID-19 scientists, to creative hustlers, to entrepreneurs, to medtech researchers, many people are using the app to share thought leadership, stay current on trending topics, meet new friends, expand their networks and learn new skills. Once users find their niche interests, they have the opportunity to join clubs based on the categories they follow, and can attend conversation rooms on a daily or weekly basis, with most conversations lasting 30 to 60 minutes. 

Tell me more about the experience.

As an audio-only social experience, Clubhouse offers an authentic twist on real-time podcasting, as the content solely airs and lives real-time within rooms on the app. Net net, content cannot be exported or listened to at another time. 

To create a memorable experience, I have found that the best way to get acquainted with the app is to truly explore based on areas of personal interest. Once you select a few topics that you like, you can jump in and out of rooms and even listen on the go. 

It does take a bit of time to get used to how to navigate the platform, but collectively, the user experience is pretty simple. And don’t fret if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing in the beginning. The first time I joined a room, I immediately got nervous that people could hear me multitasking on my computer or my dog barking at the door. Luckily, once you enter a room, you join as a silent listener, and will find that you have the ability to “raise your hand” to either ask a question or contribute commentary by joining the moderators on a virtual stage. 

Once you follow a topic or a club, you can schedule alerts so you won’t miss out on a chat. You’ll find that Clubhouse is not shy on push notifications, but it certainly will keep you in the know on all conversations that may be of interest. 

So, how do I get in? 

Because Clubhouse is still in beta, you can only join by invitation from someone who is an existing member of the app. If you don’t know anyone who is on the app, put a call out on social media, like Twitter, to see if anyone might be willing to send you an invite. Chances are that avid users may have extra invites to share, because the more an active user listens and engages with the app, the more invites the user gets to share with their network. That’s how I got in. I posted on Twitter asking if anyone would be willing to send me an invite, and luckily, my college pal had a spare to share (thank you Deanna T!). Keep your phone close if you are expecting an invite, as the invite will be sent via text from your friend. Once you have the text, download the app, and you’ll be one step closer to becoming a member of the exclusive club!

How should brands be thinking about Clubhouse?

I can’t help but think about Clubhouse’s applicability to brands and the opportunities for companies and organizations in the future. The growing audience, matched with a truly unique experience, gives brands a chance to be vulnerable, unscripted and authentic. Because listeners are truly in the space of wanting to learn and be a part of interesting conversations, it will be important for brands to not push sales, but rather provide thought leadership and interesting perspectives. 

If your brand is progressive, cutting edge, and wants to stand out by doing something new, this app could be the perfect way to reach your targets in an unexpected, yet inviting way (pun not intended!). If the thought of Clubhouse makes your legal team cringe due to real and unedited conversation, where the potential for an “internet troll” to pop in on your chat is a reality, then traditional podcasting may be a more appropriate form of communication for your brand. 

To help you evaluate if this is an appropriate space for your organization, here are a few things to consider:  

  1. Get an invitation to join (if you don’t have one already) – You must feel comfortable with the user experience and understand the raw nature of the platform. Navigate throughout the platform and ask your community managers what they think about the overall user experience. It will also be helpful to understand if your community managers can see an opportunity for an official presence based on how your current audience already engages with your brand on other social media platforms. 
  2. Research conversation categories – Look to see if there is anyone that already
    “owns” conversation on your industry or topic. Would you consider joining in on an existing category/conversation, or are you in a position to own “white space” and carve out a new path for uncovered content? The latter certainly could drive thought leadership in a way that you may not have expected and separate you from your competitors, ultimately creating an unparalleled loyalty opportunity for your audiences.
  3. Plan your conversation – If you decide you want to have a presence, how do you envision that conversation going? Do you have a thought leader or subject matter expert that you could recruit as a regular moderator to lead the discussion? How often would you like the conversation to occur? Would you be open to creating a club, where users can regularly follow your content and anticipate new conversations? No matter how you establish the conversation, it will be important to create a regular cadence of content. This certainly won’t be a one-and-done activation – you need to make sure you have the resources available to commit for the long haul! 
  4. Re-evaluate influencer strategies – If you have influencer teams in place, this would be a great time and opportunity to think through how to plus up what you are currently doing and further engage with ambassadors to motivate action for your brand. 
  5. Monitor – Monitor the news. Monitor announcements from the platform. Monitor conversations in your industry. Because the app is in beta, we expect to see more tools, analytics and offerings that make Clubhouse even more enticing. As new developments are released, new opportunities for your brand will arise. What an exciting time in social media!

Competitive Outlook

As you evaluate whether or not Clubhouse may be a fit for your brand, it is important to note that the creators of the Clubhouse app, which consists of only a nine-person powerhouse team, have ignited a huge audio-only social media trend. And like we have seen before with exciting developments on other social media platforms, it will only be a matter of time until we see competitors in the space. In fact, Twitter has already entered the competition ring with Spaces, which according to the platform, is a place to “come together, built around the voices of Twitter.” Similar to Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces is in beta and offers public audio rooms that can be created and joined by Twitter users. At the current time, only 10 people are allowed to speak in the conversation, but anyone can listen. As a point of differentiation, the conversations are transcribed, and the transcript is available for download up to a month after initially airing. Spaces can be accessed via iOS or Android; and users who are selected to use the beta feature will be alerted via notifications. 

Even as competitors join the audio-only social space, I believe the exclusive nature of the Clubhouse platform, matched celebrity endorsement and the fact that it is a first of its kind, will create loyalty for the platform. Even if we do see more developments from competitors, I don’t foresee a great migration. However, as time passes on, we can only anticipate that platforms like Facebook, Instagram and possibly LinkedIn, are making plans for new functionality that include audio-only social networking, as Clubhouse has set a new trend that is not going away anytime soon. 

It will be interesting to see what happens over time, and how crowded the audio-only space may get. Your move, Zuck. Eyes are on you!