Social Media

Clubhouse: The New App Everyone is Talking About

I was kicked back on my sofa, aimlessly scrolling through Instagram (don’t judge me) not quite knowing what day it was between Christmas & New Year, when a post caught my eye.  It asked who else was on Clubhouse yet, and the comments seemed to show people clambering over themselves to be invited onto the platform.  I was instantly intrigued.  What is this new platform and why are people so desperate to get onto it?

What is Clubhouse?

A quick look at Google Trends shows just how much interest in the app peaked over the festive period, particularly in the US:

Clubhouse trend – US

Clubhouse trend – UK

Clubhouse is a new audio-based social media platform that allows users to move between virtual rooms, discussing topics of conversation led by a moderator.  It’s the first platform of it’s kind to fully embrace voice and put this at the centre of its functionality, providing a unique offering in a visually obsessed industry.  

I won’t provide a full breakdown of the app and how it works in this blog –  there are plenty out there that already do this (see this useful step-by-step guide by Social Examiner) and as an android user myself, I’d feel a little fraudulent doing that (despite its rise to fame, Clubhouse app is still currently in beta and therefore only available on iOS devices for the time being).  Instead I’m going to examine what the app and a potential shift to audio conversations over / in addition to visual content means for marketers, and in particular what this means for luxury & premium brands.

Why should luxury & premium brands be interested in Clubhouse?

It’s well documented that generally speaking, iPhone users are wealthier than Android users.  Given the exclusive nature of Clubhouse App – each person on the app gets just one invite to share with a friend, hence the hype through feelings of FOMO – and that it is only on iOS, for now, it’s easy to assume that the demographic of Clubhouse users are going to be wealthier than other social media platforms.  Add to this the list of major celebrities already tied to the app and many people turning to it to engage in business conversations/knowledge sharing, I think it is clear that this is one to watch for anyone looking to engage with a more affluent audience. 

The intriguing thing about Clubhouse for me is a move away from the perfect planned & polished world we see on platforms such as Instagram, to a more off-the-cuff social engagement.  It’s a true multi-way conversation – truly social – with anyone that happens to be logged on & listening, which can be a minefield for brands or anyone representing a brand.  This shows another step in the shift we’ve seen in marketing over the last few years, and brands / brand representatives will have to feel confident in what they are discussing, whilst allowing themselves to be vulnerable and open to debate, if they are going to succeed here.   

For luxury & premium brands this raises the age old question of how accessible do you want to be?  For startups & challenger brands often the emphasis can be on the founder’s story of how the brand came to be, and so Clubhouse offers a great opportunity to really engage with a community on topics that matter to them, introducing them to the brand by proxy.  This engagement and feeling of connection to a brand will be far greater than can be achieved on other social platforms and so is a really exciting opportunity.  For more established and heritage luxury brands however, the open nature of Clubhouse is something that will have to be very carefully considered before allowing that ‘behind the scenes’ access.  For these brands rooms will need to be carefully moderated, likely used to host planned panel discussions rather than spur of the moment conversations.   

The clearest thing with Clubhouse is that it legitimately shifts the flow of information like never before.  It’s no longer the case that brands dictate to customers, or even that brands have to be mindful of comments customers may make online.  If wanting to use a platform like Clubhouse for marketing, customers will be able to speak directly to the brand and the brand will have to give an immediate, unscripted, response.  That changes things hugely on important topics of the moment such as sustainability and diversity (as well as of course, any other topic of conversation), where there will be no room for ‘greenwashing’ as informed consumers look for direct answers.  

This will be very powerful for brands taking the right action, but equally as harmful for those that aren’t.  We saw just a few years ago how comments made on Instagram by Stefano Gabbana led to Dolce & Gabbana having to cancel their Shanghai fashion show.  Whilst conversations in Clubhouse aren’t recorded (& doing so is against their T&Cs unless all participants of a room are expressly informed), there’s nothing to stop users recording on their own devices and it would be hard to dispute that comments made are not your own if there is voice recognition.    

Will it live up to the hype?

The question that matters the most – is this a fad or will it be a breakthrough app that’s here to stay?  It’s obviously a tough one to answer and the honest truth is going to be that no one knows yet.  

On the one hand, features such as the push notifications that immediately notify you when someone you follow is on stage and, even if your phone is locked, allow you to click the notification to instantly become a passive listener concern me that we are creating more anxiety / feelings of FOMO that just aren’t necessary, and users may react adversely to this.  Of course individuals can adjust their own notification settings, but the app is designed so that you are either there when the conversation happens or you miss out – that’s going to make it very difficult to create any viral moments that have seen other social platforms cement their place in our societies.  

On a similar note, the app currently only allows users to include external links to their Instagram & Twitter accounts.  With Clubhouse already being adopted by the business community, I wonder why it doesn’t yet link to LinkedIn?  Personally I don’t want to be mixing my personal Instagram with a business network I’ve fostered on Clubhouse, but would like to be able to continue conversations on other platforms.  

The other challenge I think Clubhouse will face is one of PR and the protection of vulnerable users / misuse of the private chat feature.  As mentioned, conversations are not recorded or saved and so once a chatroom is closed, anything that has been discussed is completely private and protected.  There’s a darker side to the web and society that we don’t often like to think about but there will almost certainly be unfavourable situations in which Clubhouse has been a central form of communication and when these are reported in the media (which they will be), it will be interesting to see how the Clubhouse team respond and what they are able to do to protect their users going forward.  

On the other hand though, being voice based and allowing people to discover each other & connect based purely on their thoughts & opinions, rather than relying on algorithms to surface content & build a following, is very compelling and I can certainly see lots of positive niche groups forming and genuine IRL connections being made from this.  

It’s also important to note the timing of the apps launch / rise.  Whilst there are Covid vaccines on the horizon and these are being gradually rolled out, we’re still going to spend much of 2021 indoors & living virtually.  In these ‘unique & unprecedented times’, clubs & events held on Clubhouse will gain momentum and offer an alternative to ‘zoom-fatigue’ webinars.  

So whilst the platform may be very new and it’s not going to be necessary to completely reinvent your whole social content calendar for the year, the smart marketers amongst us will be looking for opportunities to use Clubhouse to foster authentic engagements now, whilst the user base is still fairly niche and before it becomes over commercialised.