Should Marketers be Considering the Potential of Rising Social App Clubhouse?

Clubhouse

Clubhouse is the hot new social app of the moment, sparking buzzy chatter among social influencers and a raft of FOMO-inducing tweets of Clubhouse conversation highlights. The app has been praised for its simplicity, and its capacity to facilitate real community and discussion – but the question for digital marketers is ‘should this platform be on our radar?’

Is there marketing potential within the many rooms of the Clubhouse app?

The answer to that largely depends on your business, and what you’re looking to achieve, but to give you an idea, here’s an overview of the ins and outs of Clubhouse, how it works, and what its potential for your business may be.

What is Clubhouse?

Clubhouse is an audio-only social app which enables people to host chat rooms that all users can join (image example via ‘Keep Up with KP‘).

You can listen in, or you could get called on as a participant in the chat, but the central premise is that this is a virtual clubhouse, with each discussion happening in a different room of said house.

You browse the discussions happening in each room, where you can also see who else is participating in each, and jump in and out of chats, relative to your interests (image via YourStory).

Clubhouse

It’s a fairly simple, but engaging premise, and Clubhouse has benefited significantly from the major buzz around the app, which has resulted in various big-name stars and celebrities jumping into Clubhouse rooms, immediately drawing big crowds.

The biggest of these was Tesla founder Elon Musk, whose recent Clubhouse appearance broke the 5,000 person limit for a room, and saw users creating secondary listening rooms and live-streams on other platforms to follow the conversation. Clubhouse has also hosted a live-reading of The Lion King musical, while even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently joined a Clubhouse chat – no doubt to take some notes for Facebook’s coming duplicate feature.

Clubhouse

As the hype has grown, so has the app’s audience, with Clubhouse going from 600,000 active users in December, to 2 million just over a month later.

An important element to note here, also, is that Clubhouse is not actually open to the public as yet.

The app is currently invite-only, with each new user able to allocate a selected number of invites to whomever they choose. That’s helped to further boost the hype around the app, with those who do have access sparking more FOMO as they share notes on the many conversations and discussions occurring behind that exclusive wall. That’s also made Clubhouse invites a badge of honor within themselves – some people are even selling app invites on eBay for up to $125 each.

Clubhouse also doesn’t currently have an Android app, which is in development.  

Given the app’s rapid growth, despite these restrictions, you can see why investors are watching Clubhouse closely. The app recently raised a new funding round on a $1 billion valuation.

It has the momentum, it’s captured the attention of many prominent figures, and it could well be set to become the next big social app. But there are also some concerns, and potential limitations in the Clubhouse approach.

Growing Pains

An interesting consideration of Clubhouse’s strategy is that it actually works in opposition to the way most other social platforms have grown.

In many ways, the expansion of Clubhouse is similar to the rise of live-streaming back in 2015. Back then, buzzy live-streaming app Meerkat saw a sudden rise amid massive hype from influencers who jumped onto the app at SXSW. Meerkat rode that momentum to 2 million users, before Twitter introduced Periscope, using its scale to halt Meerkat’s momentum, and eventually force the app out of the market.

Clubhouse is similar, in that it enables anybody to broadcast their own live show, and attract an immediate audience. The difference here is that the emphasis of Clubhouse is more focused on group discussion, and prompting broader engagement – but it could actually end up suffering from some of the same issues that ended up plaguing live-streaming, and pushing audiences away.

Live-streaming failed to gain significant mainstream momentum because creating entertaining, engaging live content is hard to do, and as more and more people flocked to these apps, and broadcast themselves for all to see, the overall quality of the streams on offer dropped rapidly. It got to the point that the majority of streams on offer were so boring that it took forever to find something good to watch, and most viewers just got stopped looking and moved onto something else.

Clubhouse could suffer from the same – which is why its growth is actually a risk, in variation to general social platform approaches. The main emphasis for most social apps has been getting more people in, expanding your network and boosting engagement. But for Clubhouse, every expansion adds more risk of quality dilution, and reduced engagement.

In this sense, the invite-only approach also works in the app’s favor, but if Clubhouse wants to become a real contender for attention, and subsequent ad dollars, it will need to see significant expansion, which brings a significant level of concern in this respect.   

Clubhouse has also come under scrutiny over moderation concerns, and issues with its capacity to handle racism and harassment. Because the discussion is happening live, that can make it increasingly difficult to manage, especially at scale, and right now, Clubhouse does not have the tools available to manage such, leading to various, significant incidents.

Clubhouse says that it is working on both improving content discovery and user safety, so it is well aware of these issues. But again, the app is currently only dealing with 2 million users.

It’ll face much bigger issues, on both fronts, as it continues to expand, likely well beyond this initial audience.

Marketing Potential

So is Clubhouse a good fit for brands?

As noted, it really depends on your business, and what you’re looking to achieve.

Right now, Clubhouse has shown significant potential for boosting users as thought leaders, and expanding audience within your niche.

Social Media Examiner notes that some attorneys, for example, have been able to attract new clients via Clubhouse by sharing their expertise within dedicated rooms, while brands have even begun sponsoring some Clubhouse discussions and sharing business insights in the app.

That seems to be the key brand benefit, in sharing knowledge and insight via the various discussions in order to increase community connection. And that could be significantly valuable, with Clubhouse rooms currently seeing high levels of engaged, active users. Spark the right topic of discussion and you could be on a real winner for your brand, which could help to boost your presence, and maximize audience reach.

Clubhouse says that it’s also investing in several new options, including subscriptions, tipping and ticket sales for in-app discussions. All of those could have significant potential for individual creators, and brand chats, with the additional gating measures potentially weeding out less engaged, passer-by users, keeping the chats more focused on the right audience.

And eventually, you would expect that Clubhouse will announce advertising options. As noted, brands are already sponsoring some rooms, but Clubhouse will likely look to make that a more formal, systematic option, while you’ll no doubt also be able to promote your rooms within the app, as well as adding branding, including URL links in profiles, etc.

There is clearly potential here, but it does depend, in large part, on scale and the audience you want to reach.

For some brands, your target audience will already be active in the app, which could make the more intimate, highly engaged discussions a great potential opportunity to generate new connections. For others looking for broader reach, it may be a wait and see, to measure how Clubhouse expands, and what sort of engagement it sees within that.

Right now, Clubhouse says it hosts thousands of rooms each night:

“Filled with people hosting game shows, recapping NBA games, singing opera, discussing philosophy, meeting other musicians, sharing travel tips, running support groups, and meditating together.”

It may well be worth seeking out an invite, and jumping in to check out what sort of discussions are happening around your brand niche.

A New Front for Social Engagement?

Clearly, there is potential in Clubhouse, and as noted, it is likely worth tuning in, where possible, and getting a feel for the potential of the app for your business interests.

But there are also several factors that could impede its future expansion.

Along with the noted points above, there’s also the potential that other apps could copy its functionality, and steal Clubhouse’s thunder. Twitter is already doing this, with its new audio Spaces feature, while Facebook also has Rooms for groups and events, which it could look to adapt and emphasize further, if it wanted to try and slow the app.

More interesting, however, could be if Reddit were to introduce a similar audio rooms functionality. Like Clubhouse, Reddit’s niche communities are highly engaged, and highly knowledgeable on their topics of choice. If Reddit were to add audio rooms, in an effort to tap into the Clubhouse trend, that could have a significant impact on the app’s growth. Worth noting that Reddit added a new group chat functionality to selected subreddits last May, which is along similar lines (though without the audio element).

Clubhouse does have potential, but its future is not certain, so it’s hard to say whether it’s a must-have, or a key consideration for future marketing efforts at this stage.

In many ways, Clubhouse also replaces the spontaneous discussion of incidental, face-to-face engagements, which could change in the wake of the pandemic, as people head back to office spaces and resume in-person events.

Essentially, there’s a lot of unknowns in the app’s growth path, but right now, Clubhouse does appear to be doing all the right things, and focusing on all the right elements (or at least, saying it is) to ensure that it’s able to capitalize on its sudden rise in attention and interest.

At the least, it’s worth reserving your username in the Clubhouse app, and signing up for future updates.

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