Whether you are desperately looking for an invite or you haven’t heard about it at all, you should be paying attention to the most hyped platform of the moment: Clubhouse, a new type of social network, completely focused on audio.

In this piece, our innovation leads for London and Milan, Sam Cox and Luca Della Dora - with the help of Toronto-based Associate Art Director Claire Tremblay - take a look at what makes this platform so unique, who’s already on it - and why, and what brands and marketers need to know in order to figure out if it’s going to be the (right) next big platform for them. 

It’s been pretty hard to ignore the buzz around Clubhouse.  The audio-only social platform achieved a reported $100 million valuation with just 1,500 users after it was first launched in March 2020 by Silicon Valley friends Rohan Seth and Paul Davison, and its growth has been on an upward trajectory ever since. 

Today, Clubhouse attracts more than 2 million users every week, according to Andre Chen of venture capital firm a16z, and - after a new round of investment (raising $100 million) - is now valued more than $1 billion.

But let’s step back to the basics.

What is Clubhouse and who is using it?
Long story short: Clubhouse is an audio-only social media app, set out to connect people in meaningful conversations.

Ok, let’s have a closer look to that.

Firstly, you need an invite to access Clubhouse (in the meantime you can register your username, so it’ll be available when you get an invite - or when they give access to everyone), and it is currently only available for iOS users,although the Android version is going to be released in the next few weeks - so, Android users, take a breath and relax.

When you access Clubhouse, you can navigate across different Rooms where people talk about the topics they care about, and you’re free to join these Rooms if you want to take part in the conversation - or even if you just want to listen in. Users can join - or organise - Rooms with people they know, with professionals they want to share their thoughts with, or even with celebrities - if you’re lucky enough that they want to talk to you (Oprah, Drake and Kanye are already in).

Despite only being one year old, the platform is already in several countries and is rapidly gaining awareness - and, as a result, huge user growth. And from this growth, people are already starting to use the platform in new and different ways, experimenting with a wide range of formats - from the basic Q&A sessions focused on a single topic, to open discussions about wider subjects.

Some examples of how people are experimenting: we've seen users create Rooms for organising blind dates, where the host picks and chooses who will be on the stage speaking to other eligible bachelor(s/ettes); another emerging phenomenon is people live-commenting on IRL events - such as football matches - with their friends or sports experts. We’ve spotted meditation rooms, where people were listening to… nothing: it’s amazing to think that on an audio-only platform, some people are using no audio at all (ok, it sounds a little strange, but fascinating at the same time).

The idea behind Clubhouse is to give people the chance to interact with others without the need to watch a screen - and after more than a year spent switching on/off cameras and microphones on Zoom calls, that’s a huge thing. Clubhouse doesn’t require the effort that talking in front of a camera does and it makes chats more informal.

Clubhouse offers a different experience compared to visual-based social platforms and this sets up its competition with them differently: when you spend your time on Instagram, you’re not spending time on TikTok, but you can scroll down your Instagram feed while joining a Clubhouse conversation. And that makes a big difference in terms of experience.

Right now you might be  thinking that it’s exactly what happens when you listen to a podcast - or to a radio station (if you are a more traditional kind of person). If you are a podcaster, you may be wondering if this means the end of your podcast. But fear not, Clubhouse won’t kill podcasts, at least as long as podcasts continue to produce quality content. But Clubhouse could potentially enrich them, by adding a new layer and the opportunity for the listeners to chat with their favourite talent - for example, before or after a podcast’s episode.

How does Clubhouse work?
As mentioned, you will need an invite to join Clubhouse. Once you’ve received it, you can set up your profile and then you can tell the app your favourite topics and interests, which will help Clubhouse suggest meaningful conversations for you to join. Don’t forget to write your bio properly - this will be different from other platforms, as here you have enough space to introduce yourself without limitations,

Once that’s all done, you can jump into the Rooms that look interesting to you (whether for the topic or the people who are already in there) or you can access the ‘Upcoming for you’ section and activate a notification when a Room is due to start.

Rooms can, at the moment, only host a limited number of users -it seemed that 5,000 was the limit, but the Room Elon Musk participated in collected more than 5,600 users, so it’s currently a bit unclear.

When you are in a room, you start by listening to the conversation and then you can decide if you want to stay there, just to listen, or if you want to talk: in this case, you have just to tap the ‘Hand’ button to ask the moderator to give you this superpower. 

The other option is for you to start your own Room, in case none of the current ones appeal to you enough to take part in them. In which case, you will have the opportunity to name the speakers, the topic and everything else.

The Rooms which Clubhouse suggests to you are based on who you follow, just like TikTok’s algorithm. You can even modify your interests by accessing the settings and pointing out what is relevant and interesting for you by choosing from a range of different topics.

What differentiates Clubhouse from any other social platform is the frictionless experience it offers: you can enjoy the content while you are cleaning your home, while you are cooking your favourite risotto, or while you are walking - without the risk to bump into a street lamp (that’s happened to me twice now - so, pay attention).

What types of conversations are taking place?
The greatest strength of Clubhouse is the sheer diversity of conversations you’re able to have. Upon joining the platform, and in the ‘Explore’ section of the interface, you get the chance to search conversations that are filtered by categories. This gives you an easy method to find and follow what interests you.

Hobbies, cultures, careers, and curiosities - it’s all there. At the moment, there’s a lot of Rooms used by Americans and a number of the moderators are Gary Vee-like people or growth hacker experts trying to tell you how to make your business grow (or how to grow on Clubhouse); however, meaningful and useful Clubs are starting to come up.

You’ll currently find a real dwarf in regards to the following of Clubs, when compared to what we’re used to on other social networks. However, some - like the ‘Startup Club’ - have over 110k members and act more like a SXSW presentation in regards to how the conversions flows. While other, smaller groups, are much more intimate, offering far greater interactivity and self-expression. There’s beauty in both types of conversation.

How can brands get involved?
Social is rife with new opportunities for brands to reach out to current and potential consumers. And Clubhouse is no exception. There are a few early routes for smart brands to make an impactful entrance on Clubhouse.

New influencer marketing
Some Clubhouse users are becoming increasingly popular within their field, gathering hundreds of thousands of followers. When they host a Club, they’ve immediately got a large, engaged following that actively joins in the conversation. The opportunity for brands to sponsor a weekly session or offer its goods to create a centre point of discussion is there for the taking - and something I’m sure we’ll see more of in the coming months.

Brand creating new rooms
Creative weekly episodic Clubs is a common existing behaviour. Brands have the opportunity to craft their own weekly conversations by creating interesting, thought leadership discussions, inspired by the wants and needs of their communities. For example, Audi could get a famous driver to talk about their driving experiences, whereas adidas could host a weekly sports show aimed at giving fans the chance to chat with favourite sports personalities. Democratising access to the hard to reach is an effective way to use Clubhouse.

But as with all things, brands small and large need to focus on delivering value to the community. Hosting a Club to simply sell a product isn’t likely to go places. Treat Clubhouse as a place of service, not a place of selling.

Future enhancements
Recently, Clubhouse raised a large amount of investment to expand the service and confirmed it will be building products to help creators on the platform get paid, including subscriptions, tipping and ticket sales. This investment will also support a ‘Creator Grant Program’ which will be used to support Clubhouse creators. These features have been scheduled to launch in the “next few months. Brands who help to support and collaborate with creators from the beginning, while these features are being built, are the ones which will get ahead and attract better community support.

Conclusion
Clubhouse is, for the time being, an addition to the existing social media ecosystem, but with a unique twist: it’s audio-only, so it offers the opportunity to be used while doing other tasks. It makes it not an alternative to other social media platforms - in terms of scope - but an addition to them.

The platform is still in a beta phase (iOS-only) and it has that “exclusivity” feeling, thanks to the need for an invite in order to join - even if it’s honestly more a statement than the reality - as every user now has the opportunity to invite friends, and the platform is increasingly giving away more free invites to users. But as new user numbers continue to grow, the app’s use should diversify. 

Clubhouse also has competition from Twitter who has developed its own audio only feature called ‘Spaces’. Like Clubhouse, Spaces is also still in beta with limited users. Critically, Twitter already has a user base of 330 million; whether Spaces will take off is still yet to be seen, but it shows the land grab for audio-only spaces is hotting up.

People will also increasingly understand how to use the platform in more useful ways, compared to what’s currently happening today. Ok, we are in an early stage, so it’s completely normal that people are trying to figure out how to experience it; but I think that as people start to focus their Rooms on a single topic, in order to deliver shorter sessions, that will see a bigger impact in terms of the meaningfulness of the conversations being held on the platform.

I’ll also be interested to see how Clubhouse will give creators and influencers a reason to engage with their communities on the platform: it’s pretty likely that Clubhouse will replicate a subscription model similar to that of Twitch, but it’s also intriguing to see how it will evolve to appeal to a wider market, compared to the one related to the marketers’ bubble.

Whether or not Clubhouse succeeds in the long-term, it feels as though it’s helped launch a new type of behaviour on social media - and audio social is here to stay.