Join the Clubhouse

PR pros take note: the latest social media sensation is nothing to do with golf and it’s a much more engaging and diverse place to hang out than the 19th hole.

New social networks come and go on a regular basis but the buzz around Clubhouse suggests this is one newcomer that has massive potential to break through on a permanent basis.

As if to demonstrate its impact, this week Tesla’s Elon Musk was interviewed on the platform with Robinhood CEO Vladimir Tenev. And Mark Zuckerberg popped in for 20 minutes to chat on Thursday night, causing incredible excitement for hours afterwards. Some celebrities have also embraced the platform, especially in the Black entertainment community.

Although it only launched in March last year and is still in its beta stage, Clubhouse now has around 3 million members and is already valued at $1 billion.

Founded by Stanford alumni and entrepreneurs Paul Davison and former Google engineer Rohan Seth, the company is based in Menlo Park, Facebook territory. The usual Bay Area suspects such as Andreessen Horowitz have already invested, along with many others.

It’s an invite-only audio chat social networking app that currently can only be accessed on iPhones, not Android devices – an app for the latter is in the works.

Once invited in, users sign up to follow various topic areas and individuals you might already know or others who look interesting.

There are discussions in “rooms” about any conceivable subject or activity, which aren’t archived on the app, although they can be recorded and some find their way into the wider world, especially high-profile items such as the Elon Musk spot.

Any attendee can raise their hand and be invited “on stage” by moderators to ask a question or make a contribution of their own.

Users can also set up rooms for private discussions with other members. As well as English-speaking populations, Germany and Asia appear to have particularly caught on early.

It’s a young, diverse environment and the vibe is generally positive, respectful and purposeful. “Clubhouse as a force for change” feels like the overriding mission and, as I pointed out last week, it’s a prime example of a non-traditional place where lots of consumers are hanging out that doesn’t coincide with mainstream norms.

It’s still at that engaging early stage of a social network where everyone’s excited about the possibilities of the platform and being there, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in their early incarnations.

Online human nature being what it is, no doubt the toxicity will eventually follow – there has already been some hate speech and controversy. Community guidelines have now been implemented that all members must abide by. But, for now, it’s generally a fun, enjoyable, educational, and engaging place to hang out. PCMag’s Eric Griffiths produced a good Clubhouse explainer here.

Launched at the start of the COVID-19 era, the app is perfect for the lockdown environment where people have lots of time on their hands and are looking for something to do. You can quickly get lost in it for hours. Unlike many social networks, it actively encourages interaction with other platforms and members input their Twitter and Instagram handles when signing up.

Last night alone, I dropped in on a room chatting about the New Creator Economy with Joe Budden and Patreon CEO Jack Conte; a preview and critique of this year’s Super Bowl ads featuring Mischief’s Greg Hahn, VMLY&R’s Walt Geer and other agency creatives; a Film Club talk with Nick Bilton about Fake Famous on HBO; a Podcypher session about Vurbl being the new audio platform for podcasters; the cofounder of fashion company Madhappy Peiman Raf discussing the Future of Brand; and the Zuckerburg visit - the follow-on from which was still going strong in other breakout rooms 10 hours after he departed.

I gave the Patti Stanger session on dating a miss, but many didn’t and there were almost unlimited rooms running concurrently on any conceivable topic. There are still lots of gaps, but you can already find content and discussions on Clubhouse about pretty much everything.

Morning Brew cofounder Alex Lieberman said on Clubhouse today audio integrates better with people's lives as they don't have to read and can multitask by consuming while doing something else, such as cooking, working out, traveling or when you want a more passive experience. Though, as a newsletter founder, he noted "it's more difficult to build affinity with an audiovisual medium."

It’s a very creative environment and, while there are PR pros on the platform, there seem to be many more folks from the ad agency side at the moment. It’s a particularly interesting space for emerging markets such as AI and machine learning, P2P banking, solar power, big data and cannabis.

I know some practitioners see it as another potentially interesting way to bypass mainstream media and access a direct-to-influencer audience without the journalistic filter. At the moment it feels like a safer, less hard-questioning space for business leaders, who are often being moderated in rooms by their friends or their own staffers. A lot of Kool-Aid is being drunk.

But, for anyone saying they can’t find diverse talent, just spend an hour on Clubhouse and you will be inundated with contributions from intelligent, passionate and creative young people of all creeds, colors and backgrounds.

There are very few brands or media owners on Clubhouse as yet, and there is no formal monetization model. Again, this is how Facebook and other social media behemoths started and those things will undoubtedly come in time. We will see if the platform retains its credibility and attraction when the world of commerce arrives, but I think it can.

Plenty of individuals representing the worlds of marketing and communications hang out there and, as U.K. PR pro Jonny Stanton pointed out on PRWeek, every communicator and every brand should be engaging with the environments and exploring its possibilities.

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