PR pros in Asia optimistic about Clubhouse

We ask leaders in the region about the app’s use as a marketing tool, an ‘alternative’ media outlet, and opportunities for commerce.

(Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)

When the GameStop stock market saga exploded on the internet, Tesla chief Elon Musk used Clubhouse to interview Vlad Tenev, the co-founder of Robinhood, with a live audience of thousands listening in and millions following along on Twitter. That was one of Clubhouse’s ‘breakthroughs’, one in a series of conversations that managed to propel the audio app to gain some 10 million weekly active users and achieve a valuation of US$4 billion to date.  

“Clubhouse has quickly emerged as a way to bypass media but still widely propagate and amplify messages to audiences,” said Pranav Rastogi, managing director of Redhill. “In Clubhouse’s early days, I remember my Twitter feed being filled with discussions and articles by journalists—predominantly in technology and finance—about the conversations they were listening to on Clubhouse.” 

At the moment, Clubhouse is only available to iOS users, but has recently been expanded on Android in the US before a gradual extension to the rest of the world. This, according to Rastogi, is a “critical factor” in the app’s growth in Asia, given that over three-quarters of mobile phones across Southeast Asia are Android phones.

“The other factor is Clubhouse’s ability to attract enough content creators to join and use the platform to host regular shows and broadcast consistently,” said Rastogi. “If there isn’t a large enough pool and a steady pipeline of compelling content, users will drop off after a few weeks after the FOMO factor passes because there’s nothing to keep them coming back.”

Statistics show that this is already happening: Clubhouse’s daily active users have dropped by 45 per cent since late February, according to Apptopia.

Regulation and government responses to Clubhouse will also shape the role it will play in the regional media landscape. For some markets, the app has become a safe way to facilitate conversations around taboo topics, but that could soon change.  

“This is currently possible because Clubhouse, so far, has not always been subjected to the same restrictions as other types of media,” said Rastogi. “However, if regulation eventually sees Clubhouse banned as it currently is in China, or gated behind firewalls, that will significantly impact its ability to become an important communication medium—not just in Asia, but around the world.”

On top of that, Facebook and Twitter have also rolled out audio functions, which pose competitive challenges for Clubhouse. Rastogi said that the intersection of content and topics between Twitter and Clubhouse could mean that the former’s recently launched Spaces function could have an advantage if simply because of Twitter’s existing clout. 

“Clubhouse has become popular because its content is being amplified by other mediums, predominantly Twitter and news websites. However, its unique selling point is also its biggest challenge,” said Rastogi.

“If Twitter ends up creating the exact same product and user experience, why would someone use Clubhouse to listen to content and return to Twitter to discuss that content, instead of just doing both on Twitter? The news about Twitter and Clubhouse having had acquisition talks recently didn’t come as a surprise.” 

What does this mean for brands and agencies?

It may still be early days for brands and organisations to invest heavily into the app as a marketing tool, but Lars Voedisch, founder and managing director of Precious Communications, says it’s a promising proposition in a virtual environment where webinar fatigue has hit its peak.

“We have started offering Clubhouse management services for clients, who have been able to better engage with communities as a result,” said Voedisch. “While many brands and influential people are on Clubhouse, I believe that companies should not just blindly join the bandwagon. We are still figuring out how Clubhouse will fit into our clients’ and our own marketing mix; and are eagerly tracking Clubhouse as a vehicle.”

He added that while Clubhouse may be a great relationship-building medium, it is not designed to simply operate in a vacuum. “After all, integration is key, and brands should think of how Clubhouse can amplify existing strategies, particularly strengthening existing social and community engagement activities to better add value into the mix,” he said.

Jeremy Seow, managing director, growth and innovation APAC, at Allison+Partners, said that there has been a clear appetite for audio content in this region.

“We’ve seen a rise in clients investing in podcasts and other audio content, especially since the start of the pandemic,” said Seow. “Clubhouse provides a low barrier for brands and thought leaders who are keen to start conversations over an audio-only platform. It’s easy to set up a room, and there are no expectations for a proper script or crystal-clear audio quality—in fact, an over-polished delivery isn’t a good thing on Clubhouse.”

He added that there has been criticism that Clubhouse currently has far more users who are there to talk, than those who want to listen. “But once the platform becomes open to anyone who wants to join, instead of invite-only, I foresee that brands and publishers will be keen to explore its potential for audience engagement,” he said.

Leigh Wong, communications head at Stripe Asia, echoed Seow’s comments. “Because it’s still relatively new, there’s a certain raw, unfiltered edge to the conversations, devoid of slick production values,” said Wong.

“Counterintuitively, lo-fi is the new hi-fi. So, if done well, brands and organisations can create a sense authenticity and interactivity during a Clubhouse session.”

Wong, however, is cautious about the app’s longevity. “I strongly suspect that Clubhouse is a product of its time: because of lockdowns, opportunities for live interactions are limited. However, what happens when we can travel again, mingle at conferences, and participate again in live panel discussions?” he said. 

Kiron Kesav, general manager for strategy and platforms, PHD Malaysia, said that Clubhouse could be especially useful for B2B influencers and brands. While the size and scale of the app is not yet that of Instagram's or TikTok's, Kesav said Clubhouse makes up for it in quality of content and audiences, as well as time spent on the app.

Kesav added: “If a payment option comes in for content creators—where they have the chance of getting paid by audiences on the platform—it opens up the possibility for better-quality content. This means that brands will start taking notice of the platform.”


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