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Is Clubhouse Bringing Back The Radio Star?

by Aoife Murphy, Executive Strategy Director

You’ve likely heard of Clubhouse by now, the latest social media app to ride the pandemic digital wave to cult status. Its reason for making headlines in part is due to its rather impressive growth. Launched in April 2020, the app reached the 10 million user mark in just ten months. In comparison it took Facebook and Twitter over two years to hit the same milestone.

Clubhouse is an audio based app. It’s made up of rooms or ‘Clubs’ that focus on different topics, everything from sustainability to cryptocurrency.. You can join public rooms and listen in on the live conversation and raise your hand if you’d like to contribute and speak on the virtual stage. Think of it like an unedited podcast.

The recent rise in audio culture, most notably podcasts, has democratised audio recordings and the layman’s ability to access, aggregate and create them. In the same way Twitter transformed blogging by giving us easy access and a template of 140 characters to share our thoughts with the world, perhaps audio is going the same way with Clubhouse?

The Clubhouse founders are ex-Googlers and the app is thriving among Silicon Valley types so the audience is still niche. But that perception of exclusivity is another reason Clubhouse is getting so much airtime. Currently, to join the app you have to be invited by another user which has led to stories of invites going for as much as $89 on eBay. That tactic is unlikely to last as the platform manages its user base and looks to monetise but it’s a clever way to garner attention.

Interested in this tension between democratisation and exclusivity I joined Clubhouse a few weeks ago (shout out to Pat for my invite). I spent the first few days wondering why everyone was so captivated by what seemed like a long Zoom where everyone keeps their cameras off.

Tonally, it’s hard to get away from the sense that the whole thing is a bit egotistical. There’s a ‘stage’ where you’re invited to share your views, challenge the speakers and debate the topic. It can feel like everyone is looking for their five minutes of fame in front of a room of hundreds of others.

Having said that, I did find humbler spaces that I liked. There was the compliment room where everyone discussed how best to give and receive compliments which was honestly a much deeper conversation than I expected. And there’s the CNN (Clubhouse News Network) room where speakers highlight a global news story and it’s discussed for five minutes max – sort of a headline roulette.

Unlike other social media platforms, you have to commit to listening rather than second screen or mindlessly scroll. In an age where for many social media is having a detrimental effect on their mental health, apps like Clubhouse seem to be moving in a more positive direction.

For marketers I can see potential but at this stage caution is advised. The Irish user base is unclear and the brand safety guarantee is murky with reports emerging of racism, misogyny and bullying on the platform.

However, for brands that believe in transparent collaboration and feedback from their audience, Clubhouse could be an exciting new tool. Burger King’s parent group, Restaurant Brands, recently hosted a room to openly share and discuss their latest quarterly earnings report. A move that seems to mimic the standard conference call with investors.

Social media has always been about creating connections and removing barriers. Celebrities and influencers have used platforms to build their profile and fan communities since their inception. People, not brands remain the most followed accounts.

Clubhouse offers an opportunity to continue building on these real life connections. For brands who have strong relationships with ambassadors and influencers, Clubhouse could trigger a new way to entertain and connect with their buyers.

For now, Clubhouse remains in early stages of hype. My guess is that early adopter brands who know the value of being a part of culture for their audiences will dip their toe. As a nation of radio lovers, perhaps one of the first will be Irish.