Clubhouse: A Medley of Interactive Talk Shows in a Crowded Pub
Clubhouse is a year old this month, but it’s already leading in user growth, hype and controversy. Oman just blocked the app for “not having the right permit” to operate. Other issues include China and the recent fears around data privacy. Yet, the app continues to grow. In December 2020, it had 3,500 users, including celebrities like Oprah, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. By February 2021, there were over 600,000 Clubhouse users! Venture Capitalists have already valued the app at over £700M, according to the Financial Times. It’s an incredible valuation considering that the app makes no money yet.
But not everyone can access Clubhouse. For starters, the app is only available on iOS, which excludes over 130M people in the US alone. Over 70% of mobile phone users in the UK are on Android. Even with a mobile Apple device, you need an invite to join.
So, what is Clubhouse?
It’s an audio-only social media platform that doesn’t have any texts or pictures, only people’s voices and images to represent their profile. All the conversations happen in real-time, and you can’t go back to listen to it once it’s over because the conversation is gone. It’s FOMO on steroids!
You walk into a pub that’s heaving with people. Those people aren’t loitering at the bar, though. They are in rooms with the door shut. Each room has a title on the door like “Instagram vs TikTok Marketing” or “Enrol High-Paying Clients with Ease.”
Some rooms are created under a club, hence the green house above the room title. If you can see the room in your “hallway”, then you can tap on it to go in. Some club rooms are closed to non-club members, so you can’t be in the room unless you follow or join the club.
You can open the door to the room, stand at the back (virtually), and listen. Once in, you’ll be listening to a “live podcast”. You are on mute by default, unless to raise your hand to request to speak, then someone on “stage” could pull you onto the stage. It’s hard to envision if you’ve not been on the app, but it works well. You can even “Leave Quietly” if you’ve had enough, or you want to try another room.
What’s it like to be on Clubhouse?
I love the variety of topics discussed in clubhouse rooms. The app format has the perfect marriage of intimacy through voice and a sort of democracy that we haven’t seen previously on social media. Anyone can start a room on any topic they like. There are live discussions on political matters, dating relationships, small business, entrepreneurship, music and the arts, technology, religion etc.
Clubhouse rooms can get big. The largest room that I’ve seen is one with over 8,000 people in it. I saw a room get maxed out when Elon Musk joined a room a few weeks ago. Last week, when the Clubhouse founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth ran their weekly Townhalls on the app, I couldn’t get in because the room was “full”.
Big rooms are great for a conference-type effect. There’s an audience, and someone on stage is being interviewed or is sharing some insight from the front. The downside with big rooms is that it’s more challenging to get on stage if you’d like to contribute or ask a question. If you did get on stage, you’d have under a minute to speak so that it can feel a bit rushed. You’d need to have your story together and not go off on a tangent.
Moderators are facilitating the rooms, and they set the tone. They can be inclusive and great at setting expectations, or they can have a God-like complex and be impatient.
If you’re looking to get value from big rooms, try rooms run by Rob Moore, Shaa Wasmund, Grant Cardone, and Ashley Shipman. You might not get on stage, but there are great discussions from the panellists that will help business owners and entrepreneurs, for instance. Guy Kawaski does a fantastic “Ask me anything” room on the weekend – I love that he prioritises the questions from women!
Then there are small rooms, which are growing in popularity. These rooms have anywhere from 10-100 people, and it’s usually a more interactive atmosphere. It’s certainly easier to get on stage, so it’s your first choice if you want to contribute. Yet, if you wish to listen, you might avoid these rooms. You’re more likely to get pulled on to the stage even if you don’t raise your hand! You can decline, of course. You might get a scare if you’re new and you’re not sure what to do.
How do you get the best experience on Clubhouse?
Your experience on Clubhouse comes down to who you follow. The algorithm can link the contacts on your phone, so you can follow people you know. You’ll also get some suggestions for people to follow based on the interests you select when you set up your profile.
On selecting interests, pick topics that you’re keen on hearing about. That said, the selection on the app is broad. Say you pick “Weddings” because you’re a wedding planner. Your choice leads to you seeing rooms about wedding planning, bridal showers, wedding photography, Black weddings, Latino weddings, wedding cakes and so on. There’s some refinement needed in this Clubhouse feature.
When you follow someone, you’ll see the rooms that they are listening to or where they are speaking. You can unfollow people or hide rooms as you browse the halls. Conversely, you can select to be notified whenever someone you follow starts or enters a room.
If you see many rooms that you don’t care for, look at who you follow and review your selected interests on your profile.
What’s next for audio-only apps like Clubhouse?
As expected, there are emerging new apps that have copied the audio-app capability of Clubhouse. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any proprietary tech behind the app. Twitter Spaces, Yalla, Sonar and Fireside Chat are some of the apps with similar functionality.
The app is growing at an exponential rate. Launched at the start of the lockdown, Clubhouse appears to have accelerated in part because many faced isolation. The app was a place to meet people and talk about anything! When I joined the app last December, I spent a ridiculous amount of time on it. Some rooms went on for days, and I would hop from one room to another in this addictive space.
But I can’t help but wonder what will happen when life goes back to some normality. Will people still spend as much time in Clubhouse rooms? The app isn’t like other platforms where you can schedule content or have your assistant respond to comments. YOU have to be there. It’s exciting times, and I can’t wait to see how the world of social media evolves from here.