One of the newer social apps making (sound)waves is the audio-based Clubhouse. Although it was initially just an iPhone app, it has recently expanded into both the Android and Windows PC markets with a phenomenal uptake. And like virtually every social app, Clubhouse has developed a distinct base of influencers leading the charge. One extremely famous influencer, Elon Musk, has contributed to Clubhouse's fame.
Musk made his audio debut on Clubhouse in January, answering a series of questions, predominantly about softball, and shared his views on topics such as space travel, colonies on Mars, crypto, AI, and Covid-19 vaccines. He then interviewed Vlad Tenev, CEO of Robinhood, about what had happened during the last week with the Wall Street Bets debacle. Musk's chat resulted in more than 5,000 people concurrently in the room, breaking the Clubhouse listening number cap. Some of his listeners even created secondary listening rooms on Clubhouse to enable more people to take in Musk's comments. Others made live streams on YouTube to encourage even more listeners.
As a result of Musk's Clubhouse audio broadcast on Sriram Krishnan and Aarthi Ramamurthy's The Good Time Show, The Verge described Clubhouse as "Medium for Podcasts." They added, "his arrival on Clubhouse served as validation for the company and the idea of live, interactive audio streaming more generally."
Clubhouse numbers have grown phenomenally. Back in May 2020, Clubhouse only had 1,500 users. Its popularity grew quickly to reach 2 million users by January 2021. February saw phenomenal growth, however (presumably because of the introduction of the Android app), and numbers grew five times to 10 million users by the end of that month.
Clubhouse Recognizes its Influencers:
What is Clubhouse?
Describing Clubhouse can be challenging. At its most basic, Clubhouse is an audio-chat social network. Jordan Minor in PC Mag's review of Clubhouse describes the app as being "What if Twitter was a podcast you lived inside of?" The main page features relevant clubs with live vocal conversations happening now. Unlike most other social apps, it is audio-only, lacking support for images or video. The only pictures on the app are small profile icons. It also doesn't offer transcripts and recording conversations without permission is frowned upon. Clubhouse leaves the styles of its conversations to its users, and they vary greatly. Anyone in a room can "raise a (virtual) hand" to speak, but it's up to the room's moderator whether they let you talk.
Another unusual feature of Clubhouse is that it is currently invite-only, like many real clubs. You need an invitation from an existing Clubhouse user to gain access. Once Clubhouse accepts you as a member, they will give you two invites to pass onto others.
Clubhouse has become popular during COVID19 as it enables people to have conversations without being face-to-face. Some people have compared it to Zoom, but without the pictures. Of course, unlike Zoom, which is relatively private, and you can't just join any conversation without an invitation, Clubhouse is designed to be public, with members able to listen into (and often actively participate in) all discussions.
Influencers and Celebrities Use Clubhouse
Clubhouse may only have been in operation for about a year, but it wasn't long before influencers and celebrities began to take notice of the platform. American actress, Tiffany Haddish, was the first person to break 1 million followers on Clubhouse.
Although various celebrities use Clubhouse as with most social platforms, influencers are not restricted to being celebrities. Clubhouse influencers tend to be people with magnetic personalities who attract listeners because they come across as interesting and provide value to them. They don't necessarily have to have previously gained fame on other social platforms or traditional media.
Many Clubhouse influencers are older than the Millennials and Generation Z, who rule the roost on most other social networks. This is probably reflective of Clubhouse's general audience, just as stars of talkback radio and, more recently podcasting, have usually been older than those who have built their popularity on more visual networks. For example, Catherine Connors, aged 50, hosts two popular talk shows on Clubhouse, one about feminism and one about philosophy.
The Clubhouse Invite-Only "Creator Pilot Program"
Clubhouse now recognizes the existence of influencers on its platform. It has created an invite-only "Creator Pilot Program" for a series of top influencers it recognizes as popular broadcasters. Most of the pilot program users host popular shows with audiences in the thousands (remember that in most cases, Clubhouse limits audiences to 5,000.)
Members of the creator program were invited to join a private digital "club" on Clubhouse called "Everything in Moderation" and a closed WhatsApp group chat including Clubhouse founders and leaders.
No Standard Monetization Methods Yet
One issue that Clubhouse will have to consider if it wants to become viewed as influencer-friendly is implementing some standardized monetization methods. Of course, like all influencer marketing, Clubhouse influencers can do deals behind the scenes with brands wanting a presence on the app. However, there is not any current official payment system for popular Clubhouse users. According to the New York Times, one of the questions asked by influencers in a "Creators Roundtable Session" held between company leaders and influencers in December 2020 was, "Where's the money at?" Ticketing, tips, and subscriptions were contemplated as potential options for monetization.
Quite a few Clubhouse influencers see this as a potential career and believe there should be more straightforward ways to make an income as creators on the platform. Some tech investors have also questioned how influencers on other platforms, such as OnlyFans, monetize their accounts. Li Jin, a founder of Atelier, has observed that "TikTok … [treat] creators as first-class citizens and [make] them feel like they're served for and cared for. I think that made investors realize serving creators was a good business strategy."
Some people have suggested that influencers should be able to monetize using their specific skills in Clubhouse. For example, a lawyer has suggested he could earn money by sharing his experience in legislation in a Clubhouse room.
Clubhouse has stated that they don't intend to monetize using advertisements.
Concerns About Clubhouse
One negative side effect some Clubhouse users have discovered is that the app's user experience means that people can say things with no accountability. Generally, there is no record kept of inappropriate statements that people make, and some of the rooms contain decidedly inappropriate conversations.
Not everybody believes that Clubhouse is doing everything it can to help its members. Some people have complained that Clubhouse has failed to roll out sufficient safeguards for its users. For example, one (former) Clubhouse influencer and member of their Creator Pilot Program, Rhian Beutler, announced she was putting her popular Clubhouse trivia show on hold. She tweeted, "I can't continue to bring positive things in wake of the continued lack of action by CH in the face of antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism (etc., etc.)"
Lenzy Ruffin picked up on this in his Park Road Studios blog post, "Black Women, Is Clubhouse The Club You Really Want To Be In?" He found similar conversations from members of minority groups, reported in Vanity Fair and The Verge. Ruffin summed things up with, "In 2021, you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem. You can't be okay with hate speech and intolerance, as long as it's not happening to you. When white people do that, we call it white privilege."
Clubhouse stresses that "All forms of racism, hate speech and abuse are prohibited on Clubhouse and are a direct violation of the Community Guidelines and Terms of Service. The company has trust and safety procedures in place to investigate and address any violation of these rules, which may include suspension or removal from the app." They claim that they do extra reviews for conversations that include racism and harassment, misogyny, and homophobia.
Why is Clubhouse So Popular?
Despite the concerns expressed by some, Clubhouse has clearly had phenomenal growth of late. Why has an app that lacks visual imagery proved to be so popular?
To a large extent, this is because Clubhouse's virtual conversations act very much as an event, connecting people by audio from across the world. The wide range of conversations attract people from different industries, professions, interests, and backgrounds and cover a plethora of different topics. The talks are live and generally aren't recorded, so you miss out on what people say if you're not there. As a result, some people spend considerable time on the app, listening for conversations on topics that interest them.
Inevitably, some people have established themselves as experts worth listening to on particular subjects. These are the influencers of Clubhouse. Brands are quickly discovering that these are the people to whom others listen. They're the "go-to" people on their topics of expertise.
Indeed, this describes how all influencers should work. It's just that it is more clear-cut on Clubhouse. The influencers can only gain fame for the clarity and intellectual robustness of what they say, rather than just because they are visually appealing or can edit a well-made video well.
This offers considerable opportunities for brands to establish brand awareness and appeal to the target audiences in their niches. Some brands are even beginning to experiment with sponsoring rooms now.