Explainer: What marketers need to know about Clubhouse

Clubhouse is the latest thing in social media and has quickly moved from murmur to buzz as it’s gained some very high-profile fans like Elon Musk

Clubhouse is the latest social hit, an invite-only audio chat app that just seems to be the right thing at the right time. And having Tesla’s Elon Musk tweeting about it to his 40 million followers doesn’t hurt.

Marketers need to know they’ll probably learn more about Clubhouse by reading about it than by using it, at least to begin with. But, nonetheless, it pays to be ahead of the curve.

So what exactly is Clubhouse?

Clubhouse is a social audio chat app where users can tune in to interviews, conversations and discussions between people on varying topics - like a podcast, only it’s live. When the discussion is finished, it’s over and there is no record of the audio available afterwards.

For now, only existing users can invite others. So someone you know needs to be in the house already to get you in. Anyone can download the app and reserve a username, and then it's waiting to get an invite to get in.

Clubhouse was only launched in mid-2020 and the creators are still developing the platform and working on safety features and guidelines among other things, with plans to open it up for general use when it can handle a large audience.

The confluence of many factors such as a pandemic, the popularity of podcasts, a lot more free time at home and video fatigue have come together so that Clubhouse seems like the right thing at this moment. “This is the modern version of AM talk radio democratising a digital society,” Constellation Research principal analyst and founder, Ray Wang, explained to CMO.

“The other unwritten part of the business model is a way to reward content creators with a new platform."

Riding the wave of podcast popularity, Clubhouse allows users to multi-task and not have to be fully occupied as they do with video or written content. “Just like we listen to music or talk radio or a podcast in the background while cooking, doing another task or checking email, audio gives you back some time,” said Wang. 

Hunger for authenticity

Clubhouse isn’t just about the convenience of audio and the relief from video fatigue. It is also about something else very fundamental in creating connection - the power of the human voice.

“The sudden emergence of Clubhouse may seem to have come from nowhere; however, consumer behaviour trends have pointed to its arrival for a while,” Carat A/NZ chief strategy officer, Linda Fagerlund, told CMO.

Fagerlund explained the popularity of Clubhouse isn’t surprising when you consider how people are embracing the power of the human voice, through the growth of voice-based content such as podcasts and audio books. “In a social era filled with carefully managed Instagram feeds, influencers and filters, people are increasingly yearning for more real conversations between real people. Clubhouse provides a level of intimacy and arguably unfiltered authenticity in a world dominated by the curated visual form,” Fagerlund said.

Clubhouse harks back to an older era when people would gather to listen to discussions, only in this setting it allows a far greater array of discussions and storytellers, Fagerlund noted. “It reminds me of the old salon gatherings in the 1920s, where thought leaders, activists and intellectuals would gather to discuss and dissect the burning topics of the time,” she said.

“The key difference with Clubhouse is this is now democratised for the tech age; anyone can log in, select their choice of topic and listen in on whatever conversation they like. Importantly, it can also provide a platform for voices that may never had the chance to be heard before. That’s powerful, especially the opportunity for marginalised communities and groups to be their own storytellers."

Coming after the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, were celebrities and people with profiles used the platform to help explain the issues, Clubhouse is part of the appetite for sharing insight and lived experience. “Clubhouse taps into this growing desire for knowledge-swapping and, hopefully, more inclusive and empathetic conversations between different people,” said Fagerlund.

Is it a fad?

People can be quick to flock to the newest kid on the social block, hungry for something different to escape the familiarity of established platforms like Facebook and Twitter, particularly as the platforms and some of their creators have come in for substantial backlash about privacy, misinformation hate speech and so on.

But for brands and marketers, it’s a much more significant commitment adopting a new platform. Crafting and measuring an engagement strategy, along with assets and a significant investment in time and attention, without always having a clear idea of the payoff, may look like a barrier that’s just too high.

Croud AU MD, Jamie Hoey, has seen fads and trends come and go when it comes to social. However, Hoey predicted Clubhouse could be a game changer because it puts the focus on something other social platforms don't - real engagement.

“Clubhouse could provide a platform to connect and actively engage with some of the brightest intellects, business leaders and personalities you can find. There’s no texts, automated responses or 280-character limits, just genuine engagement through conversation,” explained Hoey.

“Information is a rich commodity, and the platform allows both individuals who want to learn and brands who want to engage with their audience, a place to exchange views. If they are invited in, that is,” he said.  
Pointing to the desire for authenticity that was evident throughout last year, Clubhouse could be the space that enables a free flow of discussion.

“A platform that provides a space for this open conversation might not only help brands listen to their customers, but also drive engagement. For smaller businesses, in particular, the ability to share experiences and knowledge might mean potential consumers leave a room with a greater understanding of your brand and value proposition,” he continued.

How should brands engage on Clubhouse?

According to Fagerlund, there are some key questions brands and marketers should start to consider as the audio-chat trend continues to grow. Firstly, what is the brand voice? “If the brand or product could speak, what would it sound like and, importantly, what would it talk about?,” she said.

It’s necessary to apply human empathy: what would be the brand’s chosen topics of conversations with a real person, and what value could it bring to that dialogue before someone leaves the room? “All these questions can help better understand and define the areas of interest where a brand should start a conversation – or perhaps even where it should just listen in respectfully and let people speak for themselves,” she said.

Brands should consider how they want to engage content creators as they seek to influence club moderators and their clubs, said Wang. “As with TikTok, influencers will be compensated for their mentions of their product and as Clubhouse grows, the influence will grow,” he explained.

To Wang, the new rules of engagement are fairly simple: Start a club with a content creator with a large following and move them to clubhouse and associate with them. “Then grow the content strategy with regular scheduled podcasts and interesting hosts,” he said.

But before rushing headlong into Clubhouse as a marketing platform, Hoey advised marketers to be strategic. Brands and marketers to take a step back and explore the inner-workings, audience and opportunities before diving in. “New platforms might provide a wealth of opportunity, but first and foremost, they must fit into your wider marketing strategy,” he said.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, or follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page.

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