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Joining the club, by Horizontal Digital’s Robert McGovern

Robert McGovern, Horizontal Digital, digital strategist introduces social media newcomer Clubhouse and explores the possibilities the platform presents to advertisers.

The audio-based social networking app Clubhouse has exploded on to the social media scene over the last few months on a wave of hype originating from a host of technology enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley. The app is a kind of cross between radio and podcasts, combining the live nature of broadcast radio with the topical discoverability and subscription of podcasts.

Users can create “rooms” to host a talk themselves or have a chat with others. Their followers, or anyone who is interested, can listen and even join in with the discussion if the moderator allows. It’s not unlike the virtual Zoom panels that we’ve all become so accustomed to over the last year, but with a social layer on top. Users are notified when someone they follow starts a room, and they are presented with a feed of talks that are taking place right now on topics that they find interesting. It has the feel of walking around at a conference and being able to duck into and out of a bunch of interesting talks. Moderators can also create “clubs”, which are akin to Facebook Groups where regular meetups can be scheduled and accepted in advance.

Rooms tend to have a very open, conversational feel and, while there is an opportunity to join in with many discussions (not unlike a radio phone-in show), many users admit to listening passively in the background while doing something else. Chats are not recorded and can’t be listened to after they finish, which gives them a sense of urgency and FOMO – join in now or forever miss out on what was said. To create a sense of exclusivity (and presumably to avoid the Fail Whale crashes that plagued Twitter in its early days), new members can only sign-up to Clubhouse if invited by a current user. Each user has two invites to share. The app’s ephemeral nature has helped create an engaged user base and the invite-only sign-up process has only added to the curiosity.

As most of this recent buzz has been fuelled by a burst of activity in Silicon Valley, the content on the platform at the moment tends to lean heavily on the US tech and investment scene – users went wild when Elon Musk hosted an impromptu interview with Vlad Tenev, CEO of trading app Robinhood, during the recent GameStop stock saga. Despite this, as the user base continues to grow and diversify, it’s not hard to imagine how the content on the platform might evolve with more space dedicated to topics such as sports, cooking, health, art, culture, politics, you name it. Users have grown from just 2,000 last June to more than 10 million by March this year, although the app is still only available on iPhone for the time being.

Advertising on Clubhouse

Clubhouse currently does not host any advertising on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that savvy brands can’t get involved. Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International (RBI), hosted an hour-long “Open Kitchen” chat with customers the day after reporting its 2020 earnings results in February. CEO José Cil, CMO Fernando Machado and some other executives spoke about the company’s sustainability work and Burger King’s new loyalty program, and they have plans to continue the chats every two weeks.

But there are other ways for advertisers to join in the buzz too. Similar to the way that sponsoring podcasts and webinars currently works, brands can sponsor rooms and get the host to read out a short sponsored message or shout-out during a call, maybe along with some kind of special offer for listeners. Alternatively, brands can sponsor a room or club and have their brand name included in the title of the event so it stands out as users browse through their feed. Some topic-specific clubs are starting to gain a significant following and there could be opportunities for paid guest spots where brand representatives would get a chance to speak to their followers.

While it may feel like there are already enough social media platforms out there, if history has taught us anything it’s that there always seems to be room for one more. The recent explosive popularity of Clubhouse suggests that this concept has legs. Twitter has recently announced a copycat product called Spaces, and Facebook is also reportedly working on something similar. First-mover advantage can be a real asset when it comes to new channels, so brands in the region should start thinking about how they might use a platform like this to get in front of their customers.

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