Why Brands Should Care About Clubhouse’s Success

This post first appeared on Prophet.com

Clubhouse is the “it” tech platform of the moment, having exploded 10X from just 600,000 users in December to 6 million users in February. It’s an invitation-only, audio-only app with an underlying social network to support connections. There are a few things driving this ferocious growth.

First, we love to listen. We can listen while driving, doing the dishes — it’s the ultimate multi-tasking medium. Second, audio-only makes Clubhouse personal but not too much so. Audio puts a voice to the face, allowing for authenticity and eliciting empathy that can’t be expressed by text only. And in our Zoom-fatigued world, audio allows us to connect in less invasive, yet more meaningful, ways.

But the most important reason why Clubhouse is exploding is because of the connections being built, conversation by conversation. This is the most intangible but also the most important thing to understand about Clubhouse.

Recently, I wandered into a room for Asian American Professionals just to check it out and was invited up to speak. Over the next hour, I shared, listened and connected with heart as well as head to complete strangers. We talked about everything from feeling shame for having to ask for help, to how to care for elderly parents. In a pandemic-isolated world, it felt good just to connect and not feel so alone.

Connection is addictive. And we have been deprived of it because of Covid. But more importantly, we crave being seen and known for who we truly are. We long for a place where there’s no need to check your identity at the door, no need to code-switch. In my white-washed media world, Clubhouse is astoundingly and refreshingly diverse in every possible measure and steeped in authenticity.

Swan Sit, the former VP of Global Digital Marketing at Nike, joined Clubhouse early on and has amassed a following of over 2 million followers on the platform. I’ve watched Sit’s following grow not because of what she says but because of how she connects. Over two million people follow her because they were moved by the conversations she has fostered. And when I follow her into a room, I do so knowing that the conversation will be all the richer and fuller because she is a part of it.

Sit explained why Clubhouse is so compelling, saying, “One of the most unique things about Clubhouse is its intimacy. Social media has gotten so crowded with videos and motion that we tune things out. Reducing interactions to voice is surprisingly personal and intimate, and you have strangers and celebrities connecting at the most basic human level, showing vulnerability and honesty.”

This is why Clubhouse is growing so quickly — people come out of curiosity and end up staying for the connection. You will know you’ve experienced Clubhouse when can’t wait to come back for more.

The importance of connection is crucial to understanding Clubhouse, especially for companies that want to create a “following” for the purposes of brand building. They will need to be aware that Clubhouse is a very different animal.

People follow you not for what you say, but for how you connect. Do you listen and draw out something from the people around you? Do people leave the conversation richer, rather than you profiting from their attention?

To be successful in social audio, brands must be ready to have real conversations with real people, including being challenged by detractors as well as being loved by their fans. This is not what has passed as “engagement” in other social media platforms where brands had the luxury of controlling what was said on their channels. Sure, you could have a moderator on Clubhouse who invited only pre-selected, “safe” voices up to speak — and it would fall flat against the backdrop of the other meaningful connections happening on Clubhouse.

It’s still early days in the social audio space. The circumstances of Clubhouse’s rise driven by homebound, connection-starved pandemic sufferers will no longer apply later this year. Other social networks and tech luminaries are preparing their own social audio platforms to compete with Clubhouse, e.g. Twitter Spaces, Facebook, Fireside Chat by Mark Cuban) so the social audio space will soon be flooded with copycats (see Jeremiah Owyang’s excellent analysis of the developing social audio ecosystem). Given their attention economy business model of monetizing eyeballs, I expect these platforms will create ways for brands to easily participate. But will they capture the connection and magic of Clubhouse?

Until they launch, I’ll happily keep checking in on Clubhouse, sometimes joining a scheduled chat, sometimes just wandering around the hallways looking for an interesting conversation to join. My hope is that I’ll meet some brand representatives who are there to connect and not to sell me something. Call me optimistic, but I’ve seen brands come so far in the past two decades in re-defining what it means to be a brand. There’s still a lot to grow into, but social audio will push brands into the next frontier.