Approaching a year since launch, Clubhouse—the strange, still relatively new social media app from the mysterious, San Francisco-based Alpha Exploration Co.—is gaining popularity among PR teams throughout Silicon Valley and beyond. By "popularity," I don’t mean widespread engagement (survey of one!), though I’ve poked around a bit as have many folks I know. Instead, we’re curious if and how businesses should use Clubhouse for PR. Let the debate ensue.
The who and what of Clubhouse
Clubhouse still bills itself as a private, invitation-only network like other apps and Gmail way before them. Back in the day, getting an invite to Gmail was like being issued your first Blackberry; you knew you had arrived. But I digress. Clubhouse is pushing (hoping?) to be perceived as an exclusive app for the cool kids. Except it’s not. I’m on it, and I’m definitely not cool – ask my kids if you don’t believe me.
It’s also iOS-only, as if Android users needed another reason to question their life choices, and comes with some digital privacy concerns (the app may record everything you say, even in private rooms).
But under the crushing weight of the global pandemic that has re-defined “life as we know it,” perhaps an app that empowers users to connect through voice is exactly what’s needed. Old social media is so texty and asynchronous, anyway. Read Clubhouse’s origin story here—it’s solid.
So, discussions are happening and people are listening. There’s about two million active weekly users. That’s a rounding error for the Facebooks and Tik Toks of the world, but it’s a KPI that has momentum behind it. The company has raised a decent amount of money—$12 million from Andreesen Horowitz. But perhaps more important than the money, social media God and intrepid bitcoin investor Elon Musk appeared on the app earlier this year. And if Mr. Musk (and the other high-profile businesspeople, celebrities and influencers frequenting it) has the time for Clubhouse, well, we need to find the time too.
Learn the ropes of Clubhouse
My advice is simple. Listening is the first step. First, get in and see what’s up. The UI is easy to navigate and the audio quality is great. I dropped into a conversation the other day between a bunch of comedians talking about the worst things ever … it was pretty funny. Find a room through the search function or see what’s been scheduled. There’s a lot.
Get a feel for what’s makes it work. A lot of people question if it’s just a podcast. Not really. Clubhouse is live, whereas podcasts are produced. It’s more interactive and roundtable-like. It’s raw dialog happening in real-time, and that’s what people are there for.
How businesses should use Clubhouse for PR & branding
Setting up a room and potentially a dedicated club come next. Both are relatively easy, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Based on my limited perspective, I think the value of Clubhouse will be derived from the quality of the content shared across its servers.
The community likely won’t tolerate random noise and/or superficial marketing stunts (at least until someone figures out how to monetize those things). Organic, authentic conversations must be the leading principle of using this platform.
Here are some of the ways we’re thinking about Clubhouse for PR and for our clients:
- Thought leadership – the obvious opportunity is to share knowledge, for spokespeople from really niche B2B businesses and wide-reaching B2C brands alike (tech interests range from as broad as “SaaS” to as specific as “crypto”).
- Associating with a major cultural theme or issue – We’ve argued that companies’ communications platforms must extend far beyond the products and services they market. Clubhouse may be a way to build brand association with higher-order consumer and buyer values like sustainability, diversity and inclusion, etc.
- Private roundtables – With most conferences and in-person events on hold, this could be a viable alternative for smaller-scale, more intimate discussions. (As noted above, beware, these sessions may not be private.)
- Networking – We’ve heard some claims of striking up business connections/partnerships with prominent business leaders, by speaking up in rooms or searching member and club directories.
- Influencer partnerships – Clubhouse’s “Creator Pilot Program” is worth keeping an eye on. In the meanwhile, brands and their spokespeople can consider partnering with influencers to create highly attractive rooms and exclusive listening opportunities.
- News dissemination & corporate storytelling – It’s all about interactive conversations right now. Clubhouse could work for a modern press conference or corporate storytelling in the future, though (apparently Bite Toothpaste sponsored a room to share its founding story and gained 30 new customers).
I think the challenge will be to keep the conversations meaningful. If businesses decide to host or sponsor rooms and clubs, unique topics, fascinating speakers, exclusive access and lively discussions will be required. How Clubhouse plans to gate/moderate/throttle that I have no idea. Will they follow suit of other social platforms and determine which topics (and people) may not be allowed to participate? Too early to know.
The jury’s still out on how Clubhouse’s popularity will fare long-term, but if your business, brand, or team wants to get into Clubhouse, do it. There’s something to be said about testing early. Engagement and followership are easier to come by before a platform gets saturated.
It’s an intriguing new medium that has struck a chord with a diverse group of people. But walk before you run. Get a feel for the rooms, the ways in which the discussions flow, the types of talks that attract participation. From there determine if what you want to say would resonate within this space and if you should use Clubhouse for PR. If yes, proceed and expect to learn a lot as you go. If not, that’s cool too—keep listening.
——— Alan Dunton is Managing Director at SHIFT Communications, sister company of NATIONAL Public Relations