Clubhouse: PR perspective

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Clubhouse: PR perspective

Clubhouse is the shiny new thing in social media. A drop-in audio-only social network that has evoked a strong following during the pandemic. Currently, only in beta, the app has mastered the psychological need for humans to connect, amassing over 10 million users in less than a year.

What is behind its success?

Hearing someone’s voice is authentic. You cannot hide behind a screen or a chat box — it is live, unfiltered and raw. The app is also simple and easy to use. And for those wary of video conference calls, you never need to worry about what you look like on Clubhouse. Zoom fatigue is real!

The app founders Rohan Seth and Paul Davison, formerly Google, could not have launched Clubhouse at a better time. Forced to stay home, many of us miss the chance to talk to people outside our bubbles. Clubhouse is global and growing rapidly outside of the United States in over 154 countries with Germany, Japan and the UK. I’ve recently witnessed the increasing growth in Spanish-speaking rooms.

Who is on Clubhouse?

Clubhouse makes its members feel like they are part of a trendy new club. The app is by invitation only, meaning you must know someone in the network to score an invite. Currently only available via an IOS operating system (iPhone), Clubhouse is working on extending its app to other mobile operating systems. Venture capitalists, celebrities, inventors, art collectors, rappers, DJs and other movers and shakers can be found on Clubhouse at any given day, and at any given hour. Big names like billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, comedians Kevin Hart, Tom Green, Tiffany Haddish and musicians Kanye West, Drake and MC Hammer are actively leading rich, interactive discussions, along with many well-connected people you’ve never heard of. This “exclusivity” is what turned me off to the whole concept initially, but earlier this year a great marketer I know and admire in Barcelona (@thisisz) had positive things to say about Clubhouse — so as a PR professional, it merited an investigation.

What did I learn in three weeks on Clubhouse?

Many rooms in Clubhouse are about connecting with like-minded people and having deep conversations on topics that affect our society. Topics range from racial issues, culture, lack of women in leadership, religion, politics, cryptocurrency, and artificial intelligence to starting a business, growing your followers, public speaking tips, and mental health.

There are incredible organically grown communities of people who are willing to share time and expertise. For now, this is all free. People share details about themselves on Clubhouse that go beyond their job title. While some are the same follower-driven, “click-and-like my profile” type influencers you see on other social networks, many others genuinely want to give back and build community and use Clubhouse as a sounding board for real action. Recently, active users on Clubhouse gathered to support Texas relief efforts by organizing a benefit to fund grassroots organizations.

Why join?

You can learn from countless people — it is like a never-ending stream of knowledge. Some describe the experience as taking a Master’s Class or sitting in someone’s living room. A live podcast where you can choose your own adventure and be an active, or passive participant. Your “hallway,” or the conversations that are shown on your Clubhouse feed, are curated by your chosen interests and the people you follow.

You can engage a highly targeted audience and grow an influential network. You can lead a discussion that will shape and grow a community. You can become a thought leader. You can help others. If you work in a purpose-driven organization, you can gather first-hand feedback from community leaders.

You don’t want to be left out. This is what the virality of the app is driven on.

Some PR advice if you decide to join

  • Be authentic, be kind, and be inclusive.
  • For the most part, this is a public venue, unless you’re in a private room. Everything you say is on the record. So, don’t say anything you would not want to read in a headline. Media are also on Clubhouse and are always interested in a story.
  • Be mindful, especially if you’re coming on as a moderator or speaker. Think about how you come across and ask for advice about how to approach topics you are not an expert on.
  • If you are a participant, raise your hand and go on mute. Wait your turn to speak. Moderators follow the order of who joined the stage and try to keep track of turns.
  • Be prepared for sincere, authentic dialogue and to talk about your own experiences. People don’t like to be sold to on Clubhouse.
  • Be prepared to listen. The platform forces you to listen rather than to look.
  • Have a plan to continue the dialogue or conversation outside of Clubhouse. Lead followers to your website or other social channels where they can engage with you in other ways.

Social media and time-management

I have a toddler and a full-time job, so I can attest that if you need to leave a conversation, exit the room quietly whenever you need to. Clubhouse allows you to multi-task and do things while listening in the background. I’ve enjoyed making sourdough bread at home while listening to great speakers like Amy Cuddy, social psychologist, bestselling author and award-winning Harvard lecturer give a free Master Class about public speaking. She is just as gracious, warm and personable live as in her Ted talk. Last week, I listened to a PRSA talk about diversity while grocery shopping at Costco. Life happens— try not to let social media, in whatever form you consume it, take over what you need to get done.

Pandemic life making sourdough bread and listening to Clubhouse

What is next?

Clubhouse is still in its infancy. But the plan is to eventually open Clubhouse to the entire world. Naturally, some Clubhouse members are anxious about this transition. When you were a small child, did you want to let people into your Clubhouse? Others see this as an opportunity to promote greater access to knowledge. Think about the potential for education, connecting classrooms to expert speakers anywhere in the world. Want to learn more about rocket science? Have a technology startup and want to pitch a VC investor? There is a room for that.

Like humans, Clubhouse is fragile. The community is still in the process of being built and there are a lot of growing pains that it faces from creating new user features, network operational issues, building an android app, monetization, moderator egos and privacy and security concerns to managing all the chaos and media attention that a social media startup can stir. FYI: There are only about 12 people working for Clubhouse full-time. They are hiring.

From a PR perspective, we are interested in working with clients to identify how we can help drive thought leadership, build a village and engage with the right influencers. We’re interested in exploring the possibilities, and one of the greatest values on Clubhouse right now is the ability to listen in.

Last week I listened in to Steve Case, the former CEO of America Online (AOL) who talked about the early days of social. AOL pioneered the concept of social media, its focus from day one was on communication features such as chatrooms, instant messaging and forums. Case believed that the “killer app” was a community of people interacting with each other live. He was right. It eventually drove much of AOL’s early success. Clubhouse, while still in beta, has reminded us that the value of social is not about the fancy platform, or 3D avatars, but rather about community building. At least for now as we wait out vaccine roll-outs and a return to normal, Clubhouse has carved a space for itself.

The world has changed, and social media is (hopefully) growing up — from slow dial-up modems of the ’90s, technology has come a long way too. The impact of a global pandemic taught us how much we miss human connection and opened the door for a simple voice-only app. Competing platforms like Twitter and Facebook are already considering adding an audio feature to their networks. And while more advanced feature-rich video conference apps already exist, they lack the random serendipitous pull of a community (or let’s be honest, the chance to share a stage with your favorite celebrity influencer). Clubhouse was not first, and it certainly won’t be last, but it is intriguing. It is an interesting time to be a part of this conversation. From a communications perspective, the best advice is to explore the community and decide for yourself.

Pro Tip, if you are interested in Clubhouse, don’t worry if you can’t find an invitation. Download the app and set up your account and username. Someone who knows you might be notified in-app automatically and grant you access. And if you are reading this newsletter, chances are you already know someone.

Interested in joining the conversation? Find Engage PR on Clubhouse.

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