The newest entry to the social media scene is Clubhouse, an invitation-only platform built around what is called “drop-in audio chat”. Call it an audio chat social network. Users download the platform app and are welcomed to drop into real time, voice only chat room conversations that they may participate in, or decide to just sit back and listen to. Or, one might request to “own” a room, choose a format and topic and invite folks to drop in and chat. Clubhouse conversations are ephemeral—when the chatting stops, what was said disappears forever. Nothing is recorded.
Created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, reportedly seeded with $12 million by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and officially launched about when the coronavirus entered the U.S. in First Quarter 2020, Clubhouse has attracted a swath of high-profile member users that now number about two million. The app can only be downloaded on an iPhone, at least for now. Android downloads will be available soon. The service is not optimized for iPad.
The velvet rope
You have to know someone to get in. Clubhouse is a gated community. Access is available by personal invitation only. Members can invite just two people to join, but will earn more invitation credits as they use the app.
Any iPhone user can download the app and reserve a username, but will be placed on the waiting list. It is allegedly possible that a current member could be notified that someone s/he knows would like to join and would appreciate an invitation. Otherwise, aspiring members who lack the right connections will twist in the wind.
Clubhouse has quickly built up considerable social cachet, most likely the result of its exclusivity business model. Having the app on your phone is like getting into Studio 54, the 1970s Manhattan disco where everybody who was anybody went to party hard. The platform has become the darling of A-List entertainers and the tech entrepreneur crowd. Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, R & B superstar Drake, Chris Rock and Mark Cuban are members.
Another factor that may enhance its popularity is that Clubhouse users speak to each another in real time. People can talk and it all feels more intimate than other forms of online conversation. People tend to prefer the natural rhythms of speaking that we use when talking face2face, rather than typing back and forth on a keyboard.
Members can follow their fellow members and also topics of interest, as they do on other social media platforms, and also join themed “clubs.” They have access to a selection of chat rooms that focus on different subjects, many of which are attuned to what is currently trending.
Some rooms will have just a few people chatting informally. Others might contain hundreds or even thousands of people listening to a panel of experts discuss a national or international issue, or a top-selling author, or a well-known entrepreneur. If someone in the room would like to contribute to the conversation or ask a question, a hand raise signal is given and the room’s “owner” can give speaking privileges.
Chat rooms visitors are identified by their profile photo, which is required for each user. Those in the room can browse the profiles of others in the room, which also includes a list of whom everyone follows. The Clubhouse algorithm takes all this into account when offering content choices to members.
Why you want in
Clubhouse members are able to hear, and even participate in, the often relaxed and sometimes very candid conversations of famous and powerful people. You may hear a political debate, a comedy routine, a book club discussion, or billionaires talking business. Uber-famous music producer and performer Kanye West is scheduled to appear in a Clubhouse chat room. Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have already done so.
But what will being there do for your business? It depends on the ecosystem in which you operate. If you feel that prospective clients will be impressed when you casually name-drop a celebrity or some other nationality known high roller, then consult your Rolodex and devise a strategy to get past the door man.
Voice is the future
It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Clubhouse will soon face direct competitors. A powerful vote of confidence for the rising appeal of audio social networking platforms is coming from Facebook, who recently announced that the company is in the early stages of experimenting with social audio features. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Mark Cuban, a Clubhouse member, has announced that he is involved with building an audio-focused social platform called Fireside, which will compete with Clubhouse and he plans to launch this year.
Twitter added a voice feature for tweeting in June 2020 and is testing a separate audio chat-room product called Spaces, according to a company spokeswoman. LinkedIn was ahead of the curve on the chat trend when it added voice messaging in July 2018.
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Photograph: Kim Kardashian (left) with a Sidekick and Paris Hilton checks her Blackberry circa 2003.