Clubhouse might not be that exclusive, but it offers something new and distinct for brands
A view from Rani Patel Williams

Clubhouse might not be that exclusive, but it offers something new and distinct for brands

The new app has become the 'go-to' place for all types of communities and conversations.

Clubhouse is a new social media app in beta stage, developed to connect creatives, enabling them to share ideas and collaborate. Since launching last December it has quickly become the go-to place for all types of communities and conversations.

It first came to my attention when a fellow creative and film director sent me a message: "Accept my Clubhouse invite!"

The urgency came from the platform's policy of initially giving each user a single invitation to pass on – and my friend's was in high demand.

The selling point that convinced me to sign up was a rumour that Kevin Hart, Tiffany Hadish and Jay-Z (pictured above) were in one of the app's Rooms beefing about something seemingly trivial the night before. I was curious that I could possibly eavesdrop on a conversation like that.

There are some interesting things that make this social media platform unique. Here's my breakdown of how the platform works, how it differs from other social media, and what it could mean for brands looking to connect to a Gen Z audience:

The set-up

The platform is made up of virtual "Rooms", where you can listen in and join conversations on any topic from how to launch a start-up to colourism or vaginal health. There is a moderator/s that hosts the Room and leads the conversation. Listeners are muted, but can join the conversation on the "Stage" by raising their hand virtually.

There is no time limit on how long Rooms can be live for, and followers are notified when someone in their network has set-up a Room or joined one. The feed where the Rooms are is popularly referred to as "the corridor". There are no features to write messages or use other media like picture or video.

It's not that exclusive

One of the biggest talking points about Clubhouse has been its invite-only policy. The mechanic initially gives new members one invite each to share with someone in their network. However, it's not clear what the logic is behind how many you get. Over time, members will receive more invites; in two months I have accumulated nine invitations to share.

This makes me think the invite-only mechanic is a marketing ploy to drive recruitment. The app needed a USP to drive appeal so why not use good old behavioural economics and play on scarcity – also known as FOMO.

We all remember that feeling of being left standing outside the nightclub, while the doorman says: "Sorry mate, we are at capacity." It's the same tactic deployed by Facebook when it started, so it's not exactly new. Clubhouse says it will make it available to the wider public soon.

A true live experience

The whole experience is live audio; this is what is really interesting and novel about the platform. There's no recording or playback, even screen recordings are banned.

It is a very different approach in comparison with other established social media platforms, which are reliant on things being pre-made, and provide a lot of editing tools so we can show up as our "best selves" online. Even when you look at WhatsApp's voice recordings, they can be played back, deleted and re-recorded. It's a refreshing difference – the "live" in life has kinda got lost in the time of a global pandemic.

The Clubhouse format means you hear everything live and direct in real-time, with responses coming back in the same way. Conversations are unfiltered and in a time of social distancing, it's the closest a lot of people get to human contact.

As a result, rooms have been described as "safe places" to discuss anything and everything. The simple use of "Rooms" as a format and voice audio immediately makes this platform feel a lot more intimate and real.

Inclusivity is at its core

Drake and other celebrities have been cited as being on the app and having hosted, and joined, various Rooms on subjects that go beyond the work they do within the public eye. The fact you can be a student in Leeds in the same Room as Drake talking about sustainability definitely highlights how the app is challenging the reality of access and proximity.

Furthermore, the variety of global voices, communities, experts across sectors and the spectrum of conversations alone makes this app truly inclusive. It's easy to discover and tap into niche subjects and intersectionalities to further understand identities, cultures and interests.

It takes the 'media' out of social media

The platform is set up based on Room notifications that are fed to you as things are happening in real time within your network. The design currently doesn't facilitate media formats such as prioritising Rooms or pushing specific messages to an audience, as you would serve a pre-roll ad in a Podcast.

The absence of the branding and advertising media part is what has made this app attractive to the Gen Z audience. It's community-led, based on sharing ideas, recommendations and skills: those are the commodities creatives are trading for and with – not branded products or services as we know them.

Influencers, though, are using their existing and well-established social media platforms like IG or Twitter to cross promote their Rooms – and to cross-pollinate their communities to the app.

More than conversation

Many of the Rooms are not just for conversation. There is a gaming community creating groups to hold regular tournaments. There are rooms created just for community entertainment where cash prizes are available for the most talented. Ultimately, it's about communion.

Already, I have observed individuals growing a following because they are leading interesting and valuable conversations. It's really amazing to witness how this app has platformed so many voices and made them feel they have purpose. In such a divisive world and living in such a historic time, this app is giving voices that are marginalised in the mainstream media. Giving them a greater opportunity to be heard and generate impact.

Opportunities for brands

What does this mean for your brands? There's no "How to grow your brand on Clubhouse" toolkit attached. To be honest, I don't think there will be one any time soon. But at this early stage I believe there are some interesting opportunities for brands:

  • Use the app to tap into subcultures in real time, and cultivate qualitative research and insights
  • The audio element is super-immersive and audio brands have the largest opportunity here. Music is fairly untapped on Clubhouse but it can offer a new lease of life in 2021 to what has been the silent death of live music in 2020
  • Where other social platforms, like TikTok and Instagram, are about creation or co-creation, Clubhouse is about curation – recommendations and curating solutions through community is a trend I see being the most transformative for brands.

Rani Patel Williams is business partner at Livity and co-founder of #BrandShareTheMic

Photos: Lachlan Cunningham/Christopher Polk/E! Entertainment/Robert Kamau/Getty