How does Clubhouse Work?

I wasn’t initially quite sure what to make of all the hype around Clubhouse. Having been around social media for a while, I’ve seen new apps come with lots of anticipation (Snapchat, TikTok), and a few go (Google +, Vine, Periscope). So I decided to get on board and explore. This comprehensive post and embedded Youtube video summarizes my initial thoughts and experiences, with a keen eye on strategy, as well as answering the many questions I’ve fielded from those who I have subsequently invited to join me there.

What is Clubhouse?

Think old fashioned talk radio, meets podcasting, with the interactivity of a social media app tossed in. Conversations are real time, which means FOMO is real. Nothing is recorded. In fact recording is prohibited in their terms of service, and accounts are removed for failure to comply. There are scheduled rooms and clubs, and a calendar of content. The people and clubs you follow dictate how the calendar events are curated in your “hallway”, which is essentially where you can scroll and select conversations to join in on. It’s a bit like being at an online conference for a topic you’re highly interested in, and you’re cruising the hallways deciding what to take in. Right now there are some seriously amazing conversations with high level people in each industry, simply because as early adopters they are hanging out there.

Currently Clubhouse is iOS only (although the founders say they are working on an Android version to be released this spring). They’re still very much working out the features with the early adopter users in the current Beta form. It’s also “invitation only” which helps them continue to format it in Beta, but also seems to have added to the exclusivity factor. As any good marketer will tell you, there’s nothing better than creating demand for something you can’t yet have, to drive even more demand.

So right now, you have to know somebody currently on the app well enough that your phone number is in their contacts (that’s how the invites are sent). When you join, you receive two invitations to share, and after that it seems to be a function of how much you use it and how deep you go in terms of involvement. I received an additional 7 invitations after using my first 2, but admittedly I got a little addicted to some conversations and time spent. But I also raised my hand and was invited to speak on the stage of several groups, and have more recently hosted a couple rooms. I suspect it’s not only the fact that you’re spending time there, but also demonstrating some leadership that also counts towards the additional invitations.

It seems to be leading directly to business too. I had one person reach out directly through DM and later by email after visiting my profile and website. That will quite likely turn into a speaking gig. Pretty cool. I have also spent money on a person’s website directly after hearing them speak about affiliate marketing in the travel industry. The gal I connected with is someone I would have paid serious coin to hear and meet at a conference, and now we are directly connected and she is coaching me through so refinements on my travel writing site. She’s also in the UK, but she’s a good as living next door now. That’s cool. So I know that Clubhouse is driving direct commerce and most importantly a way to direct highly targeted people to your own website or DM. That is incredibly valuable strategically. Right now the app doesn’t have it’s own DM system, and the founders say there isn’t a plan to integrate that. Instead you can link your Instagram or Twitter profile to use those DM functions. But in my experience, a well curated profile with website and email also brings people in direct. I see so much potential here. With the exception of Pinterest, few other platforms advocate chasing traffic directly to your own “owned platforms.”

My first experience hosting a room

I hosted a room last Sunday – two in fact, one initially on my own so I could figure out how everything worked, and a second with a friend as co-hosts. The initial room was at 9am last Sunday, titled “Marketing trends in 2021”. A few folks here even joined in (thank you!) It was fun to play with the various features as moderator, to experience the back end of the app. But what I found most fascinating was how the room grew organically. Folks inside were able to “ping” others to join, which worked for a few who were live on the app at the time. Then a few others “popped their head in the room” because they had received a notification that someone they followed was in the room. Then a few more joined because they saw at least a couple prominent folks had recently joined. But what summed it up best was one well respected industry person who said, “I got notification of who was in the room, knew people on the stage who would invite me to speak, noticed the topic was relevant, and that the room was small, so it would likely be engaging.”

What’s with the growth of auditory culture?

Clubhouse is only audio. I think there’s something curiously very important here. We have seen exponential growth in podcasts recently, as well as audio books. There is a reason people will listen for hours to Clubhouse. It can be done actively or passively, since they app can be used while you are doing others things on your phone. It’s a pleasant break from endless visual scrolling too. And give it a hail Mary for the fact that you don’t have to do your hair to speak on it! Your little branded photo is all that people will see.

Audio taps our primal history

But here’s the thing that I think is interesting: it taps our primal history. Writing is only 5,000 – 7,000 years old. Speaking, conversation and listening as a way to connect goes back 150,000 years. In fact It’s possible that listening to speech (including things like cadence, rythmn and intonation) is more comprehensible and linked to emotional brain centers than visual reading. Basically listening is more natural. But the craze for audio, including the huge growth in podcasts and audio books, as well as an app like Clubhouse, is also likely driven by the uniqueness of oral real time unrecorded audio culture in what has been a destabilizing time of authoritarian and populism news that has cluttered our other more visual social media feeds. Could it be in a strange way we are returning to the Ancient Greek learnings of Plato, the most famous student of Socrates, who believed spoken word could be trusted, but written word should be questioned?

THAT, I believe may also add to this app being “the right thing at the right time.” The founders have said they will not sell user data, and they will not sell advertising. Which begs the question, how will they make money. Given their current valuation of $1 Billion (as of January 2021), and another recent round of funding at $110 Million, there certainly are investors counting on them making money somehow. What seems likely is a membership model of some sort, and a model that rewards content creators, allowing purchased access to content in the future, along with a revenue share model. That’s the current scuttlebutt from the founders anyway…

So strategically, how should it be used?

There is no place to fake it or hide on Clubhouse. Conversations are real, authentic and in the moment. There is incredible opportunity to use it as a positioning platform if you can talk your walk. Think raising your hand to speak, being invited to the stage, hosting a room, or founding a club with regular scheduled conversations. The key strategic thing though will be your ability to bring people into your own ecosystem – to your website and have them give you their email. Then landing pages, funnels and follow ups could be a natural fit, along with direct written conversations on DM and email, or auditory connections on Zoom, phone or private room chat on Clubhouse. The key is, using a private channel and having a contact that you now own.

Another curious feature is that visually users can be elsewhere and still listening to the app. So it would be possible to be visually critiquing content on Instagram, or a website for a photographer for example. I also think there’s potential for writers and storytellers to create “theatre of the mind” experiences. Almost like old fashioned radio programming!

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Your Clubhouse Questions answered!

How does the Clubhouse app work?

Clubhouse is an audio only app which lets you join “rooms” where you can chat with others. Everything is real time, not recorded. Rooms can range from large conference size, or small intimate gatherings. Users can join or leave a room at any time, using the “peace out” icon at the bottom to leave quietly. Each room has an audience and a stage. Those on stage are able to speak, but courtesy dictates that you leave your mic off unless prompted by the moderator to reply. You can be invited to the stage by the moderator, or you can request to come to the stage by raising your hand. The moderator can then decide to bring you up. Some rooms will bring people to the stage in groups, and then send them back to the audience after contributing. The rooms you see in your feed, or “hallway” are curated for you based on who you follow, and are presented in real time, being able to scan ahead a couple hours. You can also “save” a scheduled room to your calendar, and receive an alert to join when it starts. It’s also possible to “explore” rooms in real time, beyond those curated for you. Friends can “ping” you in real time to join a room they’re in as well, since it’s possible to see who is currently active on the app by your follow list.

How do Clubhouse rooms work?

Unlike other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube which are primarily visually oriented, Clubhouse is audio only. Everything is real time, and nothing is recorded. Rooms are places you can enter to listen to conversations on things you’re interested in. You can also join the conversation by requesting, or being invited to speak from the stage. Rooms can be started or scheduled by any user. They can be open for all to join, or closed to those invited only.

What’s the difference between a room and a club?

Anyone can open or schedule a room. Clubs are more formal groups that can be registered with the app. A club allows people to join a group that schedules more regular content through rooms. Anyone can request to join a club, but the club founder must then approve them. A club can also host rooms which are open or for members only. Currently to apply for a club, the founder needs to have hosted a room at least times.

How to get the Clubhouse app?

Clubhouse is available for free in the App Store. Download and install it on your Apple iPhone. While anyone can install the app, you won’t be able to use it until you receive an invitation to “join”. See next step below.

How to get a Clubhouse invitation?

You must be invited by a friend who is already on the app. As long as your friend has your phone number in their device, they can send you an invite. Users receive 2 invites to share after signing up. The app rewards users with more invites as they use it more. More invitations are extended to users who speak on the stage, host rooms, and spend time regularly on the app. There are scams out there selling invites too. I’d give them a miss, since the person who invited you initially is forever tied to your profile, you want that to be someone who is respected and actually using it – no weird stuff going on that’s going to haunt your profile.

Who to follow on Clubhouse?

You can follow people and clubs. It’s best to follow people and clubs that share interests in what you want to learn about, or find value in. Since who you follow curates the content in the “hallway” you are exposed to, the more tightly you define your interests, the more quickly you will find something that grabs you. Initially it’s likely a good idea to follow some of the early adopters on the platform, purely to learn from them and see how they use it strategically. Then start following interesting people as you hear them speak in different rooms. Over time you’ll likely purge your list as you decide what interest areas to pursue. It also depends if you intend to be a content creator yourself eventually, hosting rooms or founding a club. Who you follow, and who follows you might then be quite strategic. Right now there’s a property grab by traditional influencers on other platforms like Instagram or Twitter, trying to show up strong here. Not all of those primarily visual creators will flourish in a real time audio format, so the platform is ripe for a new kind of influence.

Why is Clubhouse popular?

It works on the concept of FOMO (fear of missing out). If you’re not online when a conversation happens, you miss out. Also, since it’s currently in BETA, accessing it is by invitation only from a current user. That has added to the perceived exclusivity of it, and desire to be part of the inner circle using it

How Clubhouse went viral?

The buzz has been growing, with early adopters including Silicon Valley folks, celebrities, and industry influencers with global reach jumping on board between launch in April to October 2020. The next level, a mix of early adopters and category influencers seems to have jumped on between November 2020 to January 2021. Elon Musk, the found of Tesla, appeared on a chat in early February 2021, which has fueled viral interest intensely. Kinda like his stock price.

Are Clubhouse rooms recorded?

No. In fact recording rooms violates the terms of use.

Are Clubhouse rooms live?

Yes. All conversations are live, in the moment. They are not recorded. If you miss out, the opportunity is gone. FOMO is real.

Who started Clubhouse? Who owns it?

Clubhouse was founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, two Bay Area entrepreneurs and alumni of Stanford University. Clubhouse is owned by the Alpha Exploration Co, the parent company of Clubhouse.

When did Clubhouse start?

April 2020, Silicon Valley, CA

How does Clubhouse make money?

Currently they’re making money with their crazy inflated stock valuation. Kidding! (but maybe not) As of Feb 2021 their stock, held by founders and private equity investors, is valued around $1 Billion. They currently host more than 2 million users. The creators have said they will not sell advertising, and they will not sell user data. There is no current plan to offer paid subscription services either. Instead, the plan is to eventually (likely sooner than later) have a revenue share model with creators, where independent content creators receive funds directly from their audience, and Clubhouse takes a percentage of the fee. Clearly that makes them a different model, but an as yet unproven one.

Will Clubhouse fail?

The proposed revenue model is unproven, but potentially attractive for the owners, creators and users. What remains to be seen is how people will budget their time with an app requiring real time attention, and no permanent leverage of content. It is flourishing during pandemic times, which have arguably shifted the way we work, play and interact. It could well be the right thing at the right time. Or it could be the right thing for the current time. We’ll only actually know that – in time! It’s still likely too early to tell, but some big minds in Silicon Valley believe Clubhouse is the next big thing in social media.

Why is Clubhouse not Android?

It’s in BETA. The founders picked a platform to launch initially while they iron out the kinks, and they went with Apple.

When will Clubhouse be Android?

As of this writing in Feb 2021, Clubhouse is not available for Android users.  The founders say they are working to scale the app for a general audience, including Android users in the future. That expansion timeline remains uncertain.

Where do you get the best Clubhouse sandwich?

Just checking to see if you read this far. According to Google, this is the ultimate recipe. Now I’m hungry!


Tips for new Clubhouse users

The Party Hat. The fun little “party hat” icon by your photo tells others you haven’t been on the app for long. The intent is for people to help you out, and be somewhat tolerant if you make mistakes. Wear it proudly during your first week while you wander around trying stuff out and breaking things. That’s the way you learn.

Mind your mic. Always mute your mic when you go to the stage. Your mic will automatically turn on if you accept an invitation to go from the audience to the stage, so be read to silence it. Take your cue from the moderator when to speak.

Build a strong profile. Others in the room can click on your profile and decide to follow you. If you say something particularly brilliant from the stage, this can be an awesome opportunity to gain followers. Be sure that you have fully represented yourself professionally. Be sure to include your website as a way to get them into your ecosystem later, and also link your Twitter and Instagram profile. I’d suggest using on your Instagram to make other important profiles and links possible. The app does not have its own direct messaging built in, and relies on the DM feature of Twitter and Instagram. Many people use emoji’s to break up copy and add graphic emphasis within their profiles.

The first three lines of your profile are important. The first three lines of your profile are what shows to others before they have to expand the view to learn more about you. They are essentially your positioning statement. Make those top three lines count. Make sure they encapsulate what you want to be recognized for on the platform. Add details below in the expanded copy.

Your profile photo. Select a strong photo for your profile. Something that shows your face close up is preferable, since this is the only identity you get on the app, other than people connected through other means from your profile. Professional or playful will depend on how you want to position yourself. Since your face essentially becomes your brand identity on the app, which people stare at while speaking, it’s best to NOT change the photo once selected. Nike wouldn’t change their logo, so you shouldn’t change your face! It’s likely fine to switch it if you’re still new, but as you gain a following, I’d suggest sticking with a solid, repeatable, recognized identity. Some people color out the background of their photo in bright yellow or pink colors, which certainly helps them stand out in a room of circles. That could be done using tools in Canva. As more and more people see that as a benefit though, it may become too common. Use your judgement, but land on something as early as possible and stick with it.

How to show approval. You can “clap” in approval for something said in a room by flashing your mic on and off quickly. Do that while still wearing a party hat, and you’re bound to impress!

Where to start. Join the “Community Club” hosted by Abraxas Higgins @abraxas and several others. They do not work for Clubhouse, but they host an awesome room every morning for new users to help people understand the app. They also share insights from the founders group, and graciously allow folks to experience going to the stage, and trying out various features in a safe place. Abraxas is from the UK, and has a lovely baritone British accent, which will charm you into spending way more time in the room than you first intended!

Clearly it is early in the life of Clubhouse. And my experience with it is also still early in its development phase. But based on what I’ve seen so far, I DO THINK the hype is justified. As a content creator and speaker, I’ve already been rewarded with business directly as a result of the app, and amazing direct connections with industry people I could have only dreamed of prior to signing up. Not bad for someone with only 75 followers and 2 weeks playing in the space!

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Mary Charleson

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