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Clubhouse: Bringing Brands to the Party

03.11.21

If Clubhouse were a party, it would be a roving, underground warehouse rave. One of those parties that you only hear about by word of mouth – you have to know the right person to find the address and get in. Once you’re there and navigate your way into the action, each corner and corridor of the building has a different pulse of energy. The crowd is a mix of people coming from every walk of life – creatives, financial types, social butterflies, executives; the list goes on and on. It’s a place where people can learn from and connect with individuals whom they might never meet in their regular day-to-day lives, discussing topics ranging anywhere from scientific research to cryptocurrency.

The invite-only, audio app’s popularity has surged in recent months – up from 2 million registered users in January to 6 million in February. It’s currently only available for download on iOS devices, and its valuation is a staggering $1 billion as of January 2021, launching only in April 2020. At its most basic level, Clubhouse provides exclusive networking and listening opportunities to members in a way seldom seen before. App users can host “rooms” and moderate conversations on topics of their choosing, admitting speakers at their own discretion. Audiences can listen in to the conversation and raise their hand to participate and provide their POV on the topic if admitted. It’s like if a TED Talk joined forces with a fireside chat at an industry-specific lecture, and then morphed into an elite, intimate strategy session with some of the world’s most influential thought leaders.  

The app is on the verge of becoming a mainstream social network – but what’s the big draw? Today, its exclusivity (#inviteonly) and access to A-list thought leaders that wouldn’t normally be possible in everyday life

As with every party, there are different types of attendees. There are the extroverts who jump at every chance to meet and mingle with someone new, the not-so-adventurous ones who stick by the people they came with, and the wallflowers who shy away from the crowd, observing from afar and taking in the scene. The 1-9-90 rule states that in online communities, 1% of users are active participants dominating the conversation, 9% of users observe and contribute sporadically, and 90% of users are “lurkers” who read or observe content but do not visibly contribute. The Clubhouse user base is no different. You’ll find a few individuals who are joining every conversation, spending hours a day listening and participating whenever they can, either hoping to build a stronger, more powerful network or simply opening their minds to new ideas and ways of thinking. Others only join in occasionally to participate in groups hosted by friends or colleagues, and network with people they already know or are closely connected to. Most users fall into the lurker category, listening in on conversations to learn without raising their hand to speak. 

The app is on the verge of becoming a mainstream social network – but what’s the big draw? Today, its exclusivity (#inviteonly) and access to A-list thought leaders that wouldn’t normally be possible in everyday life. According to Protein Agency’s 2019 Dirty Words – EXCLUSIVITY report, exclusivity as a concept has shifted “from a desire of something performative or dramatic to a desire for something personal and specific. The dynamic has shifted from a brand determining what is exclusive to an individual determining what is exclusive to them.” 

Clubhouse’s iOS-restricted, invite-only model has fused two types of exclusivity: performative and personal. Performative exclusivity is brand-determined and relates to the amount of product available, with value placed on consumption and the brand’s vision – think hypebeast streetwear culture. Personal exclusivity is consumer-determined and relates to personalization, with value placed on how a brand is constructed and individual consumer preferences – think personalized dietary supplements a la Care/of. Clubhouse’s fused model has captivated the attention of brands and social consumers alike; Clubhouse invites are even being sold on eBay ranging from $5 to $100. 

That’s just short term though. What happens when the exclusivity and invites fade away? How is value defined? What’s the hook? Users will still have the opportunity to directly interact with influential individuals like Elon Musk, Marc Andreessen, Tiffany Haddish, and Drake. And beyond the celebrity/FOMO effect, users can create a completely personalized Clubhouse experience by following cultural and topical thought leaders, diving into topics that pique their interest, as well as nurture and expand their personal networks in a more holistic way than other social platforms allow, by engaging in true dialogue with like-minded individuals.

By providing access to subject matter experts across corporate and cultural spaces, brands can create genuine relationships with highly invested industry reporters and consumers.  

But given the platform’s focus is solely placed on contributors and listeners, where does this leave brands and how can they engage the silent majority? How do they make friends at the Clubhouse party? As with all social networks, consumers have expectations on how brands should behave on different social platforms, and personal limits on how they will engage with them. Clubhouse by design is all about providing access to cultural and topical authorities and giving them a platform to share their expertise, and Clubhouse users want to listen and take part in thoughtful discussions.

Restaurant Brands International, Burger King’s parent company, is an early Clubhouse adopter. The holding company hosted a room on February 12 to discuss topics including the company’s Q4 results, sustainability efforts, and BK’s consumer engagement. This conversation allowed the brand to deliver a strategic message, while also providing leadership with direct access to interested press outlets and consumers, and unfiltered, real-time feedback. This level of consumer insight, at no cost to brands, is something that has never been seen before. According to Marketing Dive, RBI has plans to continue these conversations every two weeks by hosting rooms with different speakers. 

Brands that have yet to harness the power of Clubhouse’s direct-to-consumer access should consider ways to fish where the fish are by developing content strategies that speak to users who are already interested in their field of work and leverage the authority of recognizable organizational leaders.  For example, Summer Stewart, Head of Growth at Toolio, a cloud-based retail merchandising platform, organizes weekly conversations with leaders of DTC brands such as Chubbies, Rothy’s, and Dagne Dover to discuss the future of data application and technology in the retail industry. By providing access to subject matter experts across corporate and cultural spaces, brands can create genuine relationships with highly invested industry reporters and consumers.  

Brands need to position their leaders and stakeholders as trustworthy, reliable experts to cultivate a following, or at least get people to care. They also need to give the silent majority a way to engage with them by leveraging these rising influencers to be the catalyst to branded discussions. Meeting consumers where they are with authentic content, delivered by moderators and contributors whom users already care about is paramount to leveraging Clubhouse successfully from a brand marketing standpoint.

This article is also featured on MediaPost.