Business

Old Man yells at Clubhouse, a new audio-chat social network

Headphones. (Apple photo)
Headphones. (Apple photo)

It’s Super Bowl Sunday and my column isn’t done. Actually, it isn’t even started.

I’ve procrastinated. Again.

As I made the walk of shame to my home office in an attempt to get a draft going before the game, my wife asked, “What are you going to write about?” I grumbled, “I’ll probably just write an Old Man Yells at Cloud column about Clubhouse.”

For any non-Simpsons viewers, this is a reference to a front-page newspaper story on the show featuring an image of Grandpa Simpson, fist shaking in the air under the headline “Old Man Yells at Cloud.”

It’s a joke about an old man doing an exemplary old man thing — complaining about something that isn’t as it should be. At least, according to the older individual in question.

In this case, that older individual is me.

At the time of this writing, I’m almost 43. Which isn’t that old in human years.

However, in social media years, I’m ancient. I’ve seen the birth of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok and experimented and strategized on the business implications thereof.

And those are the ones that actually took off.

There was also MySpace, Friendster, Path, Ello, the rebooted MySpace, Meerkat, Vine, Yik Yak and more. To say nothing of Google’s various attempts such as Orkut, Google Buzz, Google Wave and Google+.

These networks all came along and we eagerly got under the hood and figured out all of the new and exciting ways we could use them to build brands and connect with customers.

However, as evidenced by this list, it’s been a lot.

As I’m fond of saying, more isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more.

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And in recent years, though some of Facebook’s dominance has been blunted, much of the activity has coalesced around the aforementioned leading players.

As a result, very few new networks have entered the space.

Until now.

Introducing Clubhouse

Google “Clubhouse” and you’ll find the following sober Wikipedia entry: “Clubhouse is an invitation-only audio-chat social networking app launched in 2020 by software developers Alpha Exploration Co.”

In just under a year — despite launching in the midst of a global pandemic — the network has grown to 600,000 registered users and is valued at nearly $1 billion.

While many of the networks noted previously have experienced meteoric rises of their own, this pacing makes Clubhouse worth watching.

Ok, But What Is It?

Clubhouse is an app-based social network, meaning you download an app, create a profile and connect with others.

That’s a little harder right now as Clubhouse currently is in an invite-only private beta. So if you know someone with invites to spare, they can nominate you for membership.

This is a fun little thing new social networks do in the name of “testing the platform” and “working out the kinks” while also building a bit of marketing excitement through exclusivity.

Building on the popularity of podcasting and the need for safe, online event programming in the time of COVID, Clubhouse features clubs and virtual rooms on various topics from the professional — entrepreneurship, marketing, tech — to the personal — dating, politics, social issues.

Again, it’s worth noting in an era where Zoom fatigue is very real, Clubhouse is audio only.

The rooms have specific roles including speakers and moderators who are conversing on these virtual stages. Clubhouse audience members enter rooms quietly on mute and raise their hands if they want to speak.

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For example, as I write this I’m listening in on a conversation in a room titled “Building Brand Authority as Edupreneurs/Teacher Influencers” facilitated by Kwame Sarfo-Mensah.

I’ve also listened in on conversations featuring Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant and Justine Bateman — a love of 1980s TV should track with the overall demography I’m representing in this article.

What’s Different About Clubhouse?

I’m told we have a question from the Old Man Yelling at Cloud: “Why do we need another social network? What does Clubhouse do that’s so special?”

Clubhouse sits at a convergence of trends.

Audio content has been growing in new and unique ways over the past few years as evidenced by the 2020 Infinite Dial study noting that 55 percent of Americans have listened to podcasts, with 24 percent listening monthly.

As major audio players such as Spotify assert dominance in the podcasting space, this listening is becoming even more personal from the listener’s perspective, with the ability to essentially program their own unique audio experience made up of podcasts and music.

While these offerings are more formal and one-directional — professionally produced shows and music — Clubhouse can provide interactive rooms where moderators can involve the audience in conversation with their speakers.

At a time when in-person conferences and events have screeched to a halt due to health concerns, Clubhouse users can find themselves in a virtual “hallway” featuring a variety of programmed topics mirroring the in-person experience along with the interactivity and spontaneity of live events.

Clubhouse even leans in to this by calling their homepage social feed the hallway.

Why Should Businesses Care?

The Old Man is back with more fist-shaking questions, “OK, I know what it is and how it’s different. Why should my business care about this? We have enough to do and are pushed to the max already! Now we have to get on Clubhouse, too?!”

Slow your roll, Old Man (“Old Man” who is also me who I’m writing a conversation to right now).

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Checklist marketing — doing things just for the sake of doing them — can be very dangerous.

Clubhouse has a lot going for it, chiefly those rising numbers — both users and valuation — and unique market positioning shored up by the popularity and personalization of audio content and new forms of connection and interaction at a time when that’s harder than ever.

Businesses should be aware of Clubhouse.

What to do beyond keeping track of this shiny new thing depends on your business, your unique objectives and your industry. Here are a few examples of some businesses and industries that may want to consider more than a toe-in-the-water strategy when it comes to Clubhouse:

• Community-based businesses — If your business depends on fostering community among customers through conferences and live learning, Clubhouse could help you mirror this in an online setting.

Examples include technology and software companies.

• Content-based businesses — If your marketing mix includes a robust content strategy, Clubhouse could help you add additional interactivity and connectivity to your current content.

Examples include b2b businesses or those with complex sales cycles.

• Personality-based businesses — If you’re an entertainer, consultant, public speaker or personal brand, Clubhouse could solve a key challenge associated with being one person behind such a brand.

That’s because Clubhouse presents a solution for scaling your 1:1 interactions with audience members.

I hope this helps you make sense of Clubhouse. While it holds a lot of potential, marketers have to be more focused than ever with their strategies and resources.

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As with many things in our distracted, digital world, with new marketing channels it’s important to find the right balance between excitement and skepticism.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just saw an out-place-cloud that needs yelling at ... .

Nick Westergaard is marketing strategist, keynote speaker and author of “Brand Now” and “Get Scrappy”; nick@branddrivendigital.com; @NickWestergaard.

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.