You have probably attended a Clubhouse meet by now or hosted a session of your own. Even if you haven’t, you have probably heard that Clubhouse is showing a steady rise in numbers in India. Is it going to be the Next Big Place for brands to tell their stories? Will it fade into brand oblivion like Orkut, Snapchat and Foursquare or stay relevant but niche like Twitch, Telegram and Reddit? Where did Signal go, by the way? Wasn’t it going to be the new WhatsApp?
It may be too early to say anything about Clubhouse from a brand strategy perspective. While brands are finding ways of registering their presence on Clubhouse, there aren’t enough analytics for India to know whether this will become an essential part of social media strategy or not.
A report on Quartz said the number of Indian users of Clubhouse had gone up to 5.2 million in June, which, compared to the 1 million users reported in May (according to an Economic Times article) would indicate that this is substantial growth. From the ground level, I can only say that the number of people on my list now on Clubhouse seems to be growing day by day. It bodes well for Clubhouse, but let’s take a closer look at this Club World.
A RED VELVET ROPE
Clubhouse straddled two key insights when it launched – people were ‘zoomed out’ and had great video fatigue and people have a deep case of FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out. So along came a ‘velvet rope’ strategy, by invitation-only access, which borrows from the world of luxury and exclusive clubs. This is a reference to that red velvet rope that separates the VIPs from the hoi polloi in clubs. Clubhouse launched as a by-invitation only, audio-only app which seemed counter-intuitive to the market, but clearly spotted an undertow.
The Clubhouse mix borrows from familiar features in other apps but brings in its own twist. It is a podcast hub of sorts but it is interactive and live. Like SnapChat and Insta Stories, rooms on Clubhouse disappear and there is no later record of chats and conversations.
But rooms can run on and on as long as the creator stays on and people can drop in and out into open rooms as they wish. I did read somewhere that about 5,00,000 rooms are initiated every day on Clubhouse and each room can take about 5,000 visitors. A bit overwhelming, but great for market research. Unlike other platforms, you can exit quietly without anyone noticing – no being caught as you are sneaking out, unlike Zoom.
Clubhouse has a front row setting for people, much like fashion shows, so you get bragging rights if you are in the front row or invited up at the moderator’s discretion. There are no paid ads, though there will be soon, and it is possible to have partnerships with influencers and get your brand into the discussion. The platform can give you a lot of consumer insights if you listen well to the free-flowing discussions.
WHAT’S UNIQUE HERE?
Despite all these quirky bits, the question is – does Clubhouse have a feature that other platforms cannot emulate? Instagram introduced Insta Live, Insta Stories, Insta Reels, IGTV to counter the competition, making it a very convenient hub for brands. There is no reason why Insta cannot have an audio-only space if that’s what people want. Twitter will now have Twitter Spaces and Facebook will launch Live Rooms. Spotify is trying something similar with music and live discussions. In fact, even LinkedIn is perfectly poised to incorporate Clubhouse features into its design.
Now, as Clubhouse has democratized rapidly (it is no longer by invitation only) there are by-invitation only clubs within Clubhouse for you to find your tribe and network and stay exclusive. By opening up to everyone, Clubhouse has lost what made it so exciting in the first place – the velvet rope. Much as I enjoy Clubhouse rooms, I am not convinced that this is the Next Big Thing. I think Clubhouse is feeling the pressure too. It has already added a text chat and DM feature and I hear there may be a video option on the anvil. I fear, however, the ‘VIPs’ may have checked out of the building. Let’s wait and watch.
(Geeta Rao has been Regional Creative Director, Ogilvy and has devoted many column inches and years to advertising and brands.)
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