Clubhouse – Fad or Future?

Joyce Tan
By Joyce Tan | 28 July 2021
Joyce Tan

(Half the industry has between three and eight years’ experience. But we don’t always get to hear their thoughts. As part of a collaboration with GroupM’s Young Leaders Committee nCo, AdNews asked four of GroupM’s rising stars for their perspective on an industry hot topic.)

Joyce Tan is a senior media executive at Mindshare and a member of GroupM’s Young Leaders Committee nCo.

It was going to be the next big thing, but has Clubhouse already gone quiet? 

There are few defining moments where my media life crossed over into my home life in an unexpected way. The day my dad and mum excitedly requesting a Clubhouse invite from their two daughters over a family Zoom call on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

How bizarre. I wondered why they needed an invite to their own sports clubhouse when I knew their membership wasn’t due to expire for years.

Until it dawned on me, after a split second, that my parents were talking about the social networking app Clubhouse. If it made it to my parents, surely it had moved beyond niche groups. But now, after Clubhouse made mainstream headlines thanks to Elon Musk’s publicity, where is it at? Is it a platform brands should still be considering to reach audiences or has its moment passed? Just this month Clubhouse shook off its ‘invite only’ policy and opened its doors to everyone, along with a new logo.

What is Clubhouse?

Clubhouse is an iPhone only audio-based app that allows you to host discussions and listen in on conversations in real time. It has taken the world by storm since its launch in April last year. In 2020, this invite-only social media platform had 1 million downloads. In 2021? Clubhouse has more than 20 million downloads. However, monthly downloads have plummeted to less than 1 million from April onwards, down from February’s peak of 9.6 million.

Clubhouse offers a host of conversational topics that people can follow, from world affairs to tech, arts, sports, faith – the list goes on. I like to think of Clubhouse as a hybrid between a live podcast and a conference call. Tune in to different virtual rooms along the ‘’hallway’’ that pique your interest and leave whenever you please, no question asked. Have an opinion to share? You could “raise your hand” and speakers can invite you to speak or, even better, start your own room and gain an audience.

Why is everyone talking about it?

Being an invite-only platform, this sparked FOMO. You need an invitation from an existing Clubhouse user to get access. Furthermore, the fact that there’s no recording of conversations adds a sense of exclusivity. People don’t like missing the hype train and want to be part of the conversation.

When Elon Musk interviewed the CEO of Robinhood, Vladimir Tenev on Clubhouse at the height of the GameStop mania, the 5,000-participant limit was hit almost instantaneously, pushing listeners to YouTube where the video has now garnered a staggering number of views.

Wander into different rooms and you may also find yourself rubbing shoulders (figuratively) with celebrities including Oprah, Kanye, Drake, Jared Leto and MC Hammer who have flocked to Clubhouse in recent months.

Is this social networking app open to everyone?

Not yet. For now, at least it remains somewhat exclusive. 

Clubhouse’s target audience was initially aimed at early adopters which include industry leaders, influencers and business professionals. Studies have shown that Clubhouse’s key demographic consists primarily of people interested in tech, start-ups and technology. However, in just a few months, the Clubhouse audience has expanded significantly to include students, people interested in niche topics, as well as the Gen X crew – my parents!

In May, over 700,000 Clubhouse downloads occurred outside the US with Germany leading the pack with over 250,000 downloads, followed closely by Japan and UK. 

What this reflects is the potential of Clubhouse with the rise of social audio. Looking back at 2020 where we were confined to our homes, we turned to webinars, online meetings/classes and Zoom catchups to get us through each day.

While these virtual experiences were essential in the thick of a pandemic, ask yourself – did you deal with screen fatigue at some point during the year? Most probably.

Excessive screen time can be mentally draining, and Clubhouse’s audio-only nature is a breath of fresh air for many, not to mention it being a place where online communities can gather to engage in thought provoking conversations and build personal connections.

What does this mean for businesses and can Clubhouse sustain its growth?

For many brands, this presents an invaluable opportunity to build brand trust in an authentic manner. In times of uncertainty and change, consumers are more likely to resonate with brands that share the same values. There is power in live, uncensored conversations as it creates a safe space for people to be vulnerable. Whether is the opportunity to generate mass awareness on a new product, share your brand story, or connect with customers – Clubhouse has a place for both big brands and small business owners. But for brands they must also consider the inherent brand safety risk in any user generated content.

Undoubtedly, Clubhouse is facing increasing competition with the likes of Twitter Spaces and IG Live Rooms that also aim to encourage live audio conversations. But Clubhouse’s audio-only offering that promotes thought leadership gives them an edge which sets them apart from their competitors. 

However, Clubhouse’s proposition on exclusivity could very well be to their detriment. By limiting access to iOS users, Clubhouse is losing out on a big share of the market with Android users. Furthermore, there is a need for moderation to ensure that each chat room have guidelines in place as all forms of abuse, hate speech or racism will not be tolerated.

With Clubhouse, the onus lies heavily on moderators to keep the conversation flowing and manage controversial point of views from users. I’ve jumped into rooms whereby the moderator could not even hold my attention for a mere 10 seconds. In moments like these, I could not be more grateful to be able to ‘’Leave Quietly”. It’s also important to remember that although Clubhouse doesn’t allow users to record conversations, whatever is out in the open Internet could still be easily streamed, quoted or even misconstrued.

As with any new social media platform, it is important to evaluate whether this is a right fit for your brand and your audience. But any marketer that wants to reach customers where they are should download the app, score an invite and give it a go.

So, back to the question – is Clubhouse a fad or the future? For me, it’s definitely the latter. With the rise of audio, immense potential of Clubhouse, coupled with the fact that my parents have already got more followers than I do, this tells me that Clubhouse is going places and it’s not contained to one niche demographic. In fact, it’s just the beginning.


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