BLOG POST BY: Eliza Borrett

Exploring The Clubhouse Phenomenon: Everything You Need To Know About Audio Only On Social

Clubhouse is the app everyone has been talking about in 2021. Not only are we seeing public figures such as Elon Musk breaking room limits on the platform, but a rise in other social platforms developing their own audio-only features. The pandemic has created a prolonged period of isolation and fatigue staring at our screens. However,  Clubhouse has served as a unique way to connect with people in real-time, delivering audio-only content that is lost forever once audio rooms on the app have ended. A number of apps have experienced success during the pandemic in bringing people together such as Houseparty, TikTok and of course Clubhouse. However, Houseparty, after pulling in 2 million downloads in one week and moving to the top of the App Store last year, lost its momentum. This is the current fear with Clubhouse – will the app survive in the long term, when major players such as Twitter and Facebook are already developing their own versions? Let’s jump in and explore our new obsession with social audio!

What Is So Interesting About Audio Only On Social? 

A good indicator of the success of audio content on social perhaps begins with podcasts. The ability to multi-task and consume content is a huge draw to this format. In fact, as per Podcast Insights in April 2021, there were a reported 2,000,000 active podcasts and over 48 million podcast episodes. This number has been increasing year on year, with a clear acceleration during the pandemic. We’ve also seen platforms such as Spotify heavily invest in their podcast offerings, through huge platform exclusivity deals with the likes of Joe Rogan, and the acquisition of the podcast advertising and publishing company Megaphone. 

Podcasts and social audio

Convenience appears to be the keyword for audio content, the format allows us to go along with our day without having to dedicate all of our attention to one thing. Multi-tasking is something social platforms such as Facebook understand very well. For example, in 2017 Facebook IQ commissioned a study in the US that revealed: “94% of participants kept a smartphone on hand while watching TV – results also showed that viewers focused on the TV screen just 53% of the time”. If we also look at our own behaviour, who isn’t on Netflix with their phone in hand scrolling our Instagram or Twitter feeds? As technology evolves, our ability to concentrate on one activity has drastically reduced – this is very must the case for younger generations who are born digital natives. 

Social media platforms and technological advancements are making the way we interact much easier. We can see this with messenger apps that introduced voice messaging, and other technology and platforms rolling out voice search features. Twitter has even seen an opportunity in audio Tweets. Suggesting social platforms are seeing a trend in users enjoying audio formats as a means of communicating and interacting on social media. Another important factor that has helped shape our audio habits is the introduction of Airpods in 2016. Airpods have an always-on trend among consumers because they are comfortable and convenient – removing the need for wires and bulky headphones. Airpods make it easier to listen to audio on social and to communicate through our voice through built-in microphones. This could have perhaps led to us favouring audio over the traditional text and visual formats when juggling multiple tasks throughout our day. 

However, an important note on audio-only content formats is the accessibility for all users. Twitter found that when they released audio tweets, they completely excluded a percentage of their users that were deaf or hard of hearing. This oversight is something to be avoided when developing audio-only formats. Yes, there is clearly a consumption trend for this type of content, but having the ability of closed captions is also a necessary consideration before any rollout.  

So we’ve covered some indicators of audio-only content being a developing trend across social. But what made Clubhouse become a disruptor among social media platforms?

What Exactly Is Clubhouse – What We Know So Far?

Clubhouse is a free invite-only audio app that facilitates the discussions and connection of different communities with similar interests in virtual rooms. The app for a long period of time was only available for iOS mobile devices, with an Android version only recently hitting the market. This means a huge amount of people were excluded from using the app- with no web version available. This is a testament to how successful the app has already been, with 10 million downloads and 6 million users in February 2021 (Business of Apps, 2021). 

The exclusivity factor is an appealing element for the app. In addition, the fact a whole host of celebrities have been creating content on Clubhouse, including Elon Musk, Kevin Hart, Jared Leto, Oprah and Drake, to name a few. Most notably, Elon Musk broke the Clubhouse room limit with more than 5,000 people jumping on the app to hear what he had to say. People were so eager to hear his opinions on topics such as space, crypto and artificial intelligence, that live streams began popping up across YouTube.   

The app launched in April 2020 and was co-founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth of Alpha Exploration Co. – the parent company of Clubhouse. The apps rise in popularity is a great example of how effective word-of-mouth marketing really is. Couple this with the timing, COVID 19 presented an opportunity for Clubhouse to offer users a way to connect with celebrities, entrepreneurs, groups of like-minded people or friends during a time where in-person interaction was not possible. 

Evaluating The Clubhouse Experience? 

Clubhouse offers users endless options of rooms to join in on interesting conversations in music, crypto, business, skincare – and many more. The platform gives the opportunity for users to discuss their passions, participate in wider discussions in specific community niches, or to just sit back and listen in. However, sometimes you can stumble across rooms that are poorly moderated, which result in people trying to talk over each other, descending into chaos. 

Clubhouse rooms don’t allow just anyone who enters to talk. A set group of people who are moderators on the virtual stage have the ability to allow listeners in the audience to participate. There is also a visual layout that allows you to see who is talking, who is on the stage and who is listening. Anyone on the app can start a room and chose for the room to be open to the public or private. The app also has clubs, which are essentially recurring rooms that have members. 

A huge issue the platform faces is how to moderate content on the platform. As more people join the app, the higher the risk of hate speech and harmful users having a voice to attack other users. This will be something Clubhouse will have to invest in to ensure the app is a healthy environment for all. 

A new challenge facing the app is the audio rooms that are recommended to users. We have all become accustomed to intelligent algorithms on social that serve content we want, or in the case of TikTok, the content we never knew we’d love! Clubhouse falls short in this respect, with room recommendations being irrelevant to most users leading to user disengagement.

The app is also still new and there are a lot more features that can be added to enhance the user experience. However, Clubhouse has already started rolling out new initiatives and features to keep users engaged and creators creating. The Creator Accelerator Program is something fairly new that supports selected creators by sending equipment, providing assistance in developing concepts and facilitating brand partnerships. One of the co-founders also stated that those in the program would be guaranteed $5000 in monthly income in the first 3 months.

Following the Creator Accelerator Program, Clubhouse also launched its direct payment process, allowing users to transfer money to hosts of their choosing. Creating an avenue for content monetisation is another step the platform is taking to keep creators on the platform – something TikTok looked to do early on.

What Are Competitor Platforms Doing In The Audio-Only Space?

To no surprise, as soon as other social platforms caught wind of the success of Clubhouse, then came the scramble of the major players to develop similar features. We’ve seen this time and time again with Snapchat’s ephemeral content heavily inspiring Instagram Stories, leading to clones across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and even Pinterest. Then we have TikTok inspiring nearly every other platform to launch a short-form video feature. 

Twitter was the platform that very quickly rolled out an audio-only feature, named Spaces. Twitter’s early test of Spaces, showcased a superior audio quality and a similar visual layout of the virtual rooms found on Clubhouse. Various tests continue to be going on behind the scenes with a dedicated Spaces tab being tested on Twitter – surprising as the four-tab structure has remained unchanged for many years on the platform. Twitter has also enabled android and desktop users to utilise the audio-only offering, while Clubhouse still trails behind with an android version of the app only just becoming available to select users in the U.S. 

Facebook has also made moves to test the waters in the audio-only arena. Facebook’s NPE (New Product Experimentation) team, responsible for launching a number of apps that test user interest and interaction with trends on social media such as short-form video and meme creation, also rolled out Hotline. The app is web-based that appears similar to Clubhouse, with the addition of engagement features such as video streaming options and listener text options to ask questions within audio rooms, which other users can vote on. 

Facebook has also announced the launch of various other audio tools. First Facebook has an audio-only version of its Rooms – originally a video call feature. Connections will be able to join Rooms that will feature on the top of NewsFeeds and chats within Facebook and Facebook Messenger. The platform will also be releasing, ‘Soundbites’, allowing users to create short-form audio clips. Furthermore, Facebook is launching a new podcast listening and discovery tool within the app. 

Another rather surprising player is Reddit with ‘Reddit Talk’. The new feature is being tested with moderators, who will be able to start an audio chat within their subreddits. Users will be able to listen in and react with emojis as conversations in real-time occur. 

Discord, the instant messaging and digital distribution platform for communities is a competitor that already had its foot in the door with audio content among gamers. However, Discord is now looking to shift perceptions of the platform away from just gamers to connect, but an environment where anyone from any sort of community can communicate. 

Final Thoughts 

Audio only seems to be something that is here to stay on social. In terms of what platform will be the leader in this offering – it is too early to say. Clubhouse appears to be the centre of attention for this type of content, but Twitter is closing in. However, Clubhouse downloads are beginning to drop with a reported 900,000 downloads in April, down from a peak in February of 9.6 million (Business Insider, 2021). It is worth noting that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have a huge advantage over Clubhouse. A huge existing user base makes integrating an audio-only feature on these major platforms an easy win. But there is something to be said for the exclusivity element of Clubhouse and a platform designed purely for audio content.  

It is clear that the biggest threat to Clubhouse at present is Twitter Spaces. However, Clubhouse is already looking into monetisation options for creators – a must-have when wanting to retain talented creators on the platform. Clubhouse has also released the Android version of the app to everyone – helping to extend its user base outside of just iOS users. 

If anything can be said about Clubhouse, it successfully leveraged a developing trend of social audio, attracting celebrities and creators during the pandemic and amassing a huge user base through word-of-mouth marketing. The next step is Clubhouse maintaining its momentum and its relevance as pandemic restrictions are lifted. 

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Written by: Eliza Borrett

Insights Manager at The Goat Agency