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PR, Clubhouse, And The Coming Social Audio Wave

PR and Clubhouse

People in PR and media circles have been excited about Clubhouse for at least six months. That’s partly because it represents something new – an audio-only platform for real-time conversations within groups of up to 500 people. But the real appeal was Clubhouse’s exclusivity. As the name implies, it launched as an invite-only social media app and quickly became known as a hangout for venture capitalists, tech entrepreneurs and other Silicon Valley elite. The tech types were followed by artists and entertainers, including Drake, Tiffany Haddish, and Joe Budden. There was a healthy amount of  FOMO among influencers as well as marketing and PR folks. And the content is ephemeral; you have to listen in the moment, because the chat will not be repeated. Just like real life.

Clubhouse’s “drop-in” feel is also a big part of the allure; it lets you listen, participate, or just leave quietly if a particular conversation isn’t for you at a given moment. The real-time aspect offers an element of spontaneity over other audio platforms like podcasting. It’s a bit like a conference where you can choose to attend lectures from among multiple tracks, but the commitment threshold is very low.

Its pedigree, too, generated buzz. The series A funding was led by Andreessen Horowitz partner Andrew Chen, and in January Clubhouse closed a Series B round of $100 million for a valuation of $1 billion. Pretty impressive for an app that started only a year ago in March of 2020.

As Colleen O’Connor from our team puts it, “It seems like Clubhouse gained massive popularity just when everyone has major Zoom fatigue and the last thing they want to do is log onto another video meeting. But hitting ‘join conversation’ and listening while multitasking is more desirable for a busy person.” 

Clubhouse can drive PR thought leadership potential for PR

For PR agencies and their clients, Clubhouse is a new platform for promoting what we call thought leadership — a positioning as a source of leading-edge information and expertise. For B2B tech clients in particular, thought leadership drives the right kind of visibility and is a part of many successful PR campaigns.

We started watching Clubhouse late last year and studied it for a while, in listening mode, before involving clients. So far, it’s limited to opportunities for visibility that involve senior executives who have expertise to share – in the case of our clients, about securing funding, leadership, work culture, the future of workplace, and other relevant topics. The corporate presence is there, but through company executives and founders, not logos.

No metrics, no worries

As for metrics, there really aren’t any. It’s kind of like the out-of-town tryout before you get to Broadway; it’s okay if not too many are listening, since it’s still new and we need to work out the bugs. But we’re bullish on Clubhouse for clients who are subject-matter experts and therefore well suited to host rooms and later start their own clubs. Last week, a senior client executive moderated a Clubhouse discussion that exceeded all expectations. The topic was CTV, and the meeting was well attended, with 100+ listeners and even a few media dropping in. But the most important metric for us was how long the conversation ran. It started at 8:00 and went for two and a half hours, with quality discussion throughout.

Clubhouse growth spawns imitators

The Clubhouse hype has continued into the spring, but lately the buzz isn’t all positive. First, there was a natural backlash to its exclusive status and the celebrity buzz. Clubhouse has been compared unfavorably to Discord, the group-chat app originally built for gamers. Most concerning for Clubhouse, though, is that its growth has slowed. (It’s only available on iOS for now. Android is in the works, but it had better hurry.)

As investor Shaan Puri points out in a thoughtful Twitter thread, live content can be compelling, but only if it’s truly interesting. It has to capture those “magical moments” like Elon Musk interviewing the Robinhood guy. Yet it’s tough to find top-notch stuff right in the moment. There just isn’t that much of it. As Puri puts it, “multiplying ‘content is interesting’ and ‘content is live’ doesn’t just make the problem 2x makes it 200x harder.”

But maybe that’s not even Clubhouse’s biggest problem. There’s also the competition. New players are jumping into social audio, attracted by its success. Last week Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield made news by saying that Slack will be adding audio features to its business message app – and he announced it on in a Clubhouse room, naturally!

This week Spotify said it has acquired live sports audio app Locker Room. Not to be outdone, LinkedIn just confirmed it’s testing a “social audio experience” for its own app. And of course, Facebook is reportedly working on a Clubhouse killer of its own, which TechCrunch likens to “an extension of its Messenger Rooms” rather than a standalone app. It seems that rather than compete one-on-one, Facebook intends to integrate audio into many of its products. Social audio is officially the next big thing. Where that leaves Clubhouse is anyone’s guess.

I hope Clubhouse succeeds. It’s encouraging to see momentum for a new platform for PR teams to tell stories for organizations, even if – or especially if – it isn’t about brands. The Clubhouse experience plays naturally play to the strengths of business leaders and personalities who are talented speakers with a strong point of view about industry trends, but with an extra spark of spontaneity in the bargain. But the most important thing about Clubhouse is that it started something, and the social audio wave is only just beginning. It’s like podcasting and live conferences had a baby. For PR teams as well as business leaders and creators, that means an entire new social channel and lots of fresh opportunity.

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