It’s an exclusive audio-only social media platform that has celebrities and their followers scrambling for invites. Welcome to Clubhouse, a live conference call and chat app with a podcast-style feel all rolled into one, and which describes itself as a ‘drop-in audio chat’.
Tesla’s Elon Musk has hosted conversations and interviews, while Kevin Hart and Chris Rock have also grabbed headlines as Clubhouse users. As far as hype and interest goes, it has definitely made its mark, but just how useful is it for virtual and hybrid business meetings?
Carina Bauer, chief executive of the IMEX Group, has used Clubhouse and describes it as an experience that is "strangely intimate in a way that many other social platforms are not".
“It’s also great for dropping in and out of conversations,” she added. “Clubhouse is a good tool for networking and informal discussions and could add value as a separate channel for breakout discussions or an ‘after party’ alongside an existing virtual or hybrid meeting.”
Bauer said the informal nature of the platform — and the fact that anyone can create and join or leave a ‘room’ easily — is one of Clubhouse’s more attractive features. She likens it to the experience of circulating a room.
“At IMEX, we’re currently exploring how we can use Clubhouse to supplement the content we offer to various groups within the business events community,” added Bauer.
Adam Harriden, executive creative director at Invnt Group, APAC, believes Clubhouse can benefit the industry by helping to keep things fresh and offering a new way of meeting.
“Allowing users to select topics that interest them when they join the app means host brands will attract audiences who are actually interested in what they have to say; this helps promote meaningful attendee networking, as people join forces based on their common passions,” he said.
While the invite-only part can be seen as restrictive, Harriden said invite-only experiences are nothing new. Choosing to host an event on Clubhouse could actually elevate a brand’s status.
“This exclusivity can also encourage users to share their favourite quotes or takeaways from a chat outside of the room – for example, they might push out a handful of live tweets for their followers to read up on,” he said. “This builds attendees’ social currency because they share with the world that they have access to Clubhouse, and it extends the reach of the host brand.”
For Kai Hattendorf, managing director and CEO at UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, Clubhouse represents a mix of marketing and community engagement. He has used the app to listen to a conversation, to join one and as a host and moderator. He does not believe, however, that it has huge potential as a stand-alone solution.
“Meeting organisers are using it for pre-event talks and conversations where they preview their respective events, and for ‘after parties’ where participants can chat with the event speakers,” he explained. “Clubhouse — and all the similar products that will launch in the coming weeks and months — adds a 'voice-only' element to the existing digital events toolbox.”
For event planners, Hattendorf believes it’s a great way to connect with groups of people around a topic or subject — and useful to gather ideas, input and inspiration. On the downside however, it represents yet another platform to be active on and one more channel to interact with, potentially adding to event professionals’ zoom fatigue.
For IMEX’s Bauer, Clubhouse is particularly useful in the current time, with ongoing restrictions on physical meetings.
“One of the main advantages for business events is that the platform is already widely used by many event professionals,” she said. “The business events sector is an industry that likes to come together and this offers the community a new way to connect — particularly useful when we’re currently not able to meet face-to-face."
There are limitations however that may stall future uptake. The app is currently only available to iOS users, and with any new technology, there are concerns over privacy.
“A move to open up Clubhouse to Android users would enable a greater number of people to enjoy the platform,” Bauer said. “It would also be good if it was more interactive — perhaps by introducing a mechanism by which audiences could communicate their reactions and responses to what the speakers are saying.”