How Not To Kill Clubhouse

one small tweak to keep audio social networking vibrant

I spent part of New Year’s weekend exploring Clubhouse, a new audio-only social networking platform (currently you need an iPhone and an invite to use the service.) I was immediately curious about the platform because—hello, audio—and of course because professionally I track the usage of all major social media platforms in our annual Infinite Dial survey.

I issued a few snarky tweets about Clubhouse, but in all honesty, I want it to succeed. Video in 2020 completely exhausted me. I got to a point at the end of the year where I had to justify to both coworkers and clients why my camera was off—much like a recovering alcoholic has to justify not having a drink when they are out at a bar or social gathering. I live in a tiny house in the sky in the middle of downtown Boston—my Zoom studio is our kitchen, and neither it nor I are always camera-ready. The lure of a platform to which I can passively listen and occasionally contribute without the fatigue of a camera appeals very strongly to the same DNA as my great non-ironic love for things like Shortwave Radio, scanners, and the CB.

My initial foray into Clubhouse, however, has not proven to be as encouraging as I would have hoped. Yes, as with any social platform, your mileage may vary and that mileage is largely a product of who you follow—your filters, in other words. But at the moment, I am only following a handful of friends (as in, people I actually know) so I am not sure how much of my experience is a function of algorithms and how much is my own lack of friend-selecting competence. Early on, there are definitely some emergent sub-cultures on Clubhouse. Encouragingly, there seems to be a strong presence from Black voices and a host of other underrepresented groups. There is also a vibrant music industry presence, both on the creator side and the business side. I hung out in a room with Christian Burns for a while (this one, not this one.) He doesn’t know me, but I’m a fan (Tamsen and I got to see him perform with BT at his one-off Electronic Opus concert in Miami. He can sing his face off.) So, that was cool.

I think the promise of Clubhouse is enormous, and to me it could be part of the next generation of talk radio. Talk Radio today has basically given up on anyone under 50 and is largely the province of far-right pundits, late night truckers, and Doris from Queens calling to complain about the Mets, who frankly deserve it. But I remember the magic of talk radio. Clubhouse could recreate that magic, and more.

To do that, though, it needs to grapple with the simple truth that today, in the early days of the app, there is a lot of garbage surfacing to the top of your feed (which, as my friend Clay Hebert reminded me, was also true of Twitter in the early days) Unless you arrange a private conversation or surprise a friend, much of the value of Clubhouse comes from the topic-based Rooms that pop up either on your calendar or just at the top of your home screen. And right now there is a lot of hustle porn and MAKE your MONEY MOVE$ action happening. I was hanging out in a room discussing the future of Clubhouse and heard a number of users speculating about how the platform was going to monetize itself. “I hope they don’t ruin themselves with ads!” said a number of participants. Meanwhile, scroll through the rooms that aggregate at the top: “Millionaire Moves,” “Bitcoin is the way!” “GROW YOUR BUSINESS WITH A MASTER.” We don’t need Clubhouse to ruin itself with ads. Users can ruin it without any additional assistance.

“It would be great if Tony Robbins were on Clubhouse!” said one person, because sure, that’s an underserved voice. In another room, I heard someone praise the platform because you could have a real conversation, and “I can sell without selling. If people are interested in the marketing courses I offer, or my coaching program, they can just look at the link in my bio and they can…” and I admittedly lost consciousness right after he said “I can sell” and fell into my open oven. And yes, there is no getting around this with any platform. It may be that once a certain class of “entrepreneur” realizes that there is no way to post pictures of yourself next to a jet or a Ferrari that the appeal of Clubhouse will fade, but sellers gonna sell. I get that. Still, I can’t imagine most of us are going to want to open up Clubhouse and be greeted with screens like this very often:

There is a way to avoid this, however, and it came to me as I was listening to one of these Influencers talk about what Clubhouse was lacking. A room I was lurking in invited someone on stage who had seven million followers on various social media platforms to talk about Clubhouse as a way to build audience. When asked if he would be spending time on Clubhouse, he replied that because there are currently no links in Clubhouse bios (save Twitter and Instagram) that there was no way to convert people on Clubhouse—if he wanted to sign people up for his course or whatever, prospects would have to actually type in a link they read in his bio to “convert” elsewhere. He summed this problem up thusly—why would I spend all of this time on Clubhouse for no gain?

Yes, indeed. Why talk to anyone?

Anyway. This struck me as a very welcome tweak to Clubhouse. Not to add links to your bio—but to ban them. Think that one through for a minute.


It is my hallucination that Clubhouse can monetize by directly charging club leaders a fee to host regular rooms and events, and not by making us the product like every other social platform out there. But in any case, if the lack of links discourages people who want to Convert Me To The Next Stage Of Their Squeeze Page To Poop Out Of Their Funnel from devoting their resources to Clubhouse, maybe that’s more room for the rest of us to have actual conversations, and that’s the thing I think we all went to social media for anyway.

Still, I am going to continue to explore Clubhouse and carve out my own value. I am doing my best to identify great moderators as much as I am topic hunting. If you have ever been to a conference session you have heard a Q&A session devolve into Hi My Name Is This And I Have Done This And That And I Work With People Who Want This Or That And Fortunately For Them This And That Is What I Do And My Blog Is I Do This And That Dot Com And My Question Is How Do You See The Thing I Do As The Thing You Are Talking About. Well, Clubhouse without a great moderator can be that, only without the actual content session that normally precedes such folderol. But there are skilled moderators on Clubhouse, and I think the best of them create inclusive rooms that encourage people to be helpful, and kind, and not to “sell without selling.”

Anyway, I am findable on Clubhouse, for those currently on the app, and I look forward to actually chatting with some of you there. Have a great weekend, and Happy New Year. I appreciate you.

Tom

Photo Credit: Esa Piironen, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons