Voice-Based Social Networks: Understanding and Leveraging the Clubhouse Trend

Mark Pappas, SVP, Growth & Innovation | Julie Hurvitz Aliaga, SVP, Social Media

March 24, 2021

bottom curve

Voice-based social platforms have become one of the most buzzed about social segments online. In fact, in writing this POV, we have had to stop and update multiple times due to the extremely rapid changes taking place and new platforms entering the market.  

For the past several years we have been following the voice trend; including the booming voice search and voice assistant industries, which have ushered the way for the latest trend. It appears everyone is talking about Clubhouse, but few really know what it is or how to use it. Other offerings include Discord and Twitter Spaces, and Facebook is reported to have an offering in development.  

Reasons for This Trend 

It could possibly be a result of screen fatigue, Zoom fatigue or both, but these audio-social platforms allow you to hop in and join a conversation that interests you without having to scroll or stare at a screen. With all manners of smart speakers, smart ear buds etc. skyrocketing in usage it is a perfect marriage to just go out go for a walk or chill in your house and join a conversation that interests you without having to stare at your screen. These platforms essentially bring podcasting to the next level – imagine listening to a podcast about something that interests you, filled with other people with similar interests and you can actually chime in and give your own thoughts all live. 

The Key Players 

Clubhouse 

Of all the audio social platforms, Clubhouse has been getting the most buzz both from word of mouth and through press online. Clubhouse is still in a closed beta, iOS only and at the time of this writing still invite-only to join. Despite being “closed beta”, Clubhouse currently has over 3 million members and is valued at over $1 billion. Their primary investors are Andreessen Horowitz who have backed just about every major tech company including Twitter, Okta, Skype, Facebook, Lyft and recently the blockbuster Roblox.  

Having this heavyweight investment firm behind Clubhouse has given it much more credibility. Giving more weight to Clubhouse, Elon Musk recently hosted a conversation there which helped explode the user base.  

Clubhouse is a mobile app that lets you follow people and clubs that share similar interests. You can hop in and join these conversations whenever you like or even start your own club. Everything under the sun is discussed from investments, music to horoscope readings. The quick rise of Clubhouse can almost certainly be attributed to the past year of pandemic lockdown we have all been dealt; from the music industry and entertainment, Clubhouse has quickly become the answer for many industries facing new obstacles of how to connect with industry peers and fans alike. We are seeing a rise in exclusive industry “clubs” and unlike the past, healthcare is not too far behind.  

Health has a large presence on Clubhouse already; some health focused clubs have several thousand members. As of this writing, the Healthcare Startups club has over 4k members and the Healthy Equity Club has over 21k. Just about every health condition has a dedicated club associated with it. HCPs have a strong presence on Clubhouse with many leading condition-specific conversations across a variety of health-related clubs.  

While there is no advertising on Clubhouse, there are many ways for brands to get involved. Having a club dedicated to your brand or condition is one way. A brand could host a room with their KOLs leading discussions around topics related to the condition or brand. They would be able to answer questions from users and provide value to the people attending. Unlike typical social platforms, users cannot leave comments in any open fields. To speak a user must raise their hand and wait for the host to grant speaking privileges.  

Brands can create profiles and add interests to their profiles. If a room or club is created, going the non-branded route would allow for the use of keyword tags around conditions. There are ample opportunities to optimize your profile as well as your club or room.  

Brands can even sponsor existing rooms dedicated to the conditions they treat. The opportunities are wide open with very little competition.  

Clubhouse is making multiple moves to lure creators and leverage partnerships. It was just announced that Fadia Kader left Instagram after four years to become the head of media partnerships and creators at Clubhouse. She reports to the global head of marketing, Maya Watson, who joined Clubhouse from Netflix. 

Additionally, on March 14, 2021 they announced an accelerator program for creators that would, among other things, help creators connect with brands – a building block for influencer marketing.  

Clubhouse is still in its infancy, but new features and safety measures are being rolled out on an almost weekly basis.  

Twitter Spaces 

Following on the success of Clubhouse, Twitter recently rolled out their competing product called Spaces. Like Clubhouse, a user can create a live conversation other Twitter users can join. The current version of Spaces only allows a limited number of Twitter users to create a Space, however anyone on iOS and Android can join a Space in progress. Spaces can be private or public with various levels of access granted by the host. One example of popular content has been with NPR’s Guy Roz who has essentially brought a live version of his podcasts to Spaces.  

Up to 11 people can speak in a Space at any given time. The host can control speaking access to keep things under control. Listeners can request permission to speak from the Host using a request icon. 

While this is currently limited to a select few users who can create Spaces, Twitter plans to roll this out to more handles as well as branded handles throughout 2021. There have been mentions of advertising and brand opportunities on the horizon but not until 2022 at the earliest.  

Discord 

Discord has been around the longest out of any of the audio social platforms. Discord launched in 2015 and currently has over 100 million users. Unlike the others, however, Discord was primarily a hub for gamers and streamers. Now Discord is billing itself as “your place to talk” with a focus on creating different communities. Unlike the other platforms mentioned, Discord has a desktop app as well as a full suite of moderation tools for community leaders on the platform. Discord also is not strictly voice – Discord behaves much in the same way as a typical online group would with users and community members having the ability to chat in a typical text-based format as well as post files and links.  Channels can be set up to be voice chat only. 

While there are no display advertising opportunities, brands can still create communities to help foster conversation between users with similar interests.  

Swell 

A new entry to the space as of mid-March 2021 is Swell. Swell differs from Clubhouse in that it is more of a micro podcast platform. Users can create their own Swellcast accounts and record up to 5 minutes of audio. Users of Swell can then replay the chats whenever they like and leave audio commentary or questions on their own time that the original author can respond to.  

The 3 main ways to talk on Swell are: 

  • Swellcasts – public and can be shared on the web. You can post in your own Swellcast or any Open Swellcast.  
  • Groups – for members-only and by invitation. You can start your own for your friends, family or work. All conversations in a Group are private.  
  • Messages – private and sent directly to one or more users on Swell. 

Since Swell is so new, we expect to see rapid changes and new features rolled out.  

Facebook 

Of course, the 800 lb gorilla in the room, Facebook, is hard at work creating its own answer to Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse according to the New York Times.  Details have been scarce at this point but we expect to see it launch in the very near future, especially seeing the success of others.  

How Brands Can Get Involved 

While these platforms are still in their infancy and changing rapidly, brands need to continue to focus on not just how their branding looks but how they sound. How would a Clubhouse room be presented, who would present it and what type of material would you want to cover? Creating a room is simple and any brand can do it on Clubhouse, but the sound, content and panelists need to be enticing users and provide value. Creating your profile and fully optimizing it for potential followers to find you is key. Many of these same principals can be applied across platforms.  

As we have recommended before, voice is a quickly evolving platform. With the rise of digital assistants, streaming audio ads and now voice-based social networks, the sonic identity of your brand needs to be considered. You can have the greatest creative campaign on the planet, but that does you no good with audio-based platforms. Users can only hear your brand. How your brand sounds will be an additional branding factor moving forward.  

Here’s one example: fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff recently held a Clubhouse chat. Obviously, this was not a place where the brand could showcase its products; instead, the focus was on related topics important to their customers, with the audio format allowing for a detailed and intimate experience with the famous designer. Pharma brands could set up a Club and have discussions with a KOL answering questions about a specific condition and providing useful information in an intimate setting to caregivers, patients and more.  

This is a new space that is currently wide open with little to no competition between brands. Getting a strong foothold now will only set up brands for success as voice continues to become a bigger factor in marketing programs.  

Reach out to your social team at CMI Media Group for more info on how to get started.