The [dubious] future of Clubhouse, the audio app
The average person is likely to spend 145 minutes on social media per day. That’s a whopping 37 days per year – over 10% of a year!
It is unsurprising that social media advertising saw a 56% increase in Q4 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. This was largely due to COVID-19 and the extended periods of lockdown. From Facebook to Twitter, all major social media companies grew throughout 2020, while also financially benefiting from an increase in ad spend. Last year also saw a new player seeking to disrupt the text and visual driven social media landscape. That’s Clubhouse.
Clubhouse… what’s that?
Clubhouse was launched in early 2020 as an iPhone-only app which only gained mainstream media attention in December 2020, expanding exponentially to reach 1m users in January 2021. The premise of it being to convene audio-only discussions in a semi-open forum style, with no video or text chat functions enabled. The pandemic facilitated the growth of Clubhouse as many people were craving human contact, and Clubhouse’s appeal as an audio-only platform stood-out. The founders have seemingly captured the COVID-era zeitgeist better than any other new app out throughout 2020!
So what’s next?
Many are stipulating that Clubhouse will gradually lose its audience, get acquired by a large tech company and end its days like Vine – in the worst-case scenario – or possibly like WhatsApp. This sentiment has been strengthened by reports that it had 922,000 downloads in April: an over 90% drop from 9.6m in February.
Does this signal the fall of Clubhouse?
…well, not exactly. Clubhouse just went through a Series C funding round, led by VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, which estimated the app’s value at $4bn as of April 2021 – the same amount that Twitter offered to acquire Clubhouse’s for at the beginning of April. That’s more than the valuation of N26, Germany’s no. 1 fintech startup.
A possible game changer has arrived after more than a year since Clubhouse launch, users can now access the app on Android. It is coming to other markets as well but this might take some time. That’s big news as Android is the largest mobile ecosystem in the world, accounting for around 69% of users in Europe. So many people are still seeing potential in the Clubhouse model.
It’s all about who you follow…
When a user joins the platform, they are given suggestions of who to follow and which discussions to listen to (after ticking some boxes on your interests). Typically, most recommendations lead to mainstream topics like how to invest in Crypto, or how to be the next billionaire tech entrepreneur.
The real interest in Clubhouse lies in finding niche discussions more closely aligned to your professional or personal interests. If you are interested in EU affairs (as we are) for example, check out these Clubs (sort-of comparable to Facebook’s groups):
- EU Politics (826 followers as of May 20) – led by our colleagues at Fourtold and closely followed in the ‘EU bubble’ – hosts events with EU and national policy makers, including events on the recovery plans. Some of the recent events include ones on Europe’s digital recovery with MEP Karen Melchior and Egle Markeviciute (vice-minister for the economy and innovation, Lithuania) as well as policy storytelling with Ian McCafferty (head of content, DG AGRI), Katie Owens (communications officer, DG SANTE), and Tina Zournatzi (head of strategic communications, DG COMM). EU Politics Club also features a weekly session on EU’s tech policy, called MONOPOLY ATTACK, by Friso Bostoen (KU LEUVEN) and Kay Jebelli (CCIA Europe), tackling cases like Google-FitBit merger.
- EU Matters (1.8k followers) is for people who are interested in discussing EU policies. Recent events include one on the EU gender action plan with MEP Hannah Neumann. This club also hosts a weekly news roundup, called “EU – week ahead.”
- The Sound of Economics (835 followers) is a Club that discusses how to improve economic policy, created by Bruegel, a Brussels-based economic think-tank. Some of the conversations that take place on this club become episodes of a podcast with a similar name.
A platform for civic engagement?
By its nature, Clubhouse is a content-driven platform.
It started gaining traction in Brussels around February 2021, mostly due to initial hype caused by a story on Politico Europe “All cool politicians are on Clubhouse,” listing a number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and European national politicians who were on the platform. It was not uncommon to find yourself in a room with a policy maker, followed by an intersectoral discussion on a legislative proposal. This was driven by users spending a lot of time on the app, fostering its dynamic reputation, as well as an exponential level of growth.
At Fourtold our colleagues have already hosted 5 events on Clubhouse, including a session on the Digital Services Act (DSA) which reached an audience of 220 people. These Fourtold-led events were joined by EU and national policy-makers, industry leaders, representatives from lobbies and NGOs as well as university students from across Europe.
With a decreased level of activity by existing users, accompanied by a drop in the number of newjoiners, the honeymoon period ended in March 2021. However, this also marked a shift to Clubhouse becoming a more conventional platform for events that are often pre-promoted on other platforms.
What has not changed is its value in facilitating open engagement, making it one of the least hierarchical social media platforms out there. This could in the end be the key to its ongoing usefulness and endurance.
by Tomas Vitas