The clubhouse had an incredible year in one most of us would rather forget. The live audio app launched during a pandemic; achieved more than 10 million downloads for an invite-only app, iOS only. and succeeded to the point that most social platforms want to copy it. Congratulations to the clubhouse.
The company is now facing its biggest challenges yet. First, the pandemic is declining, and people may be more interested in socializing in real life instead of phone calls. Everyone who advertises their backyard as the next big clubhouse competitor has a point. But for the people who do end up wanting to talk to each other online, they will soon have many more places to do so. If you have not followed: Twitter, Facebook (allegedly), LinkedIn, Discord, Spotify, Mark Cuban and Slack have all launched or are working on their own attempts at social sound ̵
The big concern for the clubhouse is that, as I postulated in February, social sound could follow the same path that Snapchat’s stories work: a brilliant social media changing idea that continues to live in every app to the detriment of the startup that was groundbreaking for format. And social sound takes shape. With the threat increasing, it’s worth looking at where the Clubhouse is most likely to encounter problems.
But first: what does Clubhouse have to do with it? It was the first to social sound, and there is something. It already counts millions of users who come to the Clubhouse just for social audio content, and that includes names like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and other celebrities. Tech executives even make announcements in the Clubhouse, including Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, who announced the company’s own copycat product in the app. The app generates news and discussions – it’s a lot harder for other companies to clone.
People have also built habits around the clubhouse, which is a positive sign of user retention. The team also plans to launch a creative program in the near future that will reward its most dedicated users with revenue and resources to increase their show.
And critically, the app has staffed the last month. The company recently poached Fadia Kader from Instagram to lead its media collaborations and creators. On Instagram, she worked with musicians to help them optimize their work on the platform. She will probably do something similar at the Clubhouse. I’ve already seen her in a room with Justin Bieber talking about his latest album. The clubhouse also hired Maya Watson from Netflix to lead global marketing, which means it will soon spend resources on marketing the clubhouse instead of relying primarily on word of mouth. These are all important steps to keep your clubhouse interesting and thriving.
But the app now faces competition from some of the world’s largest platforms, which already have many years of moderation experience, are available on iOS and Android, and have massive, loyal user bases to which they can push social sound. Some companies, such as Twitter and Discord, have already pushed social audio features live to their millions of users with effectively the same interface as Clubhouse. Anyone who did not have an invitation to the clubhouse or an iPhone can now access the magic of social sound with no connection to the clubhouse at all.
Perhaps the most dangerous possibility for the clubhouse, however, is how easily it can lose the big names on the platform to challengers. Spotify, which announced this week that it has acquired Betty Labs, the maker of the sports-centric social audio app Locker Room, plans to bring the app to Android, rename it and expand its coverage to music, culture and sports. It can compete directly with the clubhouse for talent. Joe Rogan, for example, recently joined a clubhouse talk, and although Spotify’s head of R & D tells me that the company does not want to restrict its podcasts from using other social audio apps, it’s easy to imagine the company encouraging the use of its own . Musicians, such as Bieber, who may have come to Clubhouse to debut music, can turn to Spotify’s app instead of maintaining relationships with the streaming giant. As a reference point, when Kylie Jenner tweeted that she barely opened Snapchat anymore, the company’s shares lost $ 1.3 billion. If stars like Tiffany Haddish decide to spend their time elsewhere, the clubhouse will also falter.
At the same time, a few of these competitors are particularly interested in building native recordings in their app, possibly to nurture the podcasting ecosystem and listen as needed. The clubhouse has not yet done this. Founded by Mark Cuban, Fireside lets people add sound effects, such as music, and record their shows for distribution on podcast platforms, as well as later playback on the app itself. Spotify will probably do the same with its app and rely on the Anchor software to handle hosting and distribution. Twitter’s head of consumer product told The Verge that it also allows people to register their rooms. Clubhouse has not built that functionality, limiting users to just live calls, which can be difficult to follow if they join them midway. Context collapse will challenge every platform that focuses on live, but some of Clubhouse’s competitors are already working to solve it.
Stories made Snapchat a success. It was groundbreaking for the idea of volatile content and brought some authenticity to social media. But it did not take long before the functionality came to the same competitors that Clubhouse now faces. To make the business work, Snapchat doubled its Android app, made the app more accessible to new users through a redesign, and pursued aggressive content partnerships with media and entertainment companies. Now it pays users to create content for TikTok competitor Spotlight and supports a growing advertising business, but Instagram eventually came up with the crown for stories. Clubhouse has not yet pursued ads or subscriptions, but it will be the next step in making it a self-supporting platform. (In particular, though, competitors, such as Facebook, already control ad targeting, possibly making Clubhouse’s job of selling ads or accessing the platform itself tougher.)
None of this is to say that the clubhouse will not survive or build a strong business in the coming months and years. It just needs to be in the conversation.