Clubhouse had an incredible year in one that most of us would rather forget. The live audio app launched during a pandemic; Over 10 million downloads for an iOS-only app, by invitation only; and managed to the point that almost every social platform wants to copy it. Congratulations on the clubhouse.
However, the company now faces its greatest challenges to date. First, the pandemic is on the wane and people may be more interested in real-life socializing rather than conversations facilitated over their phone. Anyone promoting their backyard as the clubhouse’s next big competitor has a point. But for the people who To do they eventually want to talk to each other online, they will soon have many more places to do so. In case you haven’t kept up: Twitter, Facebook (allegedly), LinkedIn, Discord, Spotify, Mark Cuban and Slack have all launched or are working on their own attempts at social audio – the space is about to get crowded.
The big concern for Clubhouse is that, just like me postulated in February, social audio could follow the same trajectory as Snapchat’s Stories feature: a brilliant idea that changes social media and continues to live in every app at the expense of the upstart who pioneered the format. And social audio is starting to go that way. With the threat increasing, it’s worth looking into where clubhouse is most likely to get into trouble.
But first: what does Clubhouse have to offer for it? It was the first with social audio, and that’s a thing. It already has millions of users who come to Clubhouse solely for social audio content, including names that are making headlines like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and other celebrities. Tech CEOs are even making announcements in Clubhouse, including Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, who announced his own copycat product in the app. The app generates news and discussions – which is a lot more difficult for other companies to clone.
People have also built habits around Clubhouse, which is a positive sign of user retention. The team also plans to launch a creator program in the near future that will reward the most dedicated users with revenue and resources to improve their shows.
And crucially, the app has been manned for the past month. The company recently poached Instagram’s Fadia Kader to lead its media partnerships and creators. At Instagram, she partnered with musicians to help them optimize their work on the platform. She’s probably doing something similar at Clubhouse. I’ve already seen her in a room with Justin Bieber talking about his most recent album. Clubhouse has also hired Netflix’s Maya Watson to become the head of global marketing, meaning it will soon be devoting resources to promoting Clubhouse rather than relying primarily on word of mouth. These are all important steps to keep Clubhouse interesting and thriving.
But the app now faces competition from some of the world’s largest platforms, which have years of moderation experience, are available on iOS and Android, and have a huge, loyal user base to whom they can push social audio. Some companies, such as Twitter and Discord, have already pushed social audio features live to their millions of users with basically the same interface as Clubhouse. Anyone who didn’t have an invitation to Clubhouse or an iPhone can now access the magic of social audio without any association with Clubhouse.
Perhaps the most dangerous possibility for Clubhouse, however, is how easily it can lose the big names on its platform to challengers. Spotify, which announced this week that it has acquired Betty Labs, creator of the sports-focused social audio app Locker Room, plans to bring the app to Android, rename it, and expand coverage to music, culture. and sports. It could compete directly with Clubhouse for talent. Joe Rogan, for example, recently joined a clubhouse chat, and while Spotify’s head of R&D tells me the company won’t limit its podcasters from using other social audio apps, it’s easy to imagine the company encourages the use of its own apps. Musicians, like Bieber, who may have come to Clubhouse to make debut music, could instead turn to the Spotify app to nurture relationships with the streaming giant. As a point of reference, when Kylie Jenner tweeted barely opening Snapchat anymore, the company’s stock lost $ 1.3 billion. When stars like Tiffany Haddish decide to spend their time elsewhere, Clubhouse will falter too.
At the same time, a few of these competitors are specifically interested in incorporating native recording into their app, potentially fueling the podcasting ecosystem and on-demand listening. Clubhouse has yet to do this. Co-founded by Mark Cuban, Fireside allows people to input sound effects, such as music, and record their shows for distribution across podcasting platforms, and later play them on the app itself. Spotify will likely do the same with its app, relying on its Anchor hosting and distribution software. Twitter’s head of consumer products told Twitter The edge that it would also allow people to record their Spaces natively. Clubhouse didn’t build that functionality, limiting its users to live conversations only, which can be difficult to follow if they join it halfway through. Context collapse will challenge any platform targeting live, but some Clubhouse competitors are already working to fix that.
Stories made Snapchat a success. It pioneered the idea of ephemeral content and brought back a certain semblance of authenticity to social media. But it didn’t take long for the functionality to reach the same competitors that Clubhouse is now facing. To run its business, Snapchat doubled down on its Android app, made the app more accessible to new users through a redesign, and aggressively pursued content partnerships with media and entertainment companies. It now pays users to create content for its TikTok competitor Spotlight and supports a growing ad business, but Instagram eventually got away with the crown for Stories. Clubhouse hasn’t pursued any ads or subscriptions yet, but that’s the next step in making it a self-supporting platform. (Notably, its competitors, such as Facebook, are already deciding on ad targeting, making Clubhouse’s job of selling ads or accessing the platform itself more difficult.)
This is not to say that Clubhouse will not survive or build a strong business in the months and years to come. It just needs to stay in the conversation.