You might not have heard of it, but Clubhouse is the new social media darling. Its beta release has worked on an invite only basis, which has given it an air of exclusivity, and this week Elon Musk has brought extra attention to the app by ‘taking to the stage'. However, whilst most of the commentary around the social network is focused on the potential for consumers, fan groups, and special areas of interest - I think it would be remiss to ignore the potential impact for the B2B landscape.
From where I'm sitting, Clubhouse has the opportunity to solve a huge number of challenges facing companies that are looking to put on engaging virtual events, support company-wide leadership, and for individuals to promote their expertise to a wider audience that needs more detail than a tweet or LinkedIn post.
By way of background, Clubhouse is a voice-only social media platform. It works by allowing users to create a group or set up a new room within an existing group, where they take to the stage and talk about whatever they choose. Much like other collaboration platforms, users can raise their hand in a room when listening to someone else, to be invited to the stage to also speak. In addition, users create profiles themselves and can follow other profiles, with the option to get alerts when someone they follow starts a new talk.
You can link to your other social network profiles on your Clubhouse profile and build up a following around your topics of interest. Interestingly, there isn't an option to direct message yet on Clubhouse, meaning much of the ongoing networking takes place off-platform (although this may well change down the line).
Clubhouse is tapping into the popularity of podcasts, by being voice only, and allows people to be as active or passive as they like. It is mobile-first and its model fits the mould of other successful social networking platforms, which allow users to gain ‘popularity' around topics they are interested in.
Why is this relevant to business?
At this point, you might be thinking this sounds neat, or is just another social fad. But if Clubhouse continues to gain traction as it opens up to a broader audience, I genuinely believe the business world should start paying attention. As we've seen with other social networking sites that started out as consumer-led, applications for B2B soon emerge.
Take virtual events, for example. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic companies around the world have tried to find a model for virtual events that is comparable to an in-person meet up, in order to engage with their user base. However, the reality is that most of them have been dire. Companies have largely deployed clunky platforms that replicate a physical conference space, have minimal engagement and mostly consist of pre-recorded video sessions. We would know, we've sat in on dozens of them.
Clubhouse paves the way for a far more interactive experience. Say, for example, a vendor set up a group on Clubhouse for their annual conference and people could join, attend sessions hosted by their own executives, but also allow those attending to take to the stage themselves and speak. Vendors would have to be comfortable with loosening their grip of control - which won't work for some - as it democratises the experience and lets people attending the event lead its direction.
However, the company hosts could still schedule the sessions they think are important, whilst letting its community lead the way elsewhere. And with the capability for people to follow other peoples' profiles, the networking opportunities are huge. However, I can envisage a far more engaging experience, creating more of an ‘unconference', if you will.
There are some downsides at the moment. For example, once a talk is over, it's over. There isn't the opportunity to go back and listen to a session, which creates some problems for attendees wanting to get as much out of a conference as possible. However, I'd still argue that it's more beneficial to have an engaging event that disappears after a day, than it is to have one that lives forever and is dire.
Equally, the networking opportunities that emerge for a potential Clubhouse conference could enable the vendor hosting to build an engaged community that carries on way beyond a single day, where connections continue to inform and educate.
Company training and leadership
In addition to the virtual event opportunity, I also see possibilities for individual companies to use a platform like Clubhouse to solve some of the virtual leadership and training challenges that have emerged from distributed working environments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ad-hoc learning and leadership in an in-person environment often comes naturally and isn't as easy to establish when everyone is working from home. Water Cooler discussions and being able to ask a question on the fly to your boss across the room are now a lot more awkward and not as easy via Zoom.
But imagine if a company created a Clubhouse group specifically for their employees, where people could take to the stage and share their knowledge whenever they felt it worthy. Other employees could follow people within their company they find interesting or helpful, as well as ask questions or share their own knowledge/thoughts/challenges/concerns/ideas. This could be a far more intuitive way to learn and lead, than sharing a document via email to all your employees.
By using voice only, this creates an interesting environment that is far more inclusive and suited to learning, than a video Zoom meeting that has to be scheduled.
Closely aligned to the point above, Clubhouse also creates the opportunity for individuals to build a name for themselves on a social network that relies on sharing interesting knowledge or information. We are living in an age where attention spans are short and people seem less willing to sit down and read thousands of words around a specific topic. Podcasts are growing in popularity and Clubhouse appears to tap into this trend, where people seem more willing to put voice-led media on in the background while doing other things, to learn and engage.
I can easily see how someone working in the B2B world (including us journalists and media outlets) could build an engaged following and user base by hosting talks on an app like Clubhouse. LinkedIn has long frustrated users and the younger generations find it too rigid in its approach. I'd argue that Clubhouse has the potential to tap into this and become a social network not just for people interested in gardening, TV and music, but also for B2B users that want to build their careers and profiles. I'd also imagine recruiters would find it very interesting to follow a potential candidate and see what content they are contributing…
It's early days and Clubhouse may not live up to its potential in the long term. However, I think the app has tapped into an opportunity that addresses a lot of problems for B2B, particularly in our COVID-19 world. And if it's not Clubhouse, something else along similar lines will likely fill the void. I am pretty sure there will be a lot of corporate execs out there that will dismiss it as ‘just another fad' and find themselves playing catch up in a couple of years time when communities have been built and new enterprise leaders have built a profile for themselves online, around an engaged user base that wants insight into their knowledge. Ignore it at your peril.