What makes the Clubhouse app click?

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Photo by William Krause

Originally Posted On: What makes the Clubhouse app click? (yaagneshwaran.com)

Though I’m curious about all things martech, content, and social media –I’m not among the ones that rave about an app within a week of usage, but the Clubhouse app has got me intrigued and interested.

What is so special about the Clubhouse app?

It’s a voice-only chat room/social media app in beta stage for starters, which is available only for iPhone users that too on an invite basis only. The app allows anyone on the platform to start a voice-based conversation quickly, just like how you would bump into people at a tradeshow or a conference and start a conversation with them.

And here’s how it all started.

Two weeks ago, my friend and the awesome Chief Evangelist of OmniConvert, Juliana Jackson, pinged me on LinkedIn and said, “Are you on Clubhouse dude?” and I was like, “What is that? Is it an app or is it a community or is it something you guys at OmniConvert are selling?”

She laughed and then said, “It’s an app which is the hottest on the planet in recent times, and one which is driving serious FOMO.”

Read that in Romanian accent for more impact

When I looked it up on Google, almost everyone seemed to be talking about Clubhouse. It now has a million users within months despite being invite-only and not yet opened out for Android users. You could find some of the biggest names across industries like Oprah, Ashton Kutcher, Naval Ravikant, and more on the app.

You might think, ‘Alright! Celebs are there on all platforms, what’s special here?’

What makes the Clubhouse app interesting?

The moment Juliana told me about the Clubhouse app, I could only imagine the Yahoo chat rooms of the 90s. But it looks like the Clubhouse app is growing like crazy It has already reached a valuation of $100 million with about $12 million in funding. And ever since the beginning of the second lockdown worldwide, its popularity has increased multifold.

So how does the Clubhouse app work?

Imagine it to be like being in a real conference room at an event. You get to talk to people in the hallway, get on stage, and ask a question to the host/speaker, or you can host your event too.

But to get started, you need an iPhone, and you need to be invited by someone already in Clubhouse. Existing users have limited invite-access. For example, I was invited by a friend by the name of Jason Greenwood, who runs Greenwood Consulting. And then, once I got in, I had one invite in my kitty.

By the way, here’s how the profile page on the app looks:

And right now, on the platform for less than a week. I exhausted my one invite, but I hear from other peers that you get access to more invites as you start hosting rooms/events and spend more time on the platform. Nice gamification.

Gamification aspect of the Clubhouse app

My friend and the legendary gamification expert, Yu-kai Chou, well known for his Octalysis Framework for gamification, would be proud of how Clubhouse is playing it. ( If you are interested in learning more about gamification and Octalysis, here’s an exciting episode on The ABM Conversations Podcast)

For quick context, Octalysis is one of the most widely used gamification frameworks. It is based on human-centred design, which is driven by eight core drives/principles.

(You should also check out Yu-Kai’s book on this subject called ‘Actionable Gamification’)

These 8 core drives can help improve customer engagement through a combination of emotions that appeal at various levels, while some of them are good for long term engagements and some for short term engagements.

The core drives mentioned on the left can help build the engagement from a long-term perspective, whereas the ones on the right help in building short and quick engagements. Typically, to increase engagement, the core drives are used in combinations based on specific goals one wants to achieve.

The Clubhouse app experience

In short, Clubhouse is an audio-based app where you talk to others (including celebs if you end up being in the same room as them). There is no DM or typing or spamming anyone. Just hop in and hop out of any room based on your interest and relevance.

The hallway is typically the home feed page where you see the different topic discussions going on. The conversations needn’t be pre-scheduled all the time. It can happen on the fly, and people join your room if the topic is in their interest.

But if you want, you can pre-schedule it as well. Typically you go to the calendar icon and see if there are any pre-scheduled events for the day. And here’s how it typically looks:

And the best part is –for people who have been living on Zoom for the last one year since COVID hit, this app seems to be a great antidote, as you don’t have to dress up or look decent. You can jump in and jump out of conversations, or host your conference, etc. And as for now, there are no ads or other spammy interruptions (I hope it stays this way)

So what do you talk about? Anything and everything. Just follow like-minded people or people with common interests and join rooms where there are discussions on your interest topic. Ask questions, or share your thoughts and network.

Why is the Clubhouse app experience unique?

I’ve been on LinkedIn for ages, and now I get to speak to people instantly (I mean talk, not text) on the fly using the Clubhouse app. And it’s not just about 1: many conversations. If the people whom you followed also follow you back – you can have 1:1 conversations as well.

It takes a little time to get used to the app, but people are on it 24×7. If I have to compare it with LinkedIn – on LinkedIn, you see posts all day, but here on this app, you see people talking 24×7 (folks from different parts of the world).

And because it’s impromptu conversations, there is little scope for people to copy-paste stuff. And that means you will have more scope for authentic discussions and relationship building beyond geographic boundaries.

So, let me show how a typical room with a topical conversation looks like:

Once you enter a room, you hear the ongoing conversation. If you raise your hand, the host or the moderator might call you up on stage to join the discussion. There’s also a chance that the host might decide to make you a moderator. This allows you to call others up on the stage. You can even pin someone (who is already on Clubhouse) into a room if you think they might be interested in the topic or might contribute to it.

The expected etiquette is to mute yourself until you’re called on or have something important to add. This helps reduce unnecessary background noise. I’ve seen some conversations go on even for several hours.

For example, my good friend Liam Darmody was moderating a session for ‘LinkedIn long timers finding their way on Clubhouse’ when I went to sleep yesterday night and saw him moderating when I woke up the next day 🙂 And this happens when a room transforms into a naturally structured conversation, where the moderators control the dialog and facilitate the discussion.

However, my word of caution is that your experience of the content or rooms on Clubhouse will be purely based on whom you follow and the topics/rooms you join. For example, if you follow me – you might end up seeing a lot of B2B marketing content, narrative building, category creation, and marketing podcasts.

There are 100s of rooms that function in parallel. What you see is based on your network and the interests that you specify when you sign up.

How is the Clubhouse app leveraging product-led growth (PLG)?

As you know, a lot of SaaS products and apps leverage product-led growth. As Manish and I discussed in one of our podcast episodes, we compared product-led growth (PLG) vs. sales-led vs. founder-led vs. marketing-led – a product that adds a viral loop to itself is the one that leverages the user-based economy and wins.

So, what’s the virality loop here? The existing users of the app bring new users. The scaling of the userbase is facilitated by the existing users (which is gamed by limiting the number of invites and making it feel privilleged)

The marketing contribution to this phenomenon is to build the FOMO, which is done brilliantly.

And next comes the stickiness aspect.

Stickiness of the Clubhouse app

When a user like you and me is spending time on the app, we are basing our perception about the company on their product experience. So, from Clubhouse’s standpoint, it’s scary and also the biggest opportunity to make it sticky. They need to make it count.

In my experience, to make a product standout for a customer, it’s never about the product or it’s features. It has always been the value it and the overall product experience it delivers.

A strong understanding of the users is the starting point for you to understand the elements that go into building a product experience that’s meaningful and one that stands out, making a difference.

That said, great product experience isn’t about adding new features. Sometimes it may not even be out the UI (User Interface – how simple or easy the product interface looks). For all you know, it can be as simple as:

  • Does the product deliver the promise or not?
  • Does it make the life of a user easy?

With that context, what have they done to build the stickiness into the product? What’s the subtle gamification there?

In platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter, the follower count is just a number. Only a small perfect of those followers see your content. And LinkedIn is reducing visibility more and more by the day. And that is precisely what Clubhouse cashes on.

For example, when someone you follow jumps up on a stage in some room, the app notifies you in a simple but compelling way—even if your phone is locked. If you click on the notification, you instantly join the room as a passive listener.

And when they notice you, you might be invited on stage as a speaker or moderator. The conversation goes from passive to active in an instant.

The more you speak, the more visibility your profile gets. But it’s a double-edged sword. Relationships are a two-way street, and it’s always essential to talk sensibly 🙂

Despite how cool the app is, I wouldn’t still agree with the set of PLG fans who says a product sells by itself. While the app can 100% be a growth lever in itself, it still needs some initial marketing leg-up.

Lastly, but most importantly –is Clubhouse app safe and ensures privacy?

Even as Clubhouse was launched in early 2020, it got criticized heavily for its lack of effective moderation. And back then, it wasn’t as viral as it is now. But right now, I would say the app has come a long way. The app now has a lot of guidelines, but it also lets each room be created on specific guidelines. If you stumble upon any issue, you can report the incident and even block a user.

But like any app, if one has to find loopholes, they will 🙂

Final thoughts on the Clubhouse app

I’m just getting started with Clubhouse app. But I like what I see and experience for now. It can also be a big distraction, the more crowded it gets and the more connections you build. But I firmly believe that the founders have thought it out well. Looking to explore it to its fullest potential before they bring in monetization plans 🙂

If you want to get in, reach out to a friend who has an iphone + who is already in the club and ask them to invite you (if they still have invites left). Remember, I told you the invites are limited, and it’s intentional. 600K users to 1 million in the last two weeks. That’s crazy growth.

Try it out, and evaluate it for yourself.

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