What is Clubhouse and why should media companies care?

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


There has been a lot of buzz about audio for some time now, from podcasts to home devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, Facebook Portal, and Apple HomePod. So it’s not a huge surprise that the tech world has jumped to start audio only products. The most prominent of these is Clubhouse. 

A little background

Clubhouse launched in March 2020 as an invitation-only product with a small-ish number (of prominent) Silicon Valley folk. It’s still invite only but has opened up more. According to Statista, there were two million weekly active Clubhouse members in January 2021.

It’s still only available on iOS, Apple’s platform, but Android is “coming soon.” Clubhouse is currently worth over US$1billion. 

Yes, but what does it do?

It is an audio-only social app that allows people to create “rooms” to discuss any topic of their choice. 

In their words: This past week, two million people around the world — musicians, scientists, creators, athletes, comedians, parents, entrepreneurs, stock traders, non-profit leaders, authors, artists, real estate agents, sports fans, and more — came to Clubhouse to talk, learn, laugh, be entertained, meet, and connect.

Think of it like a Zoom call but with no video. Below is an image of the home screen. The layout is simple and easy to use. The rooms highlighted are trending at the moment, and I assume as this grows, it will be more tailored to individual interests. 

Interests are chosen during onboarding and can be changed any time through the settings on an individual profile. My two cents is that they have done an excellent job with the UX for something that could get extremely messy. Excellent use of emojis, too.

The search function also makes discoverability exceptionally easy.

From left to right: Clubhouse home screen, how "interests" are added to a profile, and the search function.
From left to right: Clubhouse home screen, how "interests" are added to a profile, and the search function.

The profile page looks like many other social media pages. You can find me on there as @jodiehop, where I’m going to trial hosting events for the INMA Product Initiative.  

Below is what a room looks like. There are usually just a few speakers, much like a panel. The person who is speaking has a subtle ring around their profile. 

The audience is split into two segments: “followed by the speakers” and “others in the room.” As an attendee, you can tap on any profile pic to get a brief profile and the ability to follow that person. 

On the bottom right is the ability to raise your hand. The speakers have the ability to unmute that person in order for them to ask a question. 

You’ll also notice a leave quietly button in the bottom left. No one gets notified if you skip out.

From left to right: Clubhouse profile page, a room inside the app, and options for start a room inside.
From left to right: Clubhouse profile page, a room inside the app, and options for start a room inside.

Who uses Clubhouse?

One of the reasons Clubhouse is driving the news is that prominent celebrities such as Oprah, Kevin Hart, and Elon Musk have hosted conversations.

It’s also made for people with Zoom and screen fatigue. Although Clubhouse uses a screen, it doesn’t depend on the screen once you’re in. In fact the founders both have very small children and that was one of the factors that led to an audio only app.  

A room can be open to everyone, only for people you follow, or closed, for people you choose. Again, the UX is excellent, so it’s exceptionally easy to start a room yourself.

So, what’s the relationship to news?

This is still very much “to be decided.” One of the reasons we think it deserves attention is not necessarily Clubhouse itself, but that Twitter has launched a similar product called “Spaces” and The New York Times reported Facebook is working on something similar. This format is going mainstream. 

Another reason is anecdotal evidence suggests people spend a lot of time on the app. In the attention economy, this is important. Perhaps this is both an opportunity to increase the top of the funnel by attracting new users, as well as to provide premium services through “members-only” rooms with exclusive content. 

Lastly, Clubhouse has announced that it will be launching payment options for subscriptions, tipping, and ticket sales. If this format scales, there will be revenue value in itself in the same way events have become part of media businesses. 

Anything else I should know?

As with many new apps coming out of Silicon Valley (called me biased!), the audience is still predominantly white, skewed male and U.S.-based (to be fair, I meet two out of three of those criteria.) 

There have been some security issues around the recordings. This is only really an issue for more private rooms, and it seems Clubhouse has patched the security. It’s also worth noting that we haven’t seen any of the takeovers of the audio in the same way as people hacked into live Zoom calls. 

Want access to Clubhouse but don’t have an invitation? I have a few left so hit me up! And if your news organisation is planning something on Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces, I’d love to hear about it. Please message me at jodie.hopperton@inma.org.

Dates for the Diary

Tuesday, March 9, 11:30 a.m. New York time: I’ll be doing a session on Clubhouse with Karl Oskar Tein, director of product at Schibsted Subscription News, talking about the learnings above and Clubhouse itself and the opportunities for news. Come chat with us! You can join here or follow @jodiehop or @teien.

Also on Tuesday, March 9, 6:30 p.m. New York time: I’ll be on Slack for 30 minutes doing an Ask Me Anything on the same subjects on March 9 for our U.S. west coast and Asia friends.

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here

About Jodie Hopperton

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