How High Can Clubhouse Fly?

Woman in Wired Headphones holding Smartphone with Clubhouse drop in audio chat application on screen. New social network launched in 2020 by Alpha Exploration Co. Piombino, Italy – February 16 2021

It’s so hot that invitations to the app are being sold on e-commerce platforms

Unless you’ve moved to Mars, you will have heard about an application called “Clubhouse”. The new and exclusive audio-based networking application is the “in” thing around the globe, and its popping up everywhere in tech-savvy Thailand as well. Clubhouse has become a public space where the local who’s who hang out to talk or share their views. Even you’re not really into tech, you’ll still be tempted to join for fear of missing out.

Politicians like Thananthorn Juangroongruangkit, Sudarat Keyuraphan and Korn Chatikavanij rub shoulders with celebrities including singer Jetrin Wattanasin, TV host Wuttitorn “Woody” Milintajinda, rapper Joey Boy and Big Mountain festival godfather Yuthana “Pa Ted” Boonorm and media magnets Nakarin “Ken” Wanakijpaibul from The Standard, Oranuch “Mimee” Lerdsuwankij from TechSauce and veteran journalist Suthichai Yoon. Obviously, everyone has embraced the new application at the speed of light.

The fast-growing popularity of Clubhouse has media experts wondering whether it will dethrone the existing social media champions. The app is actually still very much in its infancy. Clubhouse was launched by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Paul Davidson and Rohan Seth of Alpha Exploration in March 2020, and has only taken Thailand’s social media scene by storm over the past two weeks. Its overnight popularity comes as no surprise – Thais, after all, are the champions of Facebook.

Elon Musk, exclusivity and curiosity are driving the growth

Clubhouse is an exclusive, invite-only social networking app. It’s like a house party where you need an invitation to enter or an exclusive club where you have to be sponsored for membership by an existing member. It’s a bit tricky here: Clubhouse aims to attract the masses and at the same time is an elitist networking site. Yet it’s that exclusivity that motivates enthusiasts to find invitations and join up.

You start by downloading the application then wait for an invitation from an existing user. Another unintentionally exclusive nature of Clubhouse is that it is now only available on IOS which means only iPhone owners can be on Clubhouse. Owners of android phones will have to wait for the next phase,which the developers say will come soon. The IOS-only featurehas prompted some to express disappointment at this apparent discrimination. But Clubhouse made it clear from the beginning that as a small startup, it chose to begin its Beta stage with IOS first because it’s easier to deal with and accounts for 20 percent of total users.

So, what does Elon Musk have to do with the growth of Clubhouse?  It was when Musk hosted an audio-chat on Clubhouse with Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev that the world woke up to the app. As real-time participation in each room (event) is limited in terms of capacity, the talk quickly reached the limit and was live-streamed to YouTube. The rest is history:Clubhouse shot to the top of the startup chart. From 1,500 users, Clubhouse now has more than 2 million users as of February 1. In Thailand, it is estimated to exceed 100,000.

A room on Writing for Communicaitons

Demand outstrips supply

The platform has exploded in popularity in Thailand and therefore the demand for membership is so hot that there’s a market for it. In Thailand, invitations are being sold on e-commerce platform Shopee at prices starting from 200 baht. Thailand is not the only place where people find a Clubhouse invitation marketable. In China, invitations are being sold on Alibaba’s second-hand market place Idle Fish. Elsewhere, the invitations are being sold on e-commerce platforms like eBay and Reddit.

On Facebook, Clubhouse enthusiasts have set up a group called “Clubhouse Thailand Community” which has around 7,000 members. Most common posts in the group, apart from a highlighted event of the day, are those looking for help in getting invited to the platform. The more exclusive it feels, the more attractive it seems.

However, it will take quite some time to see users soar to the same level as Facebook and Twitter because Clubhouse is still very much under development. The company is recruiting more staff, but currently has only 10 people on its books.

This is how Twitter Spaces look like

The niche threatening the giants

After successfully joining Clubhouse, you select topics of interest, like knowledge, business, tech or health. Information on your interests helps the app recommend the events that may interest you.

The audio-based app allows people to tune in like listening to radio or podcast but offers the chance to interact with public figures or experts too. You can press the “raise hand” icon and a moderator will take you up on the stage to ask a question. A moderator can also control the event by removing a person from the stage and closing a microphone if needed. The transparent nature of the app (that shows all faces of those “on stage” and participants) and the fact that it gives exclusive interaction are other attractions that make Clubhouse  stand out from other social media champions.

It is expected that the app will go mainstream after the addition of Android access. The unfettered conservation feature has drawn a lot of enthusiasts and current social media leaders including Twitter and Facebook are closely monitoring its growth. Twitter recently launched “Spaces” – also audio-based – to counter the arrival of the new kid in town, while Facebook is said to be coming up with something in order to maintain its position. The reactions from the giants signal that Clubhouse is onto something good. Clubhouse could be one of the hottest apps for digital marketers later this year, unseating TikTokwhich was reigned for the last two years. But it is still too early to say. Time will tell whether this new kid in town can really overthrow the heavyweights.

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