Is ‘Clubhouse’ The Next Social Media Platform for Financial Marketers?

Financial institutions struggled for years finding their footing with Facebook and Twitter, and they are still trying to get their arms around Instagram and TikTok. So it is little surprise that they quickly tune out when it comes to Clubhouse, the new kid on the block. This new social channel is blazing hot, and its viral trajectory means Clubhouse might be worth serious consideration.

Launched in April 2020, Clubhouse is an audiocast social networking app featuring a wide variety of virtual rooms with conversations on diverse topics — from business and politics, to celebrities and sports. It’s essentially a collection of livestreamed podcasts with multiple participants, not unlike “barcamps” (if you remember what those are).

By December 2020, Clubhouse had around 600,000 users. Only two months later, the app had exploded tenfold, surpassing over six million users in just its first year of operation — more than Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat had combined in their first 12 months. In fact, Instagram was the last major social platform to grow this fast, but they were open to the public. Clubhouse, however, is still in beta and is only available in Apple’s App Store (here), operating under an “invitation only” basis.

Given the pandemic, it’s not hard to get your head around the meteoric rise of Clubhouse; people are desperate for social interaction. Its exclusivity and conversation quality are also notable factors contributing to the app’s impressive growth. In the not-too-distant future, Clubhouse will open the app to the public and release a version for Android.

Between the Lines:

Financial marketers largely ignored Snapchat and TikTok because they don’t connect with the same demographic as banking providers, making it difficult to rationalize an investment of time and resources. Clubhouse is different.

In a business setting, you could think of Clubhouse as a sort of virtual conference with talks and lectures on a wide range of topics — some more structured and formal, others more casual and conversational. You can hop from room to room listening to, and participating in, any of the 50+ discussions happening at any given time.

Some rooms are private and closed to the public — small intimate conversations like those you might have in your living room. Others are conference-like panel discussions with 5,000 (the current room limit) people participating from around the globe. Listeners can ask a question at any time, and will often get invited up on “stage” to expound on their views.

Each time you enter a room, you are registered as being in that room, so everyone knows you are there. If you don’t behave, you can be banned. Knowing who is in the room gives you the ability to connect with others to further discuss the topic, or to invite them to another talk that they might also find interesting.

The app’s bread and butter are sessions focused around specific topics. You could join rooms with discussions on the latest marketing trends, financial technologies, digital transformation, the future of work, trends in commercial real estate, or climate change. Some rooms are specially designed for networking, or you could create a room to elicit feedback on a new idea. Influencers like Elon Musk, Oprah, Mark Cuban, Ashton Kutcher, Kat Cole, and other techno-cultural elites are regularly active on Clubhouse.

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What Clubhouse Is Not

To better understand Clubhouse, it helps to understand what it is not. Unlike most every other social channel, Clubhouse is audio-centric — not text, visual or video. You don’t have to look good in front of a camera, and — like a podcast — it’s perfect to have on in the background while multitasking.

Other than your bio picture, there is no visual imagery anywhere. There is also nowhere to add comments or messages. There are no likes, links, ads, or personal data to sell to marketing firms. In other words, you are not the product, and you must be online for other users to find you. That is a markedly different social media construct than most everything else out there.

Users also use their full names. In this age of “Fake Famous,” these factors are all critical; bots do little good, and the structure takes away much of the anonymity, thereby reducing trolls and bullying. With the scourges of social media limited and the ephemeralness of the platform, members are motivated to engage in person-to-person communication — an ironically novel approach in the current social media environment made even more relevant by the pandemic.

Why It Matters:

The extemporaneous nature of Clubhouse conversations makes them unique to other social media experiences. Unlike podcasts, you can ask questions and interact with the content. And whether you use the app personally or professionally, the signal-to-noise ratio is so great that it makes it one of the most efficient channels for synthesizing information.

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7 Reasons Clubhouse is Worth a Closer Look

1. Expand your network. Part of your unique value to your financial institution is the quality of your professional relationships. Up to this point, most bankers have relied on their offline connections and those developed on LinkedIn. Now you have another professional avenue that can efficiently expand your professional network.

2. Thought leadership. Banking executives can hold talks and ask questions, prompting investors, analysts, potential customers, and vendors to take notice.

3. Branding. Clubhouse has no clear monetization strategy as of yet, but room sponsorship is a natural fit and will likely catch on. In fact, brands have just recently begun to sponsor rooms. Bank and credit unions focusing on niche markets such as healthcare professionals or tech companies will find it easy and inexpensive to sponsor relevant rooms, thereby enhancing their brand with targeted audiences.

Soon enough, brands will create invitation-only events that will reverberate through both social and public relation channels. Had Pepsi sponsored a room around the Super Bowl and brought in their halftime performer for a chat, they might have broken the internet. The intimacy that a Clubhouse room affords — combined with the ability for brand executives to listen and interact with consumers at scale — is a game-changer. The missing feature is functionality to control a listener’s privacy and data. At present, Clubhouse records conversations to help police conduct, but users aren’t permitted to make recordings. (Note: Recordings potentially violate privacy regulations in both California and Europe, but Clubhouse will likely be introducing greater privacy controls and disclosures that address these concerns.)

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4. Input from a diverse community. There are few places on the internet where you can quickly assimilate quality feedback. Say, for instance, you want to develop a custodial checking account for seniors. Within an hour on Clubhouse, you can get live Input from a variety of experts and consumers — behavioral psychologists, marketers, economists, regulators, politicians, and even (possibly) CEOs from other financial institutions.

5. Knowledge building. If you are dedicated to expanding your mind and talents, Clubhouse presents a life-changing thoroughfare. Marketing, technology, and fintech advice abound on Clubhouse, but the app offers much more. For the curious, being able to walk into a high-quality talk on what Olympians had to sacrifice to achieve greatness, understanding what bipolar life is really like, or learning how to be a better parent, can change your life.

6. Serendipity. Among the many negative consequences of the pandemic is that COIVD-19 shrunk everyone’s world and has taken away much of life’s randomness. Clubhouse — at least on a small scale — helps restore a part of the humanity we’ve lost and provides an element of randomness to help potentially fuel inspiration and stimulate our creativity.

7. Customer engagement. While Clubhouse is still in its infancy, the medium holds promise for brands looking to support customers. Banks and credit unions could use the channel to assist with onboarding and product support, or create user groups around financial education and literacy. Expect financial brands to start experimenting with such ideas in the coming months.

For now, Clubhouse is an experiment. But its potential value and explosive growth deserves your attention now. The nascent platform may partially disrupt podcasting while providing the world with a novel platform in which to grow yourself and your organization.

Clubhouse feels like Twitter back in 2007, or SXSW back in 2013 — both demarcations of real commercial potential back when they were just starting to be understood. The platform is poised to become the next major social media player. At the very least, the success of Clubhouse will surely alter how other social media channels like Facebook and Twitter interact with their users.

Bottom Line:

Any banker who ever uttered the word “innovation” should walk the talk, and get familiar with the platform. The time to experiment with Clubhouse is now, so you can gain a deeper understanding of this movement later.

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