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Industry Contributor 24 Feb 2021 -

The three behavioural factors driving Clubhouse’s massive rise

By Bethanie Blanchard - Strategy Lead, Carat Melbourne

Clubhouse is the newest social platform to gain significant traction globally since TikTok, with 4 million downloads in just the last month. But what behavioural factors does the app tap into that are driving this surge in user interest?

What you need to know:

  • Clubhouse is a new invite-only social platform coming out of Silicon Valley
  • It centres on audio with voice-only ‘rooms’ where people can discuss everything from entrepreneurship to dating
  • Access to celebrities has been a key element, with names including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Ai Weiwei, and Crissy Teigen all speaking on the platform
  • Part of its success is that it taps into clear behavioural drivers to attract user uptake: scarcity, in group bias, and reducing choice overload

Mash together a podcast, LinkedIn and a late-night party conversation, and you’re somewhere close to the experience of Clubhouse – a new social platform gaining momentum globally, that allows users access to authentic if freewheeling conversations, away from the curated visual form.

In a Clubhouse room on Saturday, I listened as co-founder Paul Davison spoke with others ‘on stage’ about the benefits of the app: “Video is now a bug not a feature. This is the most intimate conversation for many-to-many interactions. You don’t have to worry about what you look like, what your house looks like. This is a whole new interaction pattern.”

What sets Clubhouse apart is the focus on audio. There is an intimacy to the unedited, unplanned and pure voice nature of the platform. But it’s worth diving deeper into the behavioural tactics the app is using to drive this massive rise.

1. Scarcity

In the scarcity heuristic, what is less readily available is seen as more valuable, and though many apps use this approach to signal desirability – such as the recent celebs-only dating app Raya – Clubhouse is quite overtly employing this tactic.

On the most obvious level, Clubhouse is invite-only. Each user has only two invites to give out, so entrance isn’t just about knowing someone who is already in. Some users are currently selling invites on eBay for up to AU$105.

Yet the scarcity is also inherent in the content of the app itself. Conversations happen in real time and are not archived for later listening. Try to screen record, and you’ll get a pop-up warning of account suspension. Rooms and speakers are fleeting and unannounced. The ephemerality lends it a ‘you had to be there’ feeling that has led to the buzz.

Of course, it is not just the nature of the conversations, but who is saying it that has been key: the celebrity element. It was the place Elon Musk chose to talk to the CEO of Robinhood following the Gamestop saga, where Mark Zuckerberg spoke about AR and VR, and just last week Lupe Fiasco ran a room on the experience of being cancelled.

What remains to be seen is if celebs continue to choose the platform to talk to these culture defining topics, or if they fall away as the app reaches critical mass (or indeed if they retreat to their own versions of the platform). Without the more prominent speakers, the app has a danger of losing the key element of this scarcity value.

2. Reducing Choice overload

Choice overload is the overwhelming feeling people get when presented with a large number of options to choose from. Think of the time you spend scrolling through Netflix at night.

In a time when most social networks have so much content flooding news feeds, platforms skew users towards overwhelming breadth but not depth. Clubhouse has inbuilt mechanisms to overcome this paralysis. The simplicity of live talks means it’s very easy to jump into whatever is happening in your feed, a compelling offering for a screen-fatigued audience.

More interesting is that the app is navigable by just 14 broad interest buckets or themes, with limited sub interests beneath them. It is not searchable by hashtag or topic name, thereby giving users fewer options to give their limited attention to.

3 In-group bias

In group bias is the tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others who belong in the same group.

This is inherent in the invite-only nature of the platform, but beyond this, Clubhouse’s rooms aim to foster connection around lived experience and knowledge swapping. (The fact that the app icon itself is neither a logo nor a pic of a founder but rather an image of a user, signals the flat structured in-group philosophy.)

The ‘Vegemite on Toast’ club, for example, was created by two expats because they missed hearing the Australian accent. The club is useful in supporting Australian voices on a thus-far US centric platform, existing to ‘onboard’ new Aussies with sessions daily. There are 24/7 rooms running such as ‘Where the bloody hell are ya?’ that tap into an affection for Australia and have covered everything from shark sightings to politics to learning Asian languages.

But with these authentic conversations there are risks. Clubhouse has come under fire for its lack of moderation policies, with complaints about misinformation and hate speech. Ultimately, Clubhouse will have to grapple with the same difficult questions around ‘freedom of speech vs freedom of reach’ that all other social platforms have had to answer, but if these negative elements were to continue, they would undermine the feeling of belonging that is helping its rise.

Upshot

Importantly for brands, the platform won’t be advertiser focused. According to the New York Times, the founders “have said the company plans to make money through ticketed events, subscriptions and tipping, but will not sell ads.” While these paid events will help monetise, it may mean Clubhouse loses the very spontaneity and access that made the app stand out in the first place. 

Regardless, after a week of listening, engaging, and jumping in and out of rooms, it does feel like a meaningful entrant to the types of social networks we will see on our phones.

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Bethanie Blanchard

Strategy Lead, Carat Melbourne

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