Last month, Chiptole and e.l.f. cosmetics jumped on Clubhouse in a panel discussion that was more the app’s speed. Tressie Lieberman, VP of digital and off-premise marketing, Kory Marchisotto, chief marketing officer, e.l.f., held a talk about women’s empowerment on International Women’s Day, which coincided with a collaboration between the two brands.
“Audio has been building momentum for the past decade and it’s now an important component to social content and brand identity,” Lieberman said by email. “With platforms like Clubhouse, there's a way to truly engage with communities and have a unique experience.”
With IHOP's bacon-sizzle room, which was conceived by agency Droga5, the goal was to simply have fun testing the new platform, Kieran Donahue, chief marketing officer at the restaurant chain said in an email.
“By bringing our fans and bacon lovers alike a branded sensory experience, that is apt to drive cravings for bacon,” she wrote. “It allowed us to put a singular focus on the product while still creating something people want to engage with. Users seem to understand that it’s a fun, yet silly way to deploy an ad, and are voluntarily listening to it for longer than any media buy.”
Donahue says IHOP was drawn to the spike in interest in Clubhouse, which helped the brand “garner a significant amount of awareness and talk-value around the campaign just by way of showing up on the platform.”
As more brands start considering these types of promotions, Walter T. Geer III, exec creative director of experience design at VMLY&R, says that the IHOP stunt on Clubhouse shows why brands need to think through their audio strategy a little more deeply. As with any new space, brands can interrupt a good time, says Geer, adding that’s how IHOP seemed to appear there.
“How horrific was that,” Geer says. “It speaks to the point that the app isn’t necessarily ready for brands yet, for plenty of reasons. You get some brands that are coming here trying to do stuff like that, just to say that they were on the app and it’s just pointless; I just didn’t find that meaningful.”
Geer says there is still potential in audio, especially with other platforms adopting it, but marketers need to better understand the services. Clubhouse is still new, there are few bells and whistles, and little data to analyze about whether a program even worked, he says. For instance, there are no meaningful metrics about the audience and who even sat in on a session, Geer says.
And similar to most social platforms, Clubhouse has come with some brand-safety concerns, Geer says. Reports surfaced this week that bad actors harvested data from 1.3 million Clubhouse users. There’s also questions regarding how much of the user base could actually be bots. And of course, there’s also the potential for conversations to arise that offend brand sensibilities.
“There’s that problem on Clubhouse of trying to figure out who is authentic and who is just a grifter,” says Chantelle Marcelle, head of growth at PromoPrep, a marketing software platform and early user of Clubhouse. “So, I tend to not like to join rooms that are hosted by someone that I’m not familiar with their brand. With Twitter, there’s a lot more signals to determine if someone is actually credible or not.”
Twitter tries its hand
The format is about to come to Twitter, which is almost ready to make Spaces, its Clubhouse clone, available to everyone. LinkedIn and Facebook are also developing audio-only rooms, and the online forum Discord is a growing place for audio. Spotify also acquired Beatty Labs, the maker of the audio social app Locker Room, last month.
The entry of these platforms signals a turning point in audio. Even if Clubhouse, which has claimed to host 10 million users since launching last year, never makes the leap to mass adoption, audio will have a place much like video on other channels.
“There is just too much money on the table to be made from that [audio] area and there is a ton of interest among brands in utilizing what could be the next hot thing in social media,” Marcelle says.
Twitter and LinkedIn are viewed as two of the most fertile platforms, as they both come with built-in brand interest.
Twitter Spaces has been in a testing stage of development since December and is close to opening to all users, says Alex Josephson, head of Twitter Next, the brand strategy team at the company. Unlike Clubhouse, which has had some restrictions on how brands can interact, Twitter would allow all brand accounts to create audio rooms.
“Right now, brands, they’re able to listen to Spaces,” Josephson says. "But Twitter is working to very soon enable anyone on Twitter to create a space, so that will include brands.”
So what can brands even do with an audio-only event? Josephson describes just the type of experimentation that IHOP did on Clubhouse frying bacon as part of a bigger product launch. Twitter’s built-in followings, where brands have spent years already cultivating personas, can help in these types of promotions.
IHOP was on Twitter, too, promoting its Clubhouse room, and its fans responded to the tweets with bacon emojis. There could be more to this type of marketing than the sounds of frying, though.
“If you’re launching something new, the way you want to think about Spaces as a brand is to think about it as a place to leak or tease pieces of information leading up to a big product release,” Josephson says. “You could imagine a sneaker designer talking about the creative process in the days leading up to the big sneaker drop.”
“You could see screenwriters and directors hosting Spaces with fans around a highly anticipated movie trailer drop,” Josephson continues. “If you’re a brand and you’re launching a campaign with a new celebrity spokesperson, Spaces could be a really compelling instrument as part of that unveiling.”
LinkedIn to the marketing crowd
LinkedIn would likely serve a different type of marketing crowd than Twitter. The business-oriented site, owned by Microsoft, is already a favorite of many Clubhouse users. There are no text chats in Clubhouse rooms, so speakers often already congregate on LinkedIn to message each other during talks.
LinkedIn has not released too many details of when it will roll out audio rooms, but the company is acting fast. It took LinkedIn years to develop its version of Stories, which are ephemeral videos that disappear in 24 hours. Stories were designed by Snapchat in 2014 and then adopted by almost every platform, but LinkedIn did not launch them until 2020. LinkedIn is being more aggressive with audio.
The company shared mock-ups of the feature with Ad Age; the audio rooms look very much like Clubhouse.
“We’re seeing nearly 50% growth in conversations on LinkedIn reflected in stories, video shares and posts on the platform,” Suzi Owens, a LinkedIn spokesperson, said by email. “We’re doing some early tests to create a unique audio experience connected to your professional identity. And we're looking at how we can bring audio to other parts of LinkedIn, such as events and groups, to give our members even more ways to connect to their community.”
As the industry re-thinks in person events for a post-pandemic world, audio meetups can serve an important function. These platforms make socializing and attending various sessions easy. They also require less legwork to pull off.
“There’s a lot less planning and preparation involved when you don’t have to create slides and worry about how you look,” Marcelle says. “You can just jump in and start talking about a topic and focus on the value of the information that you’re providing.”
Clubhouse has been considered an alternative to live events, which were shut down for in-person attendance for the past year. Instead of going to a convention center, people are just opening up apps and finding the speakers that interest them. Clubhouse has featured Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Chris Rock and even Oprah Winfrey.
“What Clubhouse managed to crack is it’s really a similar behavior and flow as going to a conference,” says Yuval Ben-Itzhak, president of Socialbakers, a social media analytics platform. “You go between the different rooms, to the talks that you’re interested in. You have the option to follow up with speakers, you have the option to participate, and that seems to be different than any previous attempt to turn the text-based chat into voice-based.”