Opinion: Clubhouse started the battle of social audio, but it’s Twitter’s to lose
In October of 2019, I wrote about the streaming wars and how the second wave of SVOD services were fast-forwarding the media landscape. The latest emerging media battle isn’t for our screens but instead for our ears. We’re literally at the beginning stages of the social audio era of media—one that has big implications for culture, information and marketing. It’s why Facebook is reportedly developing a Clubhouse copycat and why Twitter has accelerated the rollout of Twitter Spaces.
Clubhouse is setting the stage with a first-mover advantage
There’s no doubt that, right now, Clubhouse is benefitting from its early start in the social audio space. The platform’s “invite only” rollout strategy triggers just enough Studio 54-like #fomo to spike sweeping user interest. With a $1 billion valuation, Clubhouse is ripe for the pandemic-induced stay-at-home climate—giving people a different kind of outlet for connection and community. There’s a “club” for just about any interest and, if not, you can just start one yourself (after hosting a “room” at least three times).
The ability to simply drop in and out of any room as a passive listener makes it a very approachable networking experience for all personality types. At least for now, during its early stages, Clubhouse is refreshingly equalizing when it comes to featuring a diverse set of voices which, in the end, may be its key differentiator. But as a nascent platform, it’s not without its hiccups—Clubhouse just released an update to address a data concern about possible Chinese spying. Still, the platform continues to break into mainstream culture with the speed of a bullet train.
Twitter Spaces will steal the spotlight with its social graph
While Twitter Spaces is still in limited beta, it’s already showing a number of intrinsic advantages that could quickly stifle Clubhouse’s momentum—a plot reminiscent of what Instagram did to Snapchat, the OG architect and first mover of “stories.” One advantage that Twitter has is that it was designed, from its inception, around the notion of “now moments,” generating an instant pulse of what’s happening in culture. This is something that’s fundamental to the real-time nature of social audio, which makes Twitter Spaces feel native to the Twitter experience.
The superpower of Twitter Spaces is that it leverages Twitter’s existing social graph to drive immediate engagement—joining a “space” is effortless. Users don’t have to download a separate app or build up a following from scratch. Those who already have a large number of followers on Twitter get immediate social currency when using Twitter Spaces. However, the platform is currently feature-light while it’s in beta. At the moment, Spaces can’t be named like rooms on Clubhouse, and there isn’t yet the concept of interest-based clubs. But these are all easily copied features that Twitter Spaces can adopt as it eyes a post-beta launch later this year.
Marketers should think beyond just advertising on social audio platforms
Although some describe the experience of social audio akin to Zoom without video, I’ve found it to be more like a live, participatory podcast. And because rooms are topic-based (and “clubs” are interest-based), the potential marketing opportunities are self-evident. But brands plotting their social audio strategies should think beyond just targeted advertising tactics and instead get creative with brand experiences.
This is a media that’s ripe for real-time engagement. Brands can conduct live Q&As tied to product launches, entertainment companies can host post-premiere (or finale) roundtable discussions, and publishers can plan micro-keynote events. For brands looking to cultivate community-based experiences, this is just the beginning of what’s possible.
As the social audio space matures, you can bet that there will be monetization opportunities for creators, subscription models for top-tier events, increased production value, and better form factors for user engagement. New entrants (like Facebook/Instagram) will quickly fragment and saturate the market. But who ultimately wins the battle of social audio will come down to the quality and strength of the communities that form on each platform.
While it’s a battle that seems like it’s Twitter’s to lose, perhaps Clubhouse will fare similarly to TikTok, whose armor has yet to be dinged from the myriad short-form video copycats. Like TikTok, Clubhouse already has a flourishing community. And, in the end, a sense of community—no matter the medium—is something that’s extremely hard to replicate.