Marketing lessons from Clubhouse’s boom and bust
Marketing lessons from Clubhouse’s boom and bust

By on in Strategy

Marketing lessons from Clubhouse’s boom and bust

Historians help us derive lessons from the past. While we may not always heed them, it’s a smart way to learn. Unlike historical time–with its epochs and eras–in digital marketing, we don’t need to gaze into the distant past to find valuable takeaways.

With that in mind, we turn to Clubhouse, an app that experienced a frenzied launch in April 2020. Even though it was invite-only, millions flocked to the platform in its early days.

However, since that explosive start, things have cooled considerably. While the founders are tight-lipped about actual user stats, the number of Clubhouse meetups touted on LinkedIn has reduced from a deluge to a trickle. And in their last big interviews–from October and November of 2021–the founders were quick to acknowledge that Clubhouse’s growth was too fast and unmanageable.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can dissect the rise and fall of Clubhouse to glean important lessons for the next generation of tech executives, entrepreneurs, and the marketers who work alongside them.

This misalignment between talk and walk is one of the fastest ways to erode trust. And without trust, you have nothing. No future marketing message will work–no matter how good it sounds–because you’ve demonstrated that your words don’t reflect reality.


Solve a real problem and talk about it eloquently

Marketing 101 involves developing a crystal-clear value proposition for your new product or service. What do you do differently–and better–than anyone else?

Clubhouse’s product description on the App Store says, “[Clubhouse is] so much more than just social media or audio–everyone can be a creator, all you need is your voice!”

That sounds exciting, but is it true that they’re offering “so much more” than any other social platform? Anyone can be a creator on TikTok or Instagram, too. Sure, the audio-only thing is novel, but why do people need that? What makes it superior to written, photographic, or video social content?

The other benefits the App Store description touts include:

  • “Search to find conversations on every topic–meditation, crypto, fashion, bluegrass, green energy, movies, breaking news, urban planning, social justice, or communities that somehow combine all of these things into one and then some.” This is already happening on other social platforms. One need look no further than RuPaw’s Drag Race (yes, that’s a cat-drag queen Instagram account) or LizaMinnelliOutlives on Twitter to know that strange, wonderful, surprising, and VERY niche corners of the internet already exist.
  • “Drop into rooms while you’re commuting, walking your dog, or running in the park…Sit back and listen, or raise your hand if you’d like to talk.” Audiobooks and podcasts are already part of commute or exercise routines for many, and anyone who lives in New York has watched countless influencers create live social content on the streets of SoHo. On-the-go social media is not a differentiator.
  • “Build your profile. Clubhouse is all about creativity. Personalize your profile photo…or create a perfect bio that brings your authentic self to the world.” All social media platforms have customizable profiles–what is Clubhouse doing differently here?

Unfortunately, the rush of excitement around Clubhouse’s launch meant the team didn’t get any time in stealth mode to test and learn with real users. Without that safe space to experiment, Clubhouse couldn’t find its special thing.

And the issue persists today: the platform is still struggling to articulate its unique value.


Get personalization right

We’ve written before about the importance of meaningful personalization–at this point, personalization is table stakes in any marketing effort.

When you join Clubhouse, they ask you to share topics that interest you so the algorithm can customize your experience.

When I signed up a few days ago, I selected storytelling, entrepreneurship, books, education, and networking as my topics. But when I got to the homepage, I found a random assortment of rooms waiting for me (formatting and spelling are theirs, not mine):

  • How to make $1000 with REELS
  • THOUGHTS BECOME THINGS:A Negative Mind Won’t Give U A + Life
  • Like It or Not; You Were Born to Build Wealth!

Honestly, I’m not even sure what that last one means, but I don’t think any of them have to do with my stated interests.

By way of contrast, think about TikTok’s For You Page. It has become a thing of social media legend, serving up content that is uncannily on-point. Users are greeted with videos that are squarely in their specific little wheelhouse, and that personalized welcome is what keeps folks flipping through clips for hours.


Take user concerns seriously

Part of building a product people love is being responsive to their concerns. Clubhouse has lagged in addressing legitimate worries voiced by users. Again, this is partially a result of its too-fast early growth, but users have every right to expect a safe and satisfactory experience with any product.

Like other social platforms, Clubhouse has struggled to quell misinformation and hate speech. And unfortunately, users continue to be disappointed by responses from even the most established social media brands.

But while Meta takes heat, the organization can absorb more criticism by simply being too big to fail. Users are so entrenched in their Facebook and Instagram networks that disconnecting feels like too big a risk. With a new app like Clubhouse, though, there’s less hesitancy around hitting uninstall.

Another complaint Clubhouse heard in the early days was that creators had no way to be compensated for their work on the platform.

It took a full year for the app to incorporate a direct payment feature, and even then, it was rolled out slowly and only to “a small test group” to start.


Sync words and actions

These two gaffes around meeting user expectations speak to a larger issue: Good marketing touts what you’re actually doing and offering. Bad marketing says lots of great things that your brand doesn’t ultimately live up to.

You can’t claim to be a platform that builds community and connections around the world and then allow hate speech and misinformation to flourish. You can’t say you’re a fun place for creators to make something and expect them to do it for free, with no way to even ask for compensation.

This misalignment between talk and walk is one of the fastest ways to erode trust. And without trust, you have nothing. No future marketing message will work–no matter how good it sounds–because you’ve demonstrated that your words don’t reflect reality.

To be clear, it’s not necessarily curtains for Clubhouse. Despite a noticeable dropoff in initial interest, the platform still has millions of users. If it can hone its approach and message, it still has the chance to retain and (hopefully, someday) delight users with a unique and extraordinary experience. While the story of its launch is already logged in the history books, its future remains unwritten.

If you’re looking for help drafting the next chapter of your marketing efforts, reach out to FATFREE.