What on earth happened to Clubhouse?

It seems like eons ago now, but back in the spring last year, I was singing the praises of Clubhouse, the audio-only social platform that was taking the market by storm. (You can read my musings here.)

At the time, I was considering how I would – and could – incorporate Clubhouse management into my Done For You social media management services. Like so many other social media managers, I really thought it was the next big thing in my industry; a once-in-a-generation concept that would change the playing field forever.

Alright… maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But the numbers were telling me I had to consider moving in Clubhouse’s direction. At its peak, Clubhouse reached 8 million downloads in one month. That was pretty impressive, given that to begin with, the app was invite-only, and only available to iPhone users.

Plus, other major platforms were jumping on the audio trend. Twitter, for example, introduced voice tweets to try and stay ahead of the curve. It also released Twitter Spaces, billing it as ‘the place where live audio conversations happen’.

All the signs were telling me Clubhouse was the place to be.

Then, as quickly as Clubhouse seemingly rose to the top, everything went quiet on the social audio front. The trend lost pace.

The statistics tell us that downloads of Clubhouse steadily declined after they peaked in mid-2021. Despite making the app accessible via the web, engagement took a tumble. And people in my network who were once fierce advocates of the platform were getting tired of the format and heading back to their old favourites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn.

So what happened? Why did the app fail to keep its users coming back for more?

In my opinion, there are five key reasons for this drop-off:

1. Pretty basic features weren’t introduced fast enough

Clubhouse’s initial air of exclusivity got people interested to begin with. But after a flurry of interest, the app failed to introduce anything new or exciting to keep their audiences hooked. For example, it didn’t bring in a record function, which was something its followers were desperate for. And Android access was added far too late for most people’s liking.

2. The invite system fell flat

I’ve heard multiple reports of account holders being penalised for inviting too many people to the app at once – even though this was Clubhouse’s main way of driving adoption. So, it was relatively simple to set up a discussion, but unnecessarily difficult to get people to join in! I can see why this would put a lot of users – and marketers – off.

3. Discussions aren’t always all they were cracked up to be

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure plenty of amazing conversations happened – and are still happening – across Clubhouse. But many people started complaining that the discussions they were entering into weren’t adding value, weren’t particularly engaging, or were turning into shameless sales pitches from so-called gurus with no credibility whatsoever. 

4. People struggle to find the right conversation at the right time

The thing about a podcast is, you can cut and edit the final version to make it more engaging and more digestible. You can summarise its entire contents in a short synopsis, so that people can decide whether it’s their cup of tea (or not). 

The same can’t be said about the kinds of live, interactive sessions Clubhouse was (and still is) trying to champion.

Users sometimes spend hours flitting between calls, trying to find something they can stick with (and getting increasingly frustrated when they can’t). Let’s be honest, who’s really got the time to sit on live sessions with no guarantee they’re going to get what they need from the content they’ve chosen? Not me, that’s for sure. 

5. The format is too much of a brain drain for many people

Perhaps it’s a funny thing to say, seeing as we’re all chasing more meaningful experiences online – but users need to invest a lot more time and energy into a Clubhouse conversation than, say, a fleeting Facebook Live, or a quick Instagram Reel.

Longer form content is more of a commitment for both the people creating it and the people engaging with it.

In fairness to Clubhouse, it hit the market at the right time. People had the brain space for this kind of format at the height of the pandemic, when lockdowns were preventing face-to-face contact and we were all chasing fun, entertaining and insightful conversations to keep us sane. But since restrictions have eased up, we’ve rediscovered the many benefits of meeting in person, and we’ve gone back to juggling multiple commitments and having to make the most of our time.

All things considered, I think Clubhouse causes more problems than it solves right now. But it will be fascinating to see what the future holds for the app, and whether it will rise back up from the ashes or go down in history as yet another social media flash in the pan! 


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