Launched in March 2020, Clubhouse is an exclusive social networking app that works on an invite-only basis. The app is best described as a combination of a podcast and a talk show, offering users a chance to drop into a ‘room’ and listen to live conversations or interviews on a wide variety of topics, similar to the structure of a radio program. Once you’re invited to the app, you can select different topics of interest like health and fitness or technology. The app will use your selected interests to recommend conversation rooms or individuals that you might like to follow.
Although it’s already been around for a year, Clubhouse only entered the mainstream arena of social media last month when Tesla’s Elon Musk hosted an audio chat with Vladimir Tenev, CEO of Robinhood. This chat bolstered the platform’s popularity and it has since grown to over 2 million users.
To gain some insight on Clubhouse and how brands can use it to activate and engage with their communities, and for managing influencer relationships, we caught up with Gareth Pon: travel influencer and Creative Lead for Coca-Cola.
Q&A with Gareth Pon
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your growth as a travel influencer on Instagram, and your role as Creative Lead at Coca-Cola in Atlanta?
My background is in film and photography, so I've always been a creative at heart. I was an early adopter of Instagram in my home country of South Africa in 2012, where I helped craft a local community that led to the platform’s initial growth in SA. Since then, I’ve travelled the world as an influencer and photographer, working with multiple brands and agencies on various creative projects for their socials.
In 2016, I was offered a senior creative position at Havas in Chicago through a connection I had made in my Instagram network. This was my main focus for about three years until I relocated to Atlanta in 2019 as the new Creative Lead for Coca-Cola’s social media channels.
I strive to help brands find creative solutions to their problems, so I’ve really enjoyed curating what goes up on Coca-Cola’s social channels.
I’m super interested in all things space and science fiction and my dream is to travel to space one day. I decided one day to gamify my photos on Instagram by hiding a rocket in all my posts. This also doubles up as a way to help my followers pause and investigate my photos more.
2. What are your initial thoughts about the Clubhouse platform?
I’ve always loved hopping onto FaceTime calls and chatting to friends or getting to know new people, so I like how Clubhouse provides a platform to be able to converse with people around the world. There’s a degree of anonymity on the app which I also like, because you can drop into a room and be a brand new listener or request to go onto a ‘stage’ and talk.
I think the timing of the pandemic has also given way to a strategic rise in Clubhouse users since people have been stuck at home, desiring some sort of human interaction. I believe Clubhouse is a great way to meet and interact with new people, especially at this time where society really lacks this kind of social interaction.
3. What was it like using it for the first time?
It felt pretty natural using the platform for the first time. I’m naturally social by nature and honestly, I just love to talk. Once you join the platform, there’s a little celebration emoji next to your name for the first week. This helps other users see that you’re new, which makes the onboarding process really easy. I value community, connecting with people, and interacting with new platforms, so I’ve enjoyed dropping into rooms and listening to people talk about some amazing topics.
There were some rooms I didn’t find interesting at first, but once I selected the topics I wanted to learn about, it became super easy to join rooms and gain some insights.
4. Why do you think the notion of an invite-only app is so appealing?
I think the invite-only element of Clubhouse is appealing because it has a degree of exclusivity that makes a platform slightly more respected and desirable. That being said, it’s also just a marketing tactic and a way for the platform to manage users at the early sign-up stage.
5. Do you feel like Clubhouse is the next big thing - especially for brands who use social media to shout about what they do online?
I wouldn't say Clubhouse is the next big thing necessarily, as I feel it may have lost a little momentum right now. You can only talk so much about a certain topic, so the rooms I’ve noticed that have sustained their appeal are those with clear intentionality behind them, like meditation rooms or sports event chat rooms. People really enjoy these kinds of rooms, so I believe they will continue to do well.
I've co-hosted a few unofficial rooms with employees from agencies and companies where we talk about specific topics, but I wouldn't say this form of communicating with consumers will replace online channels like Twitter or customer service platforms. I think Clubhouse merely offers brands a different way of communicating with their consumers. And, if set up correctly, it could definitely help brands engage with their supporters in a more personal way.
There have been a couple of innovative ways brands have used Clubhouse for big PR stunts, for example, a pet food brand turned a room into a pedigree doghouse.
6. We’ve heard Clubhouse lacks a content moderation strategy, so there have been instances where virtual ‘rooms’ have disseminated false information. How should brands approach this to prevent it from happening to them?
Content moderation is overall an issue on social platforms in general. In order to prevent false information from getting shared, I’d recommend that there should always be someone in a room who takes on the role of a moderator. In all of the rooms I’ve hosted with other people, we've always remained very honest about topics we don't know anything about. But this isn’t the case all round.
I’ve been in some rooms where, like you said, people have presented false information as fact. That’s why I’d say having moderators who are really knowledgeable about topics being discussed in different rooms is first prize. And you can build on that by providing links to profiles or articles that will enhance the room’s credibility.
7. When TikTok took off during lockdown, some brands missed out on its initial virality and were slow to jump on the trend. How important is it for brands to embrace the latest platforms?
First, you need to define what kind of brand you want to be. A lot of companies hop onto the latest trends before establishing their own personal brand, so it just ends up being a wild goose chase of what's popular. And the reality of this is that it’s tiring, and if there aren’t new trends then stuff will get boring.
After establishing your brand voice, there are two ways you can approach being an early adopter of a platform. The first is to take a huge step back and see what new platforms are relevant to the way you communicate with your customers. The second is to let new platforms play out a little more and then jump onto those platforms with really smart, platform-specific content plans.
I always encourage brands to think twice about joining a new platform. It’s one thing to get on it really quickly and do something that gets a PR headline, but it's another thing to take some time and effort to craft a strategic approach to planning platform-specific content.
I don't encourage brands to chase new platform trends, because if that’s all you do, you're going to get yourself stuck in a place where it's going to be a permanent chase. Whereas if you craft something that consumers and fans can engage with from a lifestyle perspective, then they'll be your fans forever, no matter what you do.
8. What are your top tips for brands to activate and engage with their communities on Clubhouse?
- Be consistent. That's the first thing.
- If you're going to hop onto Clubhouse, make sure it's at a set time every week so people know it's coming.
- Find interesting topics where people will draw value from what you're sharing, because there's a lot of stuff on the platform that’s just noise and it can get tiring really quickly.
- Lastly, make sure you have knowledgeable individuals moderating the conversation who can answer questions that come up from the audience. If you want your brand to really connect with your community, you've got to set something up that is engaging and insightful.
9. Where can we find you on Clubhouse and do you have any upcoming talks we should look out for?
My username is @GarethPon. You’ll find me hosting rooms on a weekly basis with friends like Scott Bakken and Jon Taylor Sweet under the “Socality” club where we talk about a range of topics that hopefully bring value to people who attend. And then I'll host small artist features throughout the week, highlighting amazing creatives who I feel have found a really good space in their respective worlds. And I use the room to help tell their stories. I also recently created a club called “Ice Cream Shop” with my friend Kessara. It’s completely random but aimed at just having fun.
10. Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share with us on Clubhouse and how it may impact social media marketing?
I think Clubhouse does remove a lot of barriers between brands, customers, and fans. It also serves as an additional platform for creators to connect with their fans, which I really love. There's been a couple of DJs and musicians who’ve had album launches, and on the day of the album launch, they host a Clubhouse so people can actually interact with them in real time.