Was Clubhouse a one-hit wonder?

Overshadowed by Twitter Spaces and Facebook audio rooms in the live audio space, has Clubhouse reached its end? And what is the future of the live audio space, will it be able to grasp the attention of users, BuzzInContent.com tries to find out

Tanzila Shaikh
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What is your first reaction when you hear the name Clubhouse, these days? Nostalgia? A distant memory of a good time you had on the platform or of an experience that you don’t miss altogether now?

As the second wave of the pandemic hit the country in 2021, Clubhouse, the audio-based social media platform became a part of the popular culture. However, within a span of just 6-12 months, the app has lost its momentum in India and is now almost forgotten with other players taking over.

Founded by Paul Davison and Indian origin Rohan Seth in 2020, the app has 10 million+ downloads and in the year 2021, it raised an undisclosed fund with an evaluation of $4 billion.

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There was a time when several Indian celebrities and influencers like Sonam Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Kusha Kapila, Dolly Singh, etc were active on the platform and even encouraged their followers to join them in their rooms.

The app started with the idea of enabling conversations, debates, and discussions on any topic under the sun. However, with the filtration of users (especially younger ones) from around the world, the platform has allegedly become a hotbed for vulgar and obscene rooms leading to uninstallation and the exit of early adopters.

BuzzInContent.com spoke to industry experts about the app, what went wrong and the future of live audio spaces in India.

Many believe that Clubhouse was launched at a time when everyone was at their homes and searching for something new. They believe that the timing was perfect for its launch, however, with normalcy returning it slowly lost its use for the majority of the users.

Manesh Swamy

Speaking on the same, Manesh Swamy, Senior Vice-President - Creative and Social, Logicserve Digital, said, “The global lockdown helped Clubhouse grow as people were looking for something different than the regular FB and Twitter experience, and Clubhouse provided an audio-only experience with no involvement of a camera or text. Plus, invite-only access hyped the curiosity quotient. I think Clubhouse was trying to find the sweet spot between a live podcast and an interactive social media app.”

The opportunity to connect with their favourite personalities increased the appeal of the app in the eyes of the users and everybody queued to get a chance to join the platform.

Apoorva Deep

Apoorva Deep, Sr Manager - Growth and Strategy, Sociowash, said, “If recalled properly, we'll realise that more than one factor was in place for the popularity of the app. From a tweet from Elon Musk (well we all know about the impact of his tweets) to lockdown being at its peak and people seeking conversations, it became a tool for people to get direct access to their favourite celebrities, influencers and discussion topics.”

“The app got over 10 million downloads when it was iOS only, so we can understand the frenzy associated with the app when it started getting popular,” she added.

By the last quarter of the year 2021, people started forgetting about the app and it lost its momentum among consumers due to ethical/technical issue issues. Reviews on Google Playstore on the app show how the sheen of the app had started fading away:

What went wrong with the platform?

For many users, it is the technical glitches that made them move away from the app while a majority of the users said that they lost interest in the kind of discussions that used to happen on the platform.

Shradha Agarwal, Ceo and Co-Founder of Grapes, said, “With many people having access to the app after the invite-only feature was eradicated, the app became more like a dating app but with vocals. Now since the app is all about audio, there were many profiles that are fake, so it was easier for people to infiltrate rooms. One of our clients was having a session on ‘Being a Pet Parent’, and faced uncomfortable circumstances during the session. After a while, it just became too vulgar to handle.”

Ashish Tambe

Whereas, Ashish Tambe, Executive Creative Director, Kinnect, said, “The key offering of Clubhouse is weak - Clubhouse works on the premise of live chats where you can join with celebrities/influencers and be a part of the conversation with them. But in actuality, participants were just listeners because you quickly realised the chaos that would ensue if everyone was allowed to speak. Hence moderators/hosts of chatrooms restricted the access to certain speakers and you had to wait your turn to speak. This made it a passive platform when it took away the active participation from the members. This soon made it like a podcast - but in real-time. We have noticed that even the best lives from the biggest celebs on Instagram and other social platforms take a while to pick up with numbers being mediocre at the best.”

“A ‘live’ forces people to do things on ‘your time’ while the entire social scape works on an individual’s time. And if the experience is going to be that of a passive listener, members were better off listening to podcasts. Finally, conversations - the primary reason why people would use the platform - started happening in real life thus making the platform defunct,” he added.

Anish Varghese

On the other hand, Anish Varghese, Chief Creative Officer, Liqvd Asia, has a different take on the lost relevancy of Clubhouse in India. He said, “I have a different POV about your mention of pop culture, they never tried to get there. If yes, people would have been inclined, like Netflix or Spotify. There was apprehension, too much time in the clubhouse, too much leisure time. People were ok spending time on Netflix, they were flattered within the friend's circle, but that's not the case for the Clubhouse. The reason for me to be a part of the platform was blurred. Since it was a new platform, the speakers have to build a fan base in the Clubhouse and then initiate sessions or events, which is time-consuming, the effort you put behind is excessive.

“From a functional perspective, you cannot use Clubhouse on a computer, this could be restrictive if you prefer to use your laptop or desktop. I think Clubhouse really inspired other platforms, if that's not the case, Facebook shouldn't have introduced Live Audio Rooms and Twitter shouldn't have introduced Spaces. Both Facebook & Twitter, a user just needs to continue with the new feature, they don't have to take the mammoth task of building followers. That's a big advantage,” he added.

The emergence of Twitter Spaces as a new go-to live-audio platform

Clubhouse created a market, and existing platforms like Meta’s Facebook and Twitter jumped on the bandwagon by launching Facebook audio rooms and Twitter Spaces, respectively. Twitter Spaces is now said to have more awareness compared to Clubhouse.

Siddharth Devnani

Talking about the popularity of Twitter spaces, Siddharth Devnani, Co-Founder and Director, SoCheers, said, “People are moving to Twitter Spaces majorly because the platform has a huge user base along with a significant amount of Daily Active Users (DAUs). Additionally, many users already have an existing network on the platform and are finding it easier to engage on Twitter Spaces rather than having to move to another app like Clubhouse. Various groups, like the technology community of Southern California, journalists, and politicians in general, are very active on Twitter, with huge followership who are helping Twitter Spaces attract more engagement.”

Neha Puri

According to Neha Puri, CEO and Founder, Vavo Digital, “While Clubhouse was a more intrinsic app developed only for audio content Twitter spaces got more traction. The major reason was the interactive interface that Twitter spaces offer. Here the most important technique that connects people is that it has a little box at the top of your chat where you may insert tweets. This is more promising because you have the DM feature if you want to take anything offline, you can meet with people, and you can put links in. It simply feels like a finer, more organic setting than other places. Another major reason for its success is that it already had a large user base and people trust Twitter as a brand. The huge user base was easily converted for accessing this new feature.”

What’s in it for brands?

Brands across industries are finding creative ways to initiate conversations with their consumers. However, due to the decreasing attention span of users which has come down to approximately 5-7 seconds, brands need to make huge efforts to keep the audience engaged, so will Live audio spaces be able to make a difference?

Kinnect’s Tambe said that Live audio spaces are right now a ‘wait and watch’ strategy for most brands. Brands invest in those platforms which are tried and tested places for their audiences. Live audio spaces first need to be proven before becoming common grounds for brands. As soon as they give consistent numbers and give a clear indication that these are more than experimental social platforms, brands will start including them in their strategies.

On the other hand, Sociowash’s Deep, said, “Live audio spaces are going to be important when it comes to brands. It allows instant conversation, this is as close as one can get to being a part of the one-on-one discussion, which is trending in today's instant world. To understand its scalability, we can almost think about FM radio and take it digital, you get to pick your topic, your people and there is no restriction on the device. For some brands, it can be the next big obvious step."

The Future of Live-Audio spaces in India

Clubhouse was launched in the year 2020, at a time when people had no idea of getting an experience like this. It is still at a very early stage and many more innovations will follow.

Liqvd Asia’s Varghese said, “There are many possibilities with Voice as a device, live audio space is just one. Broadcasting industries could use it in a big way, Podcasters can have live interactions and build their fanbase, Celebrities/Government bodies could use it for announcements, Brands could use it for launch events, etc. It's a blank canvas now for us to paint great stories.”

However, Devnani of SoCheers said, “Live audio will remain relevant only till the big social media platforms keep pushing it, as seen recently in the case of Twitter Spaces. Twitter Spaces actually took off where Clubhouse left it. Having said that, even though VCs and Tech founders are using live audio mediums to some extent, it has definitely not claimed the top-of-the-mind position. I feel, audio has potential, with podcasting taking off for a second time - both globally and nationally, ‘live audio’ might not see the same engagement.”

Twitter Spaces and Facebook audio one-hit wonder Clubhouse