What’s the Deal with Clubhouse? Your Guide to the Latest Trend in Social Media.

With social and travel restrictions in place under COVID-19, communications are increasingly going online. Although there are already many social media platforms on the market, new interactive applications are always being introduced. Clubhouse is just one of the latest new social media platforms to gain popularity in recent weeks. 

Unlike most other social media platforms, Clubhouse focuses on audio. It is estimated that Clubhouse has over 2 million weekly active users worldwide and is now valued at USD$1 billion USD. Not only is the app sweeping the United States, but it has also topped the social media charts in Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Korea. More Hongkongers are now jumping on the Clubhouse bandwagon, including political activist Nathan Law and Yuen Long district councillor Tommy Cheung.

The home page of the social media app Clubhouse, displaying the ongoing rooms available for the user. (Photo: Steffi Sze)

So how does it work? Clubhouse is an audio-based social media platform. Any user can start a “room” that others can join, and the creator of a room decides who can speak, by allowing interested users who raised their hand to join the discussion.

Users can listen to almost everything on Clubhouse, from political issues, entertainment and fin-tech topics, to sharing aspects of daily life. There are even silent rooms where people just join to network and exchange contacts. Everything is live and no conversations are saved. The rooms will be deleted after the host leaves. In theory, this makes people feel more comfortable talking about whatever they want.

Interface of the social media app. Left: Page where you can indicate your interests so that the app can recommend people to follow. Middle: Profile page of an recurring discussion room. Right: Upcoming events page based on the people the user follows. (Photo: Clubhouse)

To be able to join the Clubhouse, you need to be an iPhone user, as only an iOS version of the app is available. Once you have downloaded the app, you can reserve a username. But you can’t just rock up and start using the app. This is because an invitation from an existing user is needed to access the app and the chatrooms. That little bit of exclusivity is probably one of the reasons why Clubhouse has become the newest trend in 2021.

Getting an invitation is not as hard as you imagine. If someone that is on your contact list is on Clubhouse already, they will receive notification about you joining the waitlist and can help you join the app. When you first access the app, you can select your areas of interest, such as tech, books, business or health. Based on what you have chosen, you will be able to scroll through a list of ongoing and upcoming discussions.

Each room has moderators, speakers and listeners, with moderators controlling who gets speaking privileges. Listeners can ask to speak by virtually raising their hand, but some rooms might turn off this option to create a ‘presentation-like’ climate. 

When you are in a chatroom, it is your choice on how to enjoy the conversation. There is also no pressure of staying in one room once you join since there is the option to leave quietly.

Left: The instagram page @sigumdic run by Yina. Right: The profile page of Yina on Clubhouse. (Photo: Screencaptures by Steffi Sze)

Yina Chan, a tech startup entrepreneur, is an active speaker on Clubhouse. She said the app was actually quite boring when she first started using the app, despite its fame. 

“There were not a lot of local Hong Kong people on the app yet back then, so one of my friends suggested opening a Cantonese based room […] since then, I was completely addicted to the app,” she said.

As an entrepreneur and tech lover, Chan’s life is centred around attending and hosting conferences or events. For her, Clubhouse functions as a platform that does a similar job, but with much less effort involved. 

“With Clubhouse, I probably would not want to go back to face-to-face event days,” said Chan. “There is a lot of preparation for an event to run smoothly […] with Clubhouse, it is much easier.”

“You just need to gather some friends with the same interest and open a room then there will be easily over 300 participants,” Chan explained.

Interface of Clubhouse demonstrating the user experience. (Photo: Clubhouse)

“As a moderator or host, you will be fascinated by the number of people joining the conversation. Most of the time, it would be a discussion more than just a presentation which makes the whole thing more interesting,” said Chan. Nevertheless, Chan doesn’t really see a bright future for Clubhouse in Hong Kong. 

“Indeed more and more people are joining the platform, but there is actually a decrease in active users over the past few weeks,” she said. “Hong Kong people are known to be forgetful and will easily lose passion for new trends,” she added. 

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