Another app? Aren’t we already juggling Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, and a little bit of TikTok, along with the platforms that enable remote work and digital meetings, including Zoom, Teams, Slack, and Basecamp? Oh, and also email.
At least that was my thinking about the audio-chat app Clubhouse, until I read a Slack message announcing that event professionals would gather on the platform on Jan. 15, right after Convening Leaders 2021, to talk about the event’s hits and misses. The opportunity to hear so immediately after the event from participants in their own voices seemed well worth my time — and it was.
It’s not surprising that event professionals are flocking to the app. Clubhouse founders, a former Google employee and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, created the platform with the goal of building “a social experience that felt more human — where instead of posting, you could gather with other people and talk,” they’ve written their website. Their invite-only platform, which launched last May with 1,500 users, is now the fastest-growing app in the world — Clubhouse had 600,000 users in December 2020 and now numbers six million users and counting.
Clubhouse allows users to talk directly to other users, one-on-one or by the thousands. Any user can take on the role as moderator and start a “room,” designating as many or as few speakers as they wish. Those in the audience are muted and can digitally raise their hands to show they’d like to speak, and, at the moderator’s discretion, be unmuted and moved up to the speakers’ room. Clubhouse has been described as a cross between talk radio and a podcast, but it reminds me of a voice-only version of the “fishbowl” session format, where there is a panel of invited speakers with a seat or two reserved for audience members to jump in and out. But unlike an in-person fishbowl session, where the chairs designated for the audience are fixed in advance, Clubhouse is endlessly flexible. Everyone on the chat might be designated as a speaker, or there may be a smaller, more tightly controlled group of invited speakers. On Friday, I listened in on a Clubhouse room of Austin entrepreneurs who were focused on the logistics of relief efforts in the weather emergency in Texas — there were 600 people in the room with about three dozen speakers, who rotated constantly.
For now, the app is only available in iOS, although an Android version is in the works, according to Clubhouse’s founders. Unlike platforms like Twitter and Facebook, you must be invited to join Clubhouse, but invitations seem to be fairly easy to come by as the platform expands. Clubhouse is still in beta, and everyone — including myself — is still figuring it out, but here are three ways that I see event professionals using it.
1. To connect with and learn from each other. The platform allows users to search for terms like “event tech” and “event design,” where you’ll find clubs with names like Women in Event Tech and Event Industry Creatives. Some, like The Event Planners and Producers United and The Event Planners Collective are very large, with 5,000 or more members. But size isn’t necessarily the only signifier of quality — The Eventprofs Mastermind and the Virtual Events & Experiences Collective, for example, are much smaller, but their members include event professionals known for being on the leading edge of innovation.
If you follow a club, you’ll be notified when it is convening a room; clubs also post schedules for weekly or daily events around announced topics. On any given day, dozens of event industry–related conversations are scheduled on topics ranging from event sustainability to digital event sponsorships, meeting design, event tech, speaking, COVID safety, experience design, and more. Some of the most engrossing conversations on Clubhouse are freeform conversations in which event professionals simply talk and compare notes.
“What I love about Clubhouse is that it fills the ‘reception hopping’ void for me,” said Bianca Ferrer, a Houston-based creative director and event strategist. “I really get to hop from room to room with my friends, while texting about ‘who’s who’ and what is happening that is most fun — and I feel like I get that same novelty effect of running into someone and having a rich conversation,” Ferrer told Convene via email. Her advice to new users is “to always hop on stage to join the conversation and express yourself,” she said. “The whole point is to widen the conversation. Your voice is valued, and we all want to hear from you when you’re in a room.”
2. To augment existing events. Like the room I joined immediately following Convening Leaders, event producers and participants are creating informal spaces to dissect events that just concluded or talk up future events. Clubhouse rooms also are being used to continue conversations that have started in other platforms — I entered a room where Liz King Caruso, CEO of techsytalk and Liz King Events, was talking with a guest she’d just interviewed on her Event Hustlers podcast, creating a real-time interactive extension to the podcast episode. “Even for an introvert like me, [Clubhouse] is a really cool tool,” Caruso said during the Feb. 17 segment of Event Hustlers.
3. To build their personal brand. The similarity of a Clubhouse room, which assembles experts to talk about a given, often niche topic, and a conference session isn’t lost on users. Music writer Luke Girgis, CEO of Brag Media, a media company based in Sydney, Australia, wrote that spending a weekend listening in on Clubhouse was “the best music industry conference I ever attended.”
What’s different about the app, Girgis wrote, is the honesty and authenticity the format elicits from speakers. On Clubhouse, Girgis wrote, he heard “heads of industry talking to each other like they were at a pub or on a phone call for hours. It was completely unscripted, completely real, and thousands of us tuned in.” In the future, Girgis predicted, Clubhouse will create a new type of celebrity: people who first become famous for their contributions on Clubhouse. “These stars will be industry professional celebrities,” he said. “People who are extremely articulate, visionary, and experts in their niche.”
My experience is limited, but I can already see what he means. Virtual experience expert Rachael Green, founder of Rach Green Cocktails, is a good example — Green is a co-founder of the Virtual Events & Experiences Collective club and is a frequent moderator in Clubhouse rooms and pops up on the forum daily. Green has thousands more followers than many better-known event professionals and has established herself as an expert in using the platform.
In addition to introducing new voices, the app also offers the opportunity to hear well-known professionals in all fields in a new way. “Clubhouse is almost like the early days of Twitter, with all these really important and very smart people on there,” Caruso said on her podcast. “I’ve been in some rooms with some very big powerhouses that I’m not necessarily catching on webinars of other spaces. And there’s a lot of people I’ve met on there that I never knew were so great at what they do.”
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.