Scrolling through open rooms on Clubhouse on Monday night, I could enter a discussion about Iranian politics, a Bachelor-style matchmaking event, or join the thousands listening to Naomi Campbell’s thoughts on global entrepreneurship from her bedroom in Lagos, Nigeria. It was like wandering through a massive convention center simultaneously hosting ClownCon, eCommerceCon, and BravoCon, only instead of paying hundreds of dollars to rub elbows with Real Housewives, I could scroll through real people sharing their expertise on everything from whale sounds to death doulas.
Clubhouse is the newest buzzy social-networking app, where users enter audio chat rooms to speak on a theme, or to quietly listen as experts and amateurs talk, off-the-cuff and unseen, into their phones. Launched in April 2020, the invite- and iOS-only platform has exploded in popularity over the last few months: per Statista, there were 600,000 users in December and two million in January. It’s been compared to TikTok for its widespread adoption, and there are reports that Facebook is already trying to build a comparable feature for itself. But with the vibe of a virtual conference, or a podcast whose hosts are live to answer your lingering questions, Clubhouse is less like TikTok and more like the new way to network.
“It’s LinkedIn’s cooler cousin, or like TikTok has graduated and is looking for a job,” says A.V. Perkins, a DIY influencer. Her “club,” Crafterparty, has found 6,000 members since November, there to learn how people make money off of homemade jewelry or to join in a daily doodle session. “I’m so passionate about anything related to crafts and creativity, I can talk about it all day,” Perkins says. With Clubhouse, she literally can.
“Anything could happen in a room. Anyone could drop by, and it could be somebody that you really admire, who you thought you’d never get a chance to interact with,” says Chelsea Leibow, a public relations consultant specializing in sexual health and wellness start-ups. In the first room she stumbled into — a chat about PR with Allure editor-in-chief Michelle Lee — Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal and #GIRLBOSS fame popped up in the audience. The moderators noticed, and Amoruso accepted their invitation to impromptu become a speaker herself. Leibow says, “People were losing their sh*t.”
A Clubhouse room requires a moderator, speakers, and an audience. Anyone can “raise their hand” to be brought “on stage,” to ask a question or promote their side hustle — but consult the club’s ground rules about what’s appropriate. After following a club, an admin might reach out with an invitation to become a member, enabling more speaking opportunities. A room can last for 10 minutes or several hours, and is capped at 5,000 people. Anyone can create a room, and applications to starting clubs are currently open with priority to those who have hosted a weekly show three times. While clubs host rooms on repeat themes, every conversation is a unique event that can’t be recreated. There’s no text log, and screen-recording is a violation subject to suspension. FOMO is key to the Clubhouse experience.
It’s that element of surprise that’s missing from existing social media — or pandemic life in general. “With Zoom, you’re always talking to people you know,” says Austen Tosone, a fashion blogger and beauty director for Jumprope, a how-to video creation app. “You’re never on a call with a ton of random people unless you’re, you know, meeting the cousin’s boyfriend at Thanksgiving. But on Clubhouse, you can really bump shoulders with people, like a real conference. And I’ve been really impressed so far just by the quality of people who I’ve met through it.”
“If you provide value on there, you can cut through the noise of follower counts and clout [on other social media],” says Polly Irungu, a journalist who founded the resource and database Black Women Photographers in July. “I’m successfully growing my following organically, all on my own, because what I’m growing is community.”
“It’s LinkedIn’s cooler cousin, or like TikTok has graduated and is looking for a job.”
Not everyone can create a Clubhouse account, adding to the SXSW-ish allure. While someone you know probably has an invite to spare, they are selling for $40 on eBay. The developers are working hard to scale the app to “open it up to everyone,” per an open letter by the co-founders, and to implement features like tipping, tickets or subscriptions paid to creators.
Clubhouse has become Tosone’s main source of networking, but because the app has no DM function, it’s more like a launch pad to discover people, organizations, and ideas that primarily live elsewhere. People aren’t mad about it. “It feels less spammy that way,” Leibow says, of the absence of DMs. “You have to put in the work to reach out on a different platform and think of something thoughtful to say.”
There’s an art to making professional connections, especially when you haven’t actually met in person. On Clubhouse, despite the lack of DMs, it’s easy: If there’s someone cool speaking, tap on their avatar to pull up their bio. This will show the clubs they’ve joined, who invited them, and their linked Instagram and Twitter. The audio will keep playing (the still-beta app’s most genius feature) so you can stalk and talk.
If this person is your dream collaborator, Leibow’s advice is to “approach them how you’d want to be approached.” An email is probably better than a lengthy DM. Give a specific example of something they said in that Clubhouse room on neurodiversity in the workplace, to demonstrate your genuine interest. Be direct. Do not ask to pick their brain.
It’s so 2019 to attend your college’s alumni night or try to awkwardly slip someone your business card at a party. Clubhouse is 2021’s answer to “the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” one possibly made while wearing pajamas. “Meeting people organically, out somewhere or through a friend of a friend of a friend, is how I prefer to do business,” Leibow says. “I hadn’t realized until I logged in [to Clubhouse] that that had gone away.”