Almost every social media platform has made its top users stars: YouTubers, Viners, Dubsmashers, TikTokers and even LinkedIn influencers. Now Clubhouse, an audio-only app that made a name for itself with tech investors before expanding into the entertainment industry, is trying to cultivate its own local celebrities.
The app is testing a "Creator Pilot Program" by invitation only with more than 40 clubhouse influencers representing a new class of online fame. So far, they have been promised regular meetings with one of the founders of Clubhouse and early access to special tools for power users.
The clubhouse, which launched in May and has 600,000 registered users, allows users to join pop-up audio chat rooms. The app was initially very well received by viewers in Silicon Valley. In May, the clubhouse was valued at nearly $ 100 million following a round of investment led by Andreessen Horowitz.
In recent months, however, the user base has expanded. In addition to the discussions between venture capitalists, the app features a variety of celebrity talk shows, D.J. Nights, networking events, speed dating, theatrical performances and political discussions.
Most of the users selected for the clubhouse's pilot program host popular shows that draw thousands of viewers while others have smaller, more engaging followers. Think of them as part livestreamer, part podcast host, and part community manager.
"The top creators are people with magnetic personalities who draw audiences not only for their titles and accomplishments, but also because the audience wants to spend time listening to their thoughts carefully, to weigh themselves," said Josh Constine in an early stage investor in venture firm SignalFire, which is part of the Creator pilot program. "These developers generate a huge audience in the clubhouse even if they don't have a large following on other social platforms."
Catherine Connors, 50, an early parent blogger and former content director at Disney Interactive, hosts two regular talk shows on the platform, one on feminism and one on philosophy, and is participating in the creator's pilot program. She said many of the app's most iconic characters aren't the Gen Zers and Millennials that most people think of when they think of influencers.
"What an interesting personality looks like in the clubhouse is different from other platforms," said Ms. Connors. Several people in the pilot are in their forties or fifties.
Last week, users of the Creator Program were invited to join a private digital “club” with the “Everything in Moderation” app and a closed WhatsApp group chat with the company's management. The program is led by Stephanie Simon, a marketer and former Gucci consultant.
One of their challenges will be to standardize monetization in the app. So far, developers have not been compensated for their work on the app. "Where is the money?" One person asked during the first Creators Roundtable Session, a private meeting between corporate management and influencers that took place on December 17th. It was a feeling shared by many in the room. Ticketing, tips and subscriptions were cited as potential sources of income.
Metrics were also discussed. The company said it would offer analytics to developers at some point, but had no idea what that should be. A suggestion for a weekly audience growth rate of 30 percent was interpreted by some as a requirement for staying in the program. others just saw it as encouragement. According to the company, there is no mandate for growth for creators.
Kat Cole, 42, the executive director, investor and host of a popular clubhouse space called Office Hours, said the meeting was well-intentioned but disorganized. "This was not a group of staff so there was no agenda or an open microphone rule," she said. "There have been many people for whom this is their career and income as a creator and they took it very seriously."
“We believe voice is a powerful medium for people to connect, share, learn and grow through authentic conversation. At Clubhouse, anyone can be a creator by opening a space and having conversations, ”a company spokeswoman said in a statement.
The pressure on Clubhouse to crack the creator's ecosystem is high. If the needs of power users are not prioritized, they can be driven away. In 2015, nearly 20 of Vine’s 50 best developers left the app after a meeting where the company refused to pay $ 1.2 million to keep it. The app was shut down a year later.
In 2020, investors seem to have finally recognized the influencer economy as a legitimate business. REMUS, an early-stage venture capital firm, recently hired Josh Richards, an 18-year-old TikTok star, as a venture partner. Investors in the app have started asking how developers on other platforms like OnlyFans are monetizing their accounts. A tech founder recently tweeted how a 9-year-old YouTube star who made $ 30 million this year should have made more.
"I feel like something has changed noticeably among investors over the past year, and it seems like everyone is now talking about the creator economy and investing in creator tools," said Li Jin, founder of Atelier, a V.C. Companies that invest in the influencer economy.
She pointed to TikTok as a platform that had defied widespread investor notions that consumer social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are a thing of the past. "TikTok did this in large part by treating creators as first-class citizens and making them feel served and cared for," said Ms. Jin. "I think it made investors realize that serving the creators is a good business strategy."
The clubhouse has to do more than pay its creators if it is to keep them. Many users have publicly complained that the app did not put in place adequate protections for users, especially those with historically marginalized backgrounds.
Rhian Beutler, a clubhouse entrepreneur and founder who is part of the pilot, announced Monday that she would be putting her popular clubhouse trivia show on hold.
"I can't do any more positive things given the ongoing lack of action from CH in the face of anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism (etc. etc.)," she tweeted, referring to Clubhouse as "CH". ”
Another user, Michaela Hirsh, responded by saying that the company: “Draw a line for hate speech. Actually ban / suspend people for it. Point out that this is not acceptable. Realize earlier that certain hate groups got organized on the app (and now it's too late to stop them). "
Denise Hamilton, 50, a creator who hosts two popular shows at the clubhouse and is also a member of the pilot program, said that while the founders incorporated their feedback into product changes, users also need stronger moderation tools.
“I wish there were 25 more guard rails,” she said, before listing some of them: “Improve moderation, expand moderators' ability to have difficult conversations, and increase difficult conversations conducted by more experienced communicators will."
As the clubhouse continues to grow, the number of audio creators grows. Its impact on the broader influencer economy is only just beginning. Some members of the pilot have started thinking about branding deals and cross-platform advertising. Others have started to form creator collectives as started by prominent users on TikTok.
"I would be surprised if by next year there weren't any groups of creators doing their own thing but having an opportunity to meet for a weekly space," said Ms. Cole. "Something like a hype house."
Erin Griffith contributed to the coverage.