How Top Clubhouse Creators Built Authentic Communities
Audio is booming online as never before, but Clubhouse’s much-hyped pioneers and Spotify’s celebrity podcasters aren’t the only ones making noise. Creators of every variety are experimenting and finding audiences on platforms new and old.
Sound On is a series of nofilter articles on the coolest trends and innovators in the emerging audioscape. Watch this space for at least one new story every day this week.
In just a few short months, the drop-in live audio app Clubhouse has become one of the most addictive social media platforms on the internet. Less than a year after its launch, it’s invite only, limited to iPhone users, and technically still in pre-launch, but it saw 2 million active users per week in January. People came because the celebrity users and restricted access made it seems exclusive, but they stayed for the networking, opportunities to learn new things and enrich their lives, and the intimacy that comes from actually talking and listening to other people.
For all the connectivity offered by other social networks, it turns out that the ability to actually speak to each other just hits differently. Clubhouse has combined the heightened intimacy of live conversations with an easy way for users to organize themselves by interests and industries, and in the process, become a leader in authentic community building.
A quick primer for those of you not on the app: Conversations on Clubhouse happen in “rooms” that can be scheduled in advance or started on the fly by any user at any time. Rooms can be held publicly, privately, or be limited to members of certain “clubs.” Like good old-fashioned Facebook groups, Clubhouse clubs are created by users and based around specific topics, identities, professional fields, and themes. Club members can also start rooms that are open to all of Clubhouse but hosted by the club in order to grow their membership.
As incidents of trolling, harassment, and disruptive behavior have become commonplace on the app, the role of clubs is becoming more vital. I talked to club founders and admins about the pros and cons of strategies that they use to maintain their communities on the app. Here are three major takeaways.
People want to find their people
Clubhouse is a great way to learn about stuff you would have normally never had the opportunity to elsewhere. In a single day you can discuss and learn about astrology, influencer marketing, and the behind-the-scenes story of your favorite rapper. But for all of the exploration that is possible on the app, people also want to be able to convene with folks they identify and share interests with.
Music journalist Israel Daramola tells me over email that he started the Writer’s Anonymous Club (which has over 5,000 members) to “give writers a space to connect, give advice, and also vent about how frustrating the writing industry is.” It has attracted writers across disciplines, from playwrights to freelance journalists like me. When I interviewed culture writer Mikeisha Vaughn on my femme rap-focused podcast, Purse First, she told me that she started the club Pussy Rap & All of That after hearing a man demean female rappers in a room. She reclaimed the terminology he used as an insult to cultivate a community that convenes every Wednesday to discuss and have live Q&As with female rappers. I started my own club, Fat Girls Winning, after I noticed a lack of representation for plus-sized women on the app.
There are thousands of clubs on the app that focus on everything from learning new languages to kink. For newcomers, it’s typically more beneficial to follow and join clubs in order to curate a Clubhouse experience that is truly suited to your needs and interests.
Clubs are the major vehicle for Clubhouse creativity
Successful clubs offer a roster of programming that is entertaining, educational, and/or interactive, catered to its specific audience. Fat Girls Winning has hosted panel discussions with plus-sized sex workers and influencers. We’ve led discussions on representation in media, sex and relationships, and traveling while fat. Essentially, I created a space that filtered the expanse of what can be found on Clubhouse through the lens of plus-sized women.
Comedian and writer Willonius Hatcher runs Comedy Club, the largest comedy community on the app with over 60,000 members and followers. Its eight recurring rooms include “Rap Monologues,” where people perform their favorite rap verses in dramatic renditions, and “Bad Advice from Comedians.” On February 25 he pulled off a Clubhouse production of his original play, Throat Baby The Musical. He’s also getting ready to announce a new slate of programming in March.
In their latest blog post, the Clubhouse founders announced that they were figuring out ways to pay the creators on their app “through features like tipping, tickets or subscriptions” as well as a new creator’s fund.
When moderation is not enough, clubs provide the safe space
Clubhouse has been called out for failing to thwart hate speech, harassment, and trolling. The platform has since introduced stronger security and reporting features and cracked down on accounts that were found to be violating community guidelines. Still, the need for safer spaces persists, especially for marginalized people, on an app that encourages uses to share their different perspectives. Here, again, clubs are useful.
Sonya Glaspy is an admin for B. Deveaux’s BIPOC Queer Folx club, helping to manage over 17,000 members and followers. Glaspy stresses to me via Instagram DM that creating safe spaces for queer people of color on the app “has been of the utmost importance” and that they’ve implemented strategies to ensure this. BIPOC Queer Folx usually runs rooms that are closed to all but members and followers. They limit the number of people who can start those rooms and only allow the group’s admins to moderate them. This way, they can control who is and isn’t allowed into their conversations and ensures that the group’s values and guidelines remain central to the discussions there. It is a model of community moderation that has proven to be effective at shielding members from being outed or targeted with other forms of anti-Blackness and homophobia.
Other clubs, like the Beyhive for Beyoncé fans, utilize a similar “members only” model. As the app continues to grow its overall membership, I’m predicting that even more collectives will thrive in the virtually roped-off VIP sections of Clubhouse via privatized clubs. It’s a win-win for those seeking a safe haven on the growing platform and for Clubhouse itself, which built its reputation on exclusivity but has thrived on the diverse communities it has built.