How Clubhouse, the hot social media app, can help small businesses grow

Diana Moukalled, a Lebanese journalist who closely follows social media checks the Clubhouse application, at her office in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Many small businesses are turning to Clubhouse, the fast-growing audio chat app, to build their brands. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)Hussein Malla / AP

(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Want to have a conversation with Oprah? Or get business advice from Tesla’s Elon Musk? You can potentially do that. All you need is Clubhouse.

Clubhouse, a relatively new social media platform, is now attracting millions of users every month — including Oprah, Musk and other celebrities like Kevin Hart and Meek Mill — and is fast becoming a new way for some business owners and entrepreneurs to grow their communities, improve their brands and make money. So what is this?

Clubhouse is basically a conference call in a virtual “room” that can accommodate up to 5,000 invited guests who are able to listen in and in some cases — only at the organizer’s discretion — speak and share their views. There’s no video and you’re not allowed to record, transcribe or share the conversation without getting explicit permission. It’s just a phone call and (for now) you can only do so using an iPhone.

You would think that these drawbacks would limit the platform’s reach. But it hasn’t. Clubhouse has exploded in popularity since its initial release a year ago and has reached more than 10 million weekly active users and a $1 billion valuation, according to a February CNBC report.

“Clubhouse has absolutely helped with my social media business,” says Cate Cole, a Philadelphia-based branding expert who specializes in helping online entrepreneurs grow their Instagram followings. “I have received new leads and clients after listeners hear me chatting in rooms and giving away valuable information. It’s great to be able to have social interactions without actually being in person.”

So, for a business owner, how does this work? It’s not as simple as you may think. That’s because Clubhouse is an invite-only platform.

Which means that to gain admission you’ll need to download the iPhone app, and then wait (or ask) to be invited by someone you know. When anyone joins Clubhouse, they’re initially allowed to invite only one prospective member using that person’s phone number. The more active you are on Clubhouse by moderating and speaking, you’re then given the ability to invite more people. After you’re admitted, you’ll want to build out your profile by adding your Instagram, Twitter and social media sites as well as creating a full description of what your business does.

Once done, you’ll want to check out the “hallway” where there are “rooms” you can enter to listen or participate in conversations. Or you can start creating your own rooms where people can join in on your conversation where you are a speaker or where you moderate discussions. You can schedule future events or create a “club” for recurring events and use all of this to attract followers and build an audience for your brand.

Already, small businesses are finding it a powerful way to connect with customers, and build their communities, host virtual events, share and curate content as well as collaborate and network with others in their industry.

For example, Brian Hart, founder and president of Flackable, a Center City public relations firm, says that Clubhouse has created new ways for him to connect with other professionals in his field and learn.

“As a public relations expert, I’m fascinated by the way some of the larger brands are utilizing it,” he says. “Companies like Facebook are making company announcements through the platform as an alternative to a traditional media event, and engaging customers and clients on a new level by creating rooms.”

Hart thinks that Clubhouse has the ability to drive brands — both big and small — to a new level of public engagement. “It’s fascinating to see the way brands are beginning to work the app into their PR and marketing strategies.”

Justin Schenck, a Reading — based business speaker and coach, has also used Clubhouse as a way to make more people aware of the services and content he provides. “It’s led to some clients in the coaching space that I’m in,” he says. “It’s also been a really great way for me to connect with new people, including a number of people who have ended up on my podcast.”

Clubhouse’s explosive growth has not gone unnoticed. Both Twitterand Facebook have already launched their own competitive offerings. To stay ahead, Clubhouse has been working on more ways for users to get access to its platform other than through its iPhone app (an Android app is in the works).

Just last week, it announced a partnership with payment platform Stripe so that hosts can monetize their conversations and events in what the company says will be “the first of many features that allow creators to get paid directly on Clubhouse.”

For now, the platform is enjoying its time in the spotlight and many small business owners, freelancers, content creators and entrepreneurs are benefiting. But according to Cole, there is one big drawback.

“It can be time consuming and addicting,” she says. “It’s very easy to spend hours on there.”

Columnist on smallbiz, economy, public policy, tech for The Guardian, The Hill, Philly Inquirer, Wash Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur. Small Business owner and CPA