You’ve probably heard of Clubhouse, the “drop-in audio chat” app launched in April of last year. The platform, which has exploded over the past few months, is now used by everyone from Elon Musk to Oprah for real-time conversations in “rooms” organized by topic.
Its rocket-speed ascent to popularity might even have you wondering if it’s becoming a new kind of media target for your startup PR efforts.
I’ve done the research, talked to the experts, and listened to my share of brain-numbing charlatans. My conclusion: it can be a powerful tool for PR, but you have to do it right.
Before I get into why, I first have to answer an even more important question about Clubhouse: What the heck is it?
Netflix documentary celebrity Carole Baskin addresses a Clubhouse room about BitClout. Peak 2021!
Clubhouse 101: How it Works
Clubhouse is a free, audio-based social networking app available on iOS mobile devices (with plans to launch an Android version in the near future.) It’s kind of like a big Zoom call where no one has their cameras on, and the host determines who can speak and when.
That’s already pretty different from most other social media apps, but another difference is that it’s invite-only.
There are two ways to get an invitation:
- Ask me! (Or ask a friend already in Clubhouse.)
- Download Clubhouse from the app store and “apply” to be invited. Administrators usually approve you within a few days.
Once you’re on Clubhouse, it will ask whether you want to find friends by importing your contacts.
When you’re all set up, you’re asked to type in your interests so that you can be connected with different “rooms.” Think of these rooms like a voice-only version of a breakout session at a conference. They’re digital spaces that let users gather by interest, from bitcoin to sports marketing to veganism. One person or a group of people is the moderator, and the others are listeners.
Screenshot: my Clubhouse homepage
A listener may speak if they “raise their hand,” and the moderator can invite them to the stage. Moderators can mute speakers or kick them out of rooms if they feel the speaker isn’t following the rules (usually things like treating others with respect, staying on topic, being mindful of speaking time, etc.)
Those who love Clubhouse say it's like a low-commitment conference call where amazing connections can happen. Imagine being able to pop in to that infamous Elon Musk / Joe Rogan podcast episode and ask them both a question!
People also love it because there is no way to buy or display ads on the platform.
That’s also what makes the app tricky for many marketing channels, but potentially useful for PR efforts. After hearing from some other agencies and reporters, I’ve identified four key ways Clubhouse can help you get your message out.
Screenshot: a Clubhouse room in progress
1: Use Clubhouse to Broadcast Yourself
In a typical PR program, you don’t get many chances to tell your full story to a captive audience of people in your industry, let alone journalists.
But you can with Clubhouse. The beauty of the app is that it lets anyone get up on a “stage” and tell a room full of listeners (who would normally never be in the same space) who they are and what they’re about. Katherine Davis, a tech reporter for Chicago Inno, welcomes this.
“I see a lot of people using it to advertise themselves and their business and – not going to lie – some of those conversations have gotten me to write a profile on a startup that I found on Clubhouse.”
She appreciates the channel’s audio format, which allows for more organic ideas to be shared with less self-editing.
“I do find that there's a good level of candidness happening on the app, so it's a good way for me to find story ideas and inform stories I'm currently working on. And it's a good way to find sources.”
“It seems like it's really resonating with people, and not just with journalists, but a lot of the newsmakers that we're covering. So if we want to figure out what Mark Zuckerberg is saying or a notable venture capitalist is saying, often Clubhouse is the best place to get an unfiltered view of that.”
What to Try
- Find rooms relevant to your industry. (For Chicago startups, Katherine Davis recommends the Chicago Tech Club room hosted by Chris Duetsch.)
- Listen intently.
- See if there’s a way to meaningfully insert yourself into the conversation.
- Raise your hand. If called up, share your knowledge. Moderators will usually introduce you by reading your bio, so be sure to have your startup’s URL or Twitter handle and a snappy company description displayed there.
- Don’t be too salesy. (The Chicago Tech Club’s rules explicitly state being too self promotional is prohibited, but even in rooms where this isn’t a rule, your audience will thank you.)
- Be receptive to answering questions. The back-and-forth may be what’s most interesting to a reporter.
- Wait. If a reporter liked what you had to say, they may just reach out.
The Chicago Tech Club Room
2: Host a Clubhouse Room and Invite Reporters
In the pre-COVID days, it wasn’t uncommon for startups to host “state of the industry” conferences and invite journalists. The hosts got exposure as thought leaders in their field, and the reporters got access to multiple credible sources.
Chicago Inno’s Davis has an idea for our current era: why not use Clubhouse?
“That could be good if you have an interesting topic or people want to do a ‘state of our industry’ and maybe have other entrepreneurs in your vertical there too,” she says. “I would absolutely attend something like that if I were invited.”
Starting a room on Clubhouse costs nothing, and takes very little time to set up. In fact, you can hop on Clubhouse right now and spin up your own room with just a few clicks, though I don’t recommend it. Joining forces with other companies in your space is the best way to positively impact your PR efforts for a few reasons:
- You have multiple potential thought leaders instead of just one. To a journalist, that’s like knocking out a bunch of interviews all at once.
- The conversation gets more interesting, and that’s what KEEPS journalists in the room. You may have your own views on what the next decade of crypto will look like, but maybe your fellow panelist sees it differently. That back and forth is critical for making something seem more like a learning experience and less like a sales pitch.
- If you have to step away, having other moderators in the room ensures there’s not an awkward silence as an audience sits and waits for the host to return.
- Moderators are going to invite their colleagues, customers, and perhaps journalist contacts of their own, meaning you’ll have a larger audience and less of a chance you’re throwing a party no one shows up to.
Despite the relatively low lift of creating a Clubhouse room, moderating one is an art. The best resource I’ve found on doing this is How to Start a Clubhouse Room and Moderate Like a Pro from Social Media Examiner.
What to Try
- Identify and invite one or two other companies in your industry (customers, analysts, competitors, etc.) to moderate a Clubhouse room.
- Pick a date.
- Send the event link to others in your industry.
- Invite journalists you think would be interested.
- Send those journalists a quick recap of what was discussed after the event.
Screenshot: audience options for starting a Clubhouse room
3: Pitch Yourself to Moderators
You might be thinking: why go through the trouble of starting and promoting my own room when I could just be interviewed by someone in a room that has a big audience already?
While I haven’t heard of anyone doing this, it is possible that just as you can reach out to a podcast host and ask to be on an episode, you COULD track down the contact details of a popular room moderator and ask to be interviewed in the room.
This means that outreach to moderators might actually be a new form of media outreach. Wowza!
If that’s the case, the process starts to look the same as outreach to any other outlet. We have a great blog post on how to do DIY PR that can guide you, but I’ll also give a CliffsNotes version specific to Clubhouse below.
What to Try
- Target. Research rooms that seem likely to have the audience you want. You can do this either by searching through Clubhouse or checking the other social media profiles of people or brands, who often advertise their Clubhouse chats on these channels.
- Connect. Find the contact information of a moderator (Clubhouse doesn’t have a message function, but almost everyone links their Twitter or Instagram account, which you could use to send a DM).
- Send a pitch. We also have a great resource on how to pitch podcasts (which is very similar), but it can be something simple like “Hi X, I enjoy listening to Y room. It seems like a great community because Z. [Write something personalized that proves you’ve done your homework and aren’t being spammy.] I am A position at B company. We do C, so I think I have a lot of insights I could share with your community. Would you be interested in interviewing me in a Q&A in your room? I’m sure many people I'll invite will become regular audience members!”
- Seal the deal. If they approve, you’ll be granted moderator privileges. These give you equal power over what happens in a room (the ability to bring up speakers, mute them, and kick them out) so many moderators will want to be sure you’re someone they can trust. If you’re able, send along some proof points, like previous podcast episodes, webinars, or video interviews you’ve done that show you have credibility and legitimacy.
Screenshot: A startup founder and a moderator take part in a Q&A
4: Get to Know Journalists’ Personalities on Clubhouse
The key to getting coverage for your startup is to understand what a reporter cares about and relate what you do back to that.
At Propllr, we do this in part by following reporters on Twitter. People tweet what they care about, and in doing that, they reveal themselves. It may have to do with work and it may not. But because public relations is about relationships, knowing people’s personalities, wants, desires, and quirks is helpful when engaging in outreach with a reporter.
In the free-flowing context of a Clubhouse conversation, these qualities leap to the forefront. Reporters like Clubhouse for the candid, non-stuffy conversations. In the same way, you might feel a more human connection when reporters are speaking conversationally rather than when you’re going back and forth on email.
Ciara Benko, Vice President at public relations agency Praytell, shared what her experience connecting with journalists on Clubhouse has been like in Muck Rack’s State of Journalism Webinar.
“One of my teams had found this Clubhouse talk about ‘how journalists feel about getting mailers...’ Because everyone’s working from home, mailers aren’t what they used to be…. People used to send samples and trials to these media house offices where there's a mailroom for them. But now, what are the best practices about sending them to your house? There was a whole Clubhouse [room] with a ton of journalists who were talking about their own experiences. Our team listened in and took some notes and we were able to update our approach.”
What to Try
- Identify three or four reporters you’d like to have a relationship with.
- See if they’re on Clubhouse. If they’re not, invite them.
- Opt in to get notifications when they’re speaking (though I recommend opting out of notifications for just about everything else. There are too many!).
- When they speak, make note of small details they mention.
- Use these to personalize your pitch and build a more human connection.
Screenshot: Drop in to a room of journalists like this one.
What to Watch for When Considering Clubhouse
Just as important as what to try on Clubhouse is what not to do. Here are three things to avoid.
Don’t Assume Your Conversations Are Private
As in any public space, use good judgment when sharing your thoughts. Clubhouse initially courted controversy after New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz got into a spat with VC Balaji Srinivasan on the app. Details of the argument later became public.
The episode sparked a backlash against reporters being on Clubhouse, with large tech companies saying their presence “forced” them to be tight-lipped.
While the controversy has since blown over, it offers an important lesson. In any public space, it’s better to treat people, and yes, journalists are people, respectfully, and not say anything you wouldn’t want repeated.
Never say or post anything in private that you wouldn't be comfortable sharing in public.— Remo Uherek (@remouherek) February 7, 2021
Always assume everything you do on the internet to be public. True for Clubhouse, DMs, texts etc.
Don’t Lose Track of the Hype Cycle
Many believe the meteoric growth that made Clubhouse a household name was a quirk of the pandemic, and that engagement will be lower when people emerge from lockdown.
“When the pandemic is over and I'm fully vaccinated, I'm not going to be at home on the couch listening to Clubhouse on a Thursday afternoon,” Davis predicts.
Ha feels similarly.
“I suspect that there's going to be multiple cycles around Clubhouse where there's a lot of hype, and then there's a certain degree of correction where people realize that maybe it doesn't completely support all the things they wanted it to support or there are not quite as many people on it as they would hope.”
That said, both Davis and Ha agreed the app will likely fit into the lineup of all the other social media platforms out there (looking at you, Twitter Spaces.)
“I think it's going to be an important channel, not necessarily THE important channel,” Ha concluded at the end of the State of Journalism webinar.
Don’t Ask for Too Much of Journalists’ Personal Time
Another area where Davis and Ha agree is that startups should be thoughtful about when they’re using Clubhouse, and consider when a journalist might be more apt to engage.
“Personally, I don't find Clubhouse to be particularly appealing or fun,” Ha admits. “A big part of that is because so much of the activity is happening after work, and the last thing I want to do after work is spend more time on my phone.”
Davis didn’t hold quite so negative a view, but did caution startups to consider timing.
“I think people have to be really intentional about the time that they want to be on Clubhouse. It's not going to be Saturday afternoons anymore, so I think it could be part of the future, but it's going to have to work for people’s lifestyles.”
Let’s Go Clubbin’
Clubhouse presents a unique opportunity to deepen relationships with the reporters who might cover your startup. But it’s not a magic portal to media coverage.
If you don’t have the time to learn a new app and chat with key people, well, that’s what we’re here for. We’d be happy to engage with reporters on your behalf – get in touch!