With a couple of historic actions in 2020, it should not be surprising that the number of challengers for social media audiences is expanding significantly. The COVID-19 pandemic coupled with a presidential election race that divided an already divisive population created an environment rich for new start-ups in the social media world. Giants Google, Twitter, and Facebook appeared to be intentionally fueling the fire and fanning the flames for new outlets that promise all the attributes missing from the mega-platforms that have dominated the social media universe for nearly a decade. At first Facebook and Google appeared to be nothing more than a little annoyed with upstarts like TikTok, Clubhouse, Caffeine, and Houseparty but in recent months the mega-players have begun to take notice of the new kids on the block. Could it be that a year of filtration of content, charges of content bias, frequent and mysterious alterations in established algorithms and outright censorship has even the most loyal of users at least looking at alternatives?
Clubhouse, a new audio chat social network, is getting a lot of attention coming into the new year particularly from social media audiences looking for something different. With nearly 2 million users the “next major social network” is reported to be valued at $1 billion, a paltry sum compared to the unprecedented value of its biggest competitors. The founders say that it is their last attempt to build a social media network that is “human-driven” by conversation rather than posts. The diminutive numbers are seen as significant because the new platform is only available in a beta version and only for IOS users. In addition, membership is by invitation only. New entrants must receive an invitation from existing users who are each given four invites to distribute at the member’s discretion. Despite the exclusivity, the app is predicted to experience significant growth in the social media market space.
Clubhouse users join audio conversations in informal chatrooms with other users. Discussions are moderated and hosted by speakers who have some notoriety and subject expertise and control the flow of the conversations. An audience member can virtually raise a hand to be recognized by the moderator to speak to the subject at hand. Chatrooms are available from a menu of interesting topics such as foreign languages, wealth management, Instagram marketing tips, therapy, and even a proprietary music streaming service. Members can toggle between the public rooms from the app’s homepage.
The unique format seems to generate civil conversations, an attribute that is eroding on existing social media spaces. Moderators have the sole responsibility to act as gatekeepers and tamp down behaviors that threaten polite participation in open discussions. A Bloomberg opinion article recently praised the app for its “niceness” and ability to “restore peaceful discourse and civility rather than exacerbate tensions.” Facebook executives have commanded employees to develop a similar app called “Fireside”. In order to succeed in mounting a qualified challenger, Facebook will have to overcome current users who may not trust the mega-platform to record audio conversations. Twitter is reported to be testing a chatroom-like feature called “Spaces” in hopes of stemming the growing popularity of Clubhouse.
The challenge for social media marketers in the coming year will center around evaluating each new entrant in the social media space for viability and compatibility. Consumer behaviors change rapidly in the digital marketing arena and brands must be aware of the coming trends and the opportunities new social media channels may present. With numerous social media platforms still to be announced in the coming year, we may all look back on 2021 as the time social media dominance by a few mega-players began to falter.