Clubhouse killed the radio stars?

A first review on the newest social media where the “cool” is: ways of working, pros and cons, and a first evaluation: temporary fad or disruption?

If you grasp the reference to the old song by The Buggles, you were born in the 1960s and a kid in the early 1980s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8r-tXRLazs). And if you were a kid in the early 1980s, you were at the top of the lifestyle, fashion and music New Wave that changed popular culture (like at every Postwar generation). A key enabler of that New Wave in Italy, was the sudden emergence of thousands of “free radio stations”, legal in the Republican legislation since the mid 1970s. Of course, then came MTV and its videoclips but first and foremost, it was the radio that spread what kids then called the “post-punk revolution”, limited to make up and styling but nevertheless, noticeable in the streets and on the dance floor of nightclubs.

Whatever Trevor Horn and The Buggles sang, radio was not killed by MTV or TV or even the internet. On the contrary. With the rise of podcasts and of mobile apps, listening in real time to a live radio show broadcast at the other end of the planet, is now possible. This way, national radios have an established base of followers and fans across oceans and continents. At the same time, the expenditure of leisure time and the exchange of data, that is the real currency since the 2000s and since the rise of social media, are in the process of being disrupted again by a new attractor, Clubhouse.

I heard about Clubhouse first on my favorite morning show, broadcast from Milan, Italy, and enjoyed on the iPhone app at my home, a thousand kilometres away. The popular anchorman, Alessandro Milan, stated he would resist any invitation or temptation to join Clubhouse as the new “radical chic” platform for social media networking. This was early January 2021 and in “CH Years”, already ages ago. I joined Clubhouse around mid January 2021, on invitation by my business associate and dear friend, Filiberto Amati (www.filibertoamati.com), who is always spot on and ahead of digital trends. I have mostly observed, although regularly, and I have limited my presence on Clubhouse to contributing to selected rooms, based on topics and themes of my interest. I also connected to a number of new people and leveraged the limited amount of invitations within my business networking.

What are the first key learnings of the first month on Clubhouse? Perhaps I can offer ten points for the curios or the beginners who will start their journey soon, or Alessandro Milan who will never start on Clubhouse, and for the “improvised CH pros” who like to disagree and debate (on Clubhouse, of course):

  1. Clubhouse will be groundbreaking: just like MySpace did in the early 2000s for music publishing or Facebook later on for publishing, Clubhouse will yet again change fundamental rules in our digital life, because the platform has truly innovative features, e.g. moderation, aggregation and connection to contacts;
  2. Clubhouse will change the tone of voice of social media experiences because the mix of selective invitation only and room moderation enables a gentler, more inclusive modality of interaction, whereby trolling is still possible but gets eradicated sooner and more efficiently. On Clubhouse, even cosnpirancy theorists seem to interact in a calm posture;
  3. Clubhouse is eminently cultural, because interaction is exclusively based on language and therefore on individual cultures of participants. Even more, in given language rooms the modality of interaction reflects the culture of speakers, with Japanese rooms being very different than Italian or Dutch rooms in overall timing, tone and tonality;
  4. Clubhouse is eminently active, because its interaction is time based and requires live presence. Of course, there are “silent rooms” for the sole purpose of connecting but I have noticed how my appeal as a contact rapidly declined whenever I would remain passive or rapidly browsing through rooms versus deeply interacting in a specific room;
  5. Clubhouse is eminently “politically correct”, as it becomes immediately noticeable how a verbal tone of voice or the timing of an intervention are geared towards aggression or bullying. Compared to other social media, the possibility to enact passive aggressive tactics is less present, because the written word is not biased by the tone of voice.

Of course, there are also counterpoints and challenges in the way Clubhouse works at this moment of enthusiasm, before it reaches the tipping point of numbers of visitors and rooms, including:

  1. Clubhouse is currently appealing because it seems exclusive but the limited amount of invites per person (two invites at the start of your membership, increasing by three at a time) seems snowballing in time and it is only a matter of weeks before everyone with an iPhone has access. Question is, what will it become of the nature of interaction of this platform, when it grows from restricted club to mass playing field?
  2. Clubhouse has not defined or redefined yet its modality and formats of interaction and communication, therefore at this moment it offers vertical rooms with VIP speakers who stage their performance for a vast audience like in a mass media context or more horizontal rooms where exchange is informal as in a Zoom among friends. There are also quite a number of consultants, coaches and other more or less certified “experts” who loom around rooms in search of an audience of prospect clients. There is a difference between Facebook and LinkedIn in the supposed business nature of content and interactions, and Clubhouse has potential for both use. Question is, what will be the development of intrinsic possibilities within the platform?
  3. Clubhouse does not enable one-to-one communication beyond the opening of a “closed room” by means of a short call from one visitor to another, therefore the whole experience of private chat, as in Facebook when finding an old friend back from your teenage, is not easily possible. Question is, how valuable is it to average social media users to experience the multilayered levels of social to private connections and exchanges?
  4. Clubhouse is not backed up by an enterprise on the stock exchange, therefore it is unclear what its business strategic mission might be, e.g. to enrich its current stakeholders, like Facebook, or to be sold at the peak of its success, like WhatsApp with Facebook? Just like with WhatsApp, this business intent might be fundamental to anticipate the design development of the platform;
  5. Lastly, Clubhouse might simply lose its cool in a matter of months but if it does, it will not happen overnight, as with Signal. In the case of Signal, adoption in January 2020 has been massive and rapid because of the perceived privacy dangers of WhatsApp, whereas in the case of Clubhouse, the adoption will be (self) regulated by social demand and cultural status. Question is, again, what will be the correct balance between exclusivity and access to masses?

Then the most important of all questions, perhaps: what will be killed by Clubhouse? In Leisure Sciences, this is a question of time and focus, namely: what other leisure activities are replaced by “Clubhouse time”? In my case, I observed how in the very first weeks of my Clubhouse membership, time was massively deducted from radio listening, at the expense of my Italian favorite station, Radio 24. However, in a matter of a month, the gap is smaller and smaller, because the anchors, the reliability of sources, the quality of interviews and the other traits that constitute the equity of my favorite radio station were not undermined by Clubhouse. The best experiences on Clubhouse remain, in my view, the smaller rooms with selected niche participants driven by a common passion, be it saving the oceans or pursuing design after design education. In those rooms, it is possible to connect to experts, thought leaders and like-minded people in a matter of minutes, within a moderated yet democratic space where the “peer review” of scientific papers is loosely exercised through dialogs. In that sense, Clubhouse might not kill my radio stars, like Alessandro Milan or Radio 24, but it will create micro channels of highly social interaction in the intimacy of your own language, with the texture of your own voice and of other voices. Or Clubhouse might evolve into the first among the “new” radio channels, resembling the same kind of explosion in micro-media that the desktop revolution enabled in the 1990s or social media enabled from MySpace onwards. One way or another, the “radio” experience will not go away and The Buggles might prove wrong about the death of radio stars in 2021 as they were in 1981.

Italian living between NL and Japan. 1967, born; 1994, Literature and Philosophy; 2016 Behavioral and Social Sciences; 5 books; 20 scientific papers; Keynote.