Clubhouse app: what is it, why you should (and shouldn’t) use it, and how Arabic speakers are benefiting from it

26 February 2021

At e-Arabization, it’s our job to understand the latest trends online so we can advise the businesses that we work with on the localization of their chosen channels. Clubhouse is the latest social networking app to capture our online attention. In this article, we’d like to share the pros, cons and opportunities that we’ve uncovered on Clubhouse so far. 


What IS Clubhouse? 

Launched in April 2020 by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, Clubhouse is an invite-only app that enables live audio chat. As far as app design goes, it’s not pretty or sophisticated, but the idea is simple. 

Once you’ve been invited to use the app and have created a basic user profile, you can create or join a ‘room’ and start or listen to a live conversation. If you’re starting a room, all you have to do is create a title that explains the room’s purpose and invite people to join you inside. According to the official Clubhouse blog, “you enter each room as an audience member, but if you want to talk, you just raise your hand, and the speakers can choose to invite you up.” If you do start a room, you’re automatically given moderator status and can ultimately control the conversation flow. 


Invite-only exclusivity attracts big-name users 

Creating scarcity is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book. Still, the invitation-only format has triggered a ‘fear of missing out’, which has attracted some super high-profile early adopters to Clubhouse. From Tesla’s Elon Musk to Lebanese actress Razane Jammal, Clubhouse gives you fly-on-the-wall access to live and unscripted conversations of influential people in business, entertainment and social media the world over. 

And the best part? Clubhouse creates a levelling ground where, given the right room and the right conversation, you could end up voice-to-voice with your hero, asking them a question on stage. This ability to court the attention of usually ‘unaccessible’ people is part of the allure of Clubhouse, and it’s why as of February 2021, there are 10.1 million users on the platform


The anti-social social network 

Given the invite-only model, people have to actively refer their friends to enjoy the platform with them. The more active you are on Clubhouse, the more invites the app gives you. Measuring app growth via referrals means the app creators have a firm grasp of user activity. Historically, social networking platforms want to be as open and accessible as possible because a huge, active membership is a defining factor of a successful social network (see: Facebook). 

Could Clubhouse’s less-is-more approach to member acquisition result in more quality content? It’s too early to tell, but it’s easier to be heard and found in Clubhouse, and that’s not a bad thing considering the alternative content-overwhelm of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. 

In a nutshell, Clubhouse isn’t popular because it’s easy to get into. It’s popular because it’s coveted and exclusive, like a VIP table at a nightclub or a Black American Express card. 


Clubhouse excludes people by design 

The negative features of Clubhouse sit worryingly close to the same benefits described above, and you don’t have to search for long to find reasons why Clubhouse might not be the best place to focus your energy as a business. 

The biggest problem with Clubhouse? Accessibility.  


No iPhone, no invite 

If you don’t have an iPhone, you’re (currently) excluded from Clubhouse, and even though CEO Paul Davidson has confirmed the app will “eventually open up to everyone, including Android users”, right now that Android exclusion looks like 71.93% of the world’s smartphone owning population. 


Clubhouse doesn’t cater to disabilities and impairments 

When we talk about localization and global access, we aren’t only referring to translating content into multiple languages. We also mean the inclusivity of your content experience. If you don’t include closed captions on your video content, then people who can’t hear are excluded from enjoying your content. If you don’t use alt text to describe images, you exclude people who cannot see your pictures. Clubhouse only lets you use your voice, so if you don’t have a voice, you can’t be in the club, and that’s not how we see the shape of an inclusive social network. 


Clubhouse is not a universally accessible experience 

Designing universally accessible experiences should be the goal of every engineering team. Clubhouse has created an app that sees accessibility as secondary because there are no adaptive features to assist users that cannot ‘normally’ consume audio content. 

By contrast, podcasts often support audio accessibility issues by providing episode transcripts or closed captions. Still, the problem with Clubhouse is that conversations are live, and there is no saved recording to listen back to. So if you can’t participate in real-time, you’re excluded from the Clubhouse experience. 


What about other language speakers? 

We’re glad you asked. Here’s what we know. Right now, it looks like you can find rooms in other languages, and that’s as simple as typing in your interest in the search bar. If you want to learn a language or have a conversation in Arabic or German, you can. 

We asked Arabic-speaking Clubhouse users in the Middle East about their Clubhouse use. Yassmin Al Shalabi, a Health Coach based in Dubai, told us that the best part about using Clubhouse was the ability to connect with users exclusively speaking Arabic. As a Palestinian living in a country where the most publicly spoken language is English, Yassmin expressed how uplifting it was to connect with people in her native Palestinian Arabic tongue. 

We also interviewed Reem Al-Ajeel, a Communications Consultant based in Dubai, who says the UAE has been quick to adopt the new channel and predicts that Arabic content on Clubhouse is on the rise. Clubhouse has a substantial presence as a learning platform, and Reem said exploring rooms and listening to other dialects of Arabic is an unexpected but welcome benefit of networking with fellow Arabic speakers on the platform. 

An Arab community-building, Arabic-dialect-sharing opportunity? It might just be! 


Popular in Saudi 

Another spot in the GCC where Clubhouse has been quick to take off is the social media savvy nation of Saudi Arabia. So popular and rare are the invites that one recent Arab News report claims some users in Saudi are selling invites on Twitter, “with prices ranging between SR15 to SR200 ($4 to $53) per invite.” 

Clubhouse differs from other social networking platforms in that you don’t have to show your face to establish a strong presence. In the discreet Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where not all people want to publicise themselves with photos or videos, it’s another benefit and reason why Clubhouse has such a solid early following. 


How can you use Clubhouse for your business? 

Using Clubhouse for your business is an idea worth exploring if you are an entrepreneur, investor or expert in your field. With global travel restrictions still limiting movement, people who would ordinarily meet at expos and conferences are using Clubhouse to plug the networking gap. 

Clubhouse’s audio format lends itself to virtual conference experiences for people who want to mingle and discuss big ideas. Many companies are using the platform to increase brand awareness and share their business stories. Kat Cole, the former CEO of Focus Brands (who own Cinnabon), has even created a weekly ‘office hours’ room to help other business people and entrepreneurs who need help finding their way in business

The big takeaway

As a learning and story sharing platform, Clubhouse has won a spot in iPhone users hearts. But the real test of this app’s stickiness will present itself when Clubhouse is accessible to all smartphone users. In the meantime, the reviews are mixed. There are still questions about how Clubhouse will address the in-built exclusion of many users who cannot experience real-time audio normally or how users who don’t speak English will access English-speaking rooms of interest. 

On platforms like Facebook, you can translate every single piece of content shared. Still, on Clubhouse, you’d need to have an idea of the languages present in a room and a live interpreter available to ensure an inclusive experience for global audience members. Whether or not these challenges exist or will exist soon, it’s an exciting prospect for the language providing community and the communication and sharing of knowledge as we know it. 


Want to localize your social presence? Drop us a message to see how we help companies create accessible social media for a global audience.