Photo: Christoph Dernbach/dpa (Photo by Christoph Dernbach/picture alliance via Getty Images)
You can tell when a hot new social-media platform hits a certain level: it starts to worry how its creators will make money. That’s the question now facing Clubhouse, the newly minted Silicon Valley unicorn whose audio-only spaces are attracting 2 million users a month, despite being invite-only.
How to help key creators thrive is typically interlaced with how a social-media site itself will make money, as YouTube does by sharing billions of dollars in ad revenues with its millions of influencers. Without the influencers, most sites can’t attract the audiences, or make real money from advertising, subscriptions or other approaches.
Snap found out about influencers’ importance the hard way, when it largely eschewed them early in its days as a public company. Share prices plunged below $10 and the company was scraping for resources.
More recently, among many changes, that company has begun actively courting influencers, paying creators who post popular content for its new TikTok-style Spotlight function. The payments come from a $1 million daily pot of cash, and for smart early adopters, has dropped as much as $1 million into their bank accounts. It’s worth noting Snap shares topped $56 on Monday.
Clubhouse got a sharp reminder of the power of name-brand creators when billionaire Elon Musk logged in Sunday night for the first time, taking part in a Q&A that quickly drew more than the site’ s usual 5,000-listener-limit room, and spawning several side rooms of those left outside.
Not everyone, by a long way, is a draw like attention magnet Musk.But popular moderators, the people whose smarts and personality can drive and shape conversation in each Clubhouse room, will be vital for long-term success.
Clubhouse co-founders Rohan Seth and Bruce Davison acknowledged as much in a blog post Jan. 24 that talked about its just-closed $100 million Series B funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz that values the company at up to $1.4 billion. Among other uses of the money will be taking care of those moderators.
“Creators are the lifeblood of Clubhouse, and we want to make sure that all of the amazing people who host conversations for others are getting recognized for their contributions,” they wrote. “Over the next few months, we plan to launch our first tests to allow creators to get paid directly—through features like tipping, tickets or subscriptions. We will also be using a portion of the new funding round to roll out a Creator Grant Program to support emerging Clubhouse creators.”
During an interview Monday on CNBC’s Squawkbox show, Davison said, “There’s so many incredible people who are smart, who are funny, who have domain expertise, who are really just great at bringing people together. And what we want to allow them to do is to make a living directly on Clubhouse through things like subscriptions and ticketed events and receiving tips from listeners who are happy to pay them directly for the experiences that they’re creating for them.”
The app has no built-in method for monetization now. The platform is free, carries no ads nor offers any subscription tier, or even direct payments to creators. Davison said Monday that Clubhouse will introduce payment models “sooner rather than later.”
But make no mistake. People are already finding ways to make money through the site.
Jesse Kirshbaum of the Nue Agency, a music talent firm, wrote in a newsletter last week that brands are noticing the talent the site is already spawning, and figuring out how to work with them.
“Influencers are being created on Clubhouse and savvy brands will want to get involved,” Kirshbaum wrote. “Monetization through brands and creators is coming. I see influencer-marketing campaigns being built around subjects on Clubhouse. Brands are going to begin curating conversations to tap into this burgeoning audience. Imagine the Pepsi Halftime Show commentary channel, presented by Pepsi featuring Clubhouse influencers of their choosing. Every week it feels like a new idea spawns on the platform. It’s only the beginning.”
One such creator is comedian Leah Lamarr (11,600 followers). She hosted a standup comedy show on Clubhouse in mid-January with a number of comedians that drew an audience of 1,300 people. Their donations generated between $40 and $400 per comic, she said.
“It’s been very hard to make money for comics this year,” she said in a Clubhouse discussion last week involving a couple of dozen prominent moderators. “People have had to transition online. (The comedy night is) a pretty good way to do a living. I don’t have to do hair and makeup and travel? I’m in. I don’t have to have people coughing on me? I’m in.”
A second show, held Sunday night, didn’t need to pass the hat, Lamarr said, because sponsors paid up so they could reach the crowd her comics had attracted.
“There’s a lot of space on Clubhouse to make an income and grow,” she said.
Indeed, other moderators mentioned that one of the best things about Clubhouse is that it remains something of a “green field,” wide-open digital territory where they can homestead an audience whose attention hasn’t already been big-footed by long-timers.
“Everyone is on ground level here,” said Paolo Moreno (17,600 followers), a social-media veteran. “The playing field is level. I’m just excited to see all these brilliant people here. It’s more than an app. It’s the most revolutionary experience I’ve had in my lifetime.”
Nola Haynes, who teaches political science at two Southern California universities alongside a TV career, said she’d been able to lock down deals worth $40,000 since joining Clubhouse a couple of weeks prior.
“Your level of expertise, your unique lens and authenticity can truly land you” opportunities, Haynes said. “I can tell you my bank acount in 2021 is looking a lot better.”
I’m a Los Angeles-based columnist, speaker, podcaster and consultant focused on the collision of tech, media and entertainment. I also host and produce the Bloom in Tech
I’m a Los Angeles-based columnist, speaker, podcaster and consultant focused on the collision of tech, media and entertainment. I also host and produce the Bloom in Tech podcast. In my long and winding career, I previously worked as an award-winning writer and editor for publications such as Variety, Deadline, Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, and have been a communications exec at MGM, the USC Marshall School of Business, and the Los Angeles city redevelopment agency. I’m a graduate of the University of Missouri, the world’s greatest journalism school, and loving progenitor of two remarkable descendants.