Lessons learned building a Top 50 club on 👋Clubhouse — in less than 8 weeks

My perspectives on what it takes to build a successful club from a standing start, and some lessons learned to share with others embarking on their own Clubhouse journey

In effect this is a quasi how-to guide for those who want to:

  • Build a better club on Clubhouse
  • Understand how notifications work on Clubhouse
  • Consider the pros and cons of building member vs follower counts
  • Get greater audience numbers into your rooms

[NB All @addresses below are Clubhouse handles that link to Twitter profiles where available – Clubhouse profiles are currently only accessible from within the app.]

Background

Patrick (@PatrickSayers 🙌) applied for “Fintech & Payments 💰” club on 31-Dec-20 and the club was created two weeks later.

Neel @Fintech_nerd and I (@26Left) joined that first week as co-founders. We all “met” for the first time that week on Clubhouse. We’ve never actually met in real life — we live in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and the UK respectively.

But we quickly found we had a similar ethos for the club we wanted to build — a place for wide ranging, high quality, fintech and payments content for all. Given our different home locations, we knew we could cover multiple timezones and a good slew of topics, but we knew that to reach the full potential offered by the platform we would need help, so set about building the club with the help of an amazing founding Fintech & Payments team of volunteers.

As of today, the Fintech & Payments Club has over 26,000 members and followers, growing every day. All in less than 8 weeks. It has been an amazing experience, and we’ve made it work while all holding down full-time jobs (and in one case further studies). At one point in mid February we were growing at over 1,000 members & followers per day.

According to ClubhouseDB.com our Club ID is 10690 — which I believe means Fintech & Payments was the 10,690th Club created on Clubhouse (compare our ClubhouseDB URL on the first line of this paragraph with one of the biggest and earliest clubs for example). We’re currently ranked ~50th by Members, ~500th by Followers, and ~250th across Both measures combined (see chart further down).

We run a mix of regular Fintech & Payments weekly events (shout out to @Samantha — “Women In Payments Power Hour”, @MadisonL “Women in Fintech & Financial Services”, and @Jasuja#SundaySurgery”) as well as some great keynote speakers and fireside chats most weekdays (early evening time in the UK).

[Please do subscribe to our Fintech & Payments Club Calendar for more great events — it will soon become apparent as to why.]

I would like to take this opportunity to say a massive THANK YOU to all the great speakers who have lent their names, voices and thoughts to what we’re doing — there’s too many to list. Also by gratitude and appreciation to @SophieGuibaud, @PaddyRamanathan and @OliviaSegsworth in particular for your contributions to the club.

So here’s the twist. We have seen a 50% reduction in our audience size at regular weekly events and our combined member & follower growth is one third of what it was on the 21st February — see the yellow line in the chart below. Yes, we track this stuff — manually mostly but some unofficial tools have been springing up on the edges of a budding Clubhouse ecosystem, like ClubhouseDB.

This chart is what spurred me into studying how notifications work on the Clubhouse app. We’re putting on great events, almost daily. And we’re all volunteers. So I want our members and followers, who have chosen to join us on this amazing social experiment, to be able find our rooms, listen as a member of the audience, and share their question or perspective on a given topic by joining us on stage as a speaker.

And I want the team to know the work they’re doing is making a difference — we are all giving up our valuable time after all.

Initially, I thought the cause of the drop-off in members & followers and audience numbers was due to a change that Clubhouse made to its notification algorithm. Now, I’m not so sure – read on to the end for my best guess at the answer.

The drop-off appeared to coincide with an update to the Clubhouse app / service — and others I spoke to at the time (some with massive clubs measured in the 100,000s of followers) reported similar effects suddenly impacting their clubs.

Whenever you change a policy (or its digital-first equivalent, an algorithm), there are going to be winners and losers. That’s life, and I accept it. But it led me on a voyage of discovery that I thought would be helpful to share with others so they can build better clubs on Clubhouse and help them find their audience. No one wants to be the loser.

Most people find our rooms, and ultimately become a follower or member of a club because they received an app notification suggesting they join one of the event “rooms” we host on Clubhouse.

The discovery of a room is one of the most magical things about Clubhouse. It’s ultimately what makes the whole experience a love letter to the power of serendipity.

Discovery is not a random process — far from it. My personal experience of the app I think is far from unique. Via Clubhouse, l have re-connected with long lost friends and former colleagues, learnt about a subject that had never caught my attention previously, and gained a whole new perspective on an issue I thought I understood — likely due to an interaction with someone on the other side of the world, that I have never met, and likely never will. It will blow your mind, trust me.

BUT — if you want to find a specific room via the app that you know is happening right now and you want to join… that can be difficult. Notifications are the best route to achieve this. So …

How do notifications on Clubhouse work?

I started out with the following key questions:

  1. Which events create notifications? (this you can infer from the app interface and experience of the app from every day use)
  2. How does the Clubhouse app decide which notifications you receive? (To quote Chris Smither “the best answer, you learnt a long time ago: I don’t know.” But I have a hypothesis regarding the Clubhouse algorithms that I am willing to share — and I’m open to feedback)
  3. What user settings and club owner/admin actions further impact the notifications you receive? (Here lies the rub if you want to skip ahead.)

In short, lots of different things. Broadly speaking the actions you take on the app, and the actions that others take on the app, will define what notifications you receive via a social media concept known as the social graph.

The social graph is effectively a relational database that describes the spider’s web of connections between you as a user, the people who are following you (your Followers), the people you are Following, as well as the clubs where you are a Follower or a Member. Your self-declared Interests, chosen from a pre-determined list curated by Clubhouse, and the three chosen by the admins of the clubs you follow, are likely to have an impact also.

See the yellow box in the top right of the below diagram, and the four multi-coloured boxes on the left hand side that make up your social graph — as assembled by, you guessed it, algorithms.

This is where things get a little complicated — and my views here are largely based off intuition, patchy data, my limited knowledge and experience. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no privileged or private access to the inside of the Clubhouse. These are just my thoughts, gleaned from being a semi-active user on Clubhouse and one of the founders of the Fintech & Payments club. [And I would really welcome any views that others can offer. Probably best to email me — James at the Fintech & Payments Club domain name.]

From what I can tell, event notifications get filtered in 6 different ways. The first four define what Clubhouse wants to send to you, the last two determine what you want to receive. See the diagram below.

  1. Activity. I believe Clubhouse sends you notifications based on your activity levels within the app. If you’re not on the app, they want you on the app — this is where on-device notifications help. And if you’re on the app, but your activity levels are flagging, in-app notifications help keep your interest and you on the app for longer.
  2. Behaviour. If you’re not in a room, Clubhouse wants you to be in a room that holds your attention rather than roaming the halls. It’s a bit like you’re surfing the channels on the TV finding something to watch: your behaviour on the app will help train the algorithms — which rooms keep your attention, and which do not, resulting in you leaving the room and looking for something else.
  3. Context: I think this for me cuts in different ways.
    * First, where are you in your Clubhouse journey — to start with, Clubhouse wants you to find some engaging rooms that are perhaps more generic than niche. Over time as they learn your tastes and preferences from using the app, you should be getting more specific recommendations through your notification feeds.
    * Second, I think Clubhouse might analyse which topics, and which people / rooms / clubs in particular, capture your interest, based on your audience and speaker activity. Armed with this information, I think they weight different identities in your social graph. If you spend a lot of time listening to Bobby talk about Aviation, the app should help you find Bobby and Aviation topics again.
    * Third, I think Clubhouse analyses when you are active on the app and when you are busy doing other stuff elsewhere. If you’re a shift worker who can or cannot listen in at certain times of the day for example, there’s little point sending you invitations to join rooms that you can’t (and previously have clearly ignored).
  4. Frequency: I think there are global settings that Clubhouse apply to the frequency of notifications for two reasons.
    * First, I think Clubhouse may use global settings to control the roll out of the app. As the social graph builds, and user adoption grows, more notification events will be triggered (more users x more followers/following x more clubs), and it gets to the point where people are getting over-saturated with notifications. This may risk people turning off notifications altogether — see grey box — which would be a coarse filter best avoided if possible.
    * Second, I think Clubhouse may deliberately boost new clubs by giving them more than their fair share of notifications vs other clubs to help founding teams get adoption and establish new clubs. More, vibrant clubs is good for Clubhouse.

The user settings are relatively easy to understand — see first diagram for the list of settings you can configure to suit your preferences. The impact of club owner actions however are less clear. Part of me is concerned that our use of off-Clubhouse tools, like a website and a public calendar, which means people can find our club events directly via a URL/hyperlink (see black box in the bottom right corner of the first diagram) is causing Clubhouse to generate fewer notifications for the benefit of our members and followers because we are doing more of the work ourselves, so they are instead pushing notifications to our potential audience members for the benefit of other clubs instead.

The other thing that we’ve done in the F&P club which I think is quite unusual, and may have reduced our fair share of notifications, is that we’ve actively invited all our followers to become members. For us as a founding team, we wanted our club to be open to all, and so membership is also available to all.

We’re also grateful to our members, who are willing to share their membership badge/affiliation at the bottom of their profile — in effect a clickable advert for our club to attract new followers in the app. Every new follower of our club is invited to become a member — but they don’t have to accept the invite if they want to remain a follower only. If they do accept the invite, they can nominate their contacts to join the club, in an effort to drive up the R number that measures viral growth and bring more members into the club. So perhaps the algorithms don’t like this pro-member stance we’ve taken.

If the notification algorithm is based on high growth of followers, then we don’t have that, by design. Our follower numbers have been fairly static at ~10,000 over the last few weeks as we invited everyone who followed our club to become a member if they wanted. In fact, for a time our follower numbers actually went down slightly (see red line 21/Feb) as we moved people from the Follower to Member column bit by bit — its a 3 click manual process per user.

  1. Promote use of Ping To Room (PTR) via the (+) button with your audience — it appears to bypass the filters
  2. Encourage your Followers to make use of the Bell notification (“Always notify me when X speaks”)
  3. Promote events outside of Clubhouse — e.g. social media, public calendars — I’d be surprised if this is causing a slow down in notifications given the app is on a sharp growth trajectory right now.
  4. Create own event notification streams for your club — e.g. email list / SMS notifications — see FintechAndPayments.Club/register for example

In conclusion, I don’t have a conclusive answer as to why our growth rates and audience figures have fallen back. In the spirit of the early days of any new digital tools, we will continue to experiment. And we will continue to bring great quality events to the stage on Clubhouse for the benefit of all our club Members and Followers, and anyone new just passing by.

Thanks for reading, and please leave any comments below, I’ll do my best to respond!✌️

Engineer by education, Consultant by experience, Entrepreneur at heart. My professional focus is #fintech, I’m an #avgeek, + I occasionally blog about #politics

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