Joining the Club

Joining the Club

I originally wrote this article for the March 28th 2021 issue of Campaign Middle East magazine

The audio-based social networking app, Clubhouse has exploded onto the social media scene over the last few months on a wave of hype originating from a host of technology enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley. The app is a kind of cross between radio and podcasts, combining the live nature of broadcast radio, with the topical discoverability and subscription of podcasts.

Users can create “rooms” to host a talk themselves or have a chat with others, and their followers, or anyone that is interested, can listen and even join in with the discussion if the moderator allows, not unlike the virtual Zoom panels that we’ve all become so accustomed to over the last year, but with a social layer on top. Users are notified when someone they follow starts a room and they are presented with a feed of talks that are taking place right then in topics that they find interesting. It has the feel of walking around at a conference being able to duck into and out of a bunch of interesting talks. Moderators can also create “clubs”, which are akin to Facebook Groups where regular meetups can be scheduled and accepted in advance.

Rooms tend to have a very open, conversational feel and, while there is an opportunity to join in with many discussions (not unlike a radio phone-in show), many users admit to listening passively in the background while doing something else. Chats are not recorded and can’t be listened to after they finish, which gives them a sense of urgency and FOMO – join in now or forever miss out on what was said. To create a sense of exclusivity (and presumably to avoid the Fail Whale crashes that plagued Twitter in its early days), new members can only sign-up to Clubhouse if invited by a current user. Each user has two invites to share. An ephemeral nature has helped create an engaged user base and the invite-only sign-up process has only added to the curiosity.

As most of this recent buzz has been fueled by a burst of activity in Silicon Valley, the content on the platform at the moment tends to lean heavily on the US tech and investment scene – users went wild when Elon Musk hosted an impromptu interview with Vlad Tenev, CEO of trading app Robinhood, during the recent Gamestop stock saga. Despite this, as the user base continues to grow and diversify, it’s not hard to imagine how the content on the platform might evolve with more space dedicated to topics such as sports, cooking, health, art, culture, politics – you name it. Users have grown from just 2,000 last June, to over 10 million by March this year, although the app is still only available on iPhone for the time being.

Advertising on Clubhouse

Clubhouse currently does not host any advertising on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that savvy brands can’t get involved. Burger King parent company, Restaurant Brands International (RBI) hosted an hour-long “Open Kitchen” chat with customers the day after reporting its 2020 earnings results in February. CEO José Cil, CMO Fernando Machado and some other executives spoke about the company’s sustainability work and Burger King’s new loyalty program, and they have plans to continue the chats every two weeks.

But there are other ways for advertisers to join in the buzz too. Similar to the way that sponsoring podcasts and webinars currently works, brands can sponsor rooms and get the host to read out a short sponsored message or shout-out during a call, maybe along with some kind of special offer for listeners. Alternatively, brands can sponsor a room or club and have their brand name included in the title of the event so it stands out as users browse through their feed. Some topic-specific clubs are starting to gain a significant following and there could be opportunities for paid guest spots where brand representatives would get a chance to speak to their followers.

While it may feel like there are already enough social media platforms out there, if history has taught us anything, it’s that there always seems to be room for one more. The recent explosive popularity of Clubhouse suggests that this concept has legs. Twitter has recently announced a copycat product called Spaces, and Facebook is also reportedly working on something similar. First-mover advantage can be a real asset when it comes to new channels so brands in the region should start thinking about how they might use a platform like this to get in front of their customers.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Social Media
Moderating Campaign Middle East’s AdTech Strategies 2021 Panel

Moderating Campaign Middle East’s AdTech Strategies 2021 Panel

I was delighted to moderate today’s AdTech Strategies 2021 panel for Campaign Middle East. The panelists were from Google, Huawei Ads and MMP WorldWide.

Find out more here and watch it here.

Programmatic after cookies

The cookie is dead. Long live … the what? As Google joins other technology game-changers in their move towards a pro-user-privacy and preference model, programmatic advertising continues to evolve to stay relevant in a world that is now increasingly leaning towards first-party data. Campaign’s panel of industry experts look at the latest updates to programmatic advertising and how clients can make the most of them.

Posted by Rob in Tech
Catch me on this week’s episode of The Prof G Show

Catch me on this week’s episode of The Prof G Show

I appeared on this week’s episode of Scott Galloway’s The Prof G Show with an Office Hours question about Facebook’s antitrust challenges:

With all this antitrust pressure facing Facebook at the moment, do you think there’s any chance that – if they are forced to divest one or more of their assets – Mark Zuckerberg could choose to get rid of Facebook, the ‘Big Blue app’ itself, rather than, for example, Instagram?

Some estimates say that, by next year, Instagram could account for up to 40% of the parent company’s advertising revenue, and this has been increasing significantly every year since Instagram started really generating revenue back in 2015. And with some other beefed-up revenue-generating features like shopping also gaining traction on Instagram lately, it’s maybe not crazy to think that, in the next couple of years, Instagram could end up bringing in more “cabbage” than Facebook itself. With all the controversy around fake news and content moderation on the Facebook platform, it might be starting to seem like more trouble than it’s worth.

So, what do you think – could Mark Zuckerberg ever give up his baby for a potentially greater shot at better future revenue?

Check it out at about the 45:35 mark below to see what Scott had to say.

As a follow-up, I posed the same question to long-time Facebook observer, WIRED Editor at Large, and author of ‘Facebook: An Inside Story‘, Steven Levy, and this is what he had to say.

Posted by Rob in Facebook

Serendipity is TikTok’s secret weapon

I originally wrote this article for the Autumn 2020 issue of WIRED Middle East magazine

In the 2001 rom-com Serendipity, a love-struck John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale engage in a cosmic test to measure their compatibility. Instead of simply swapping phone numbers, one of them writes their number on the back of a $5 bill, the other on the inside of a book cover, and they send them off out into the world. If they are meant to be together, fate will dictate that their paths will cross again. Spoiler alert: they are, it does, and they do. While it’s no Citizen Kane, the message is clear: some things in life are best left to chance. A bit schmaltzy, sure. But there’s some truth in there too.

In today’s world where the shows we watch, the things we read, and the products we buy are increasingly influenced by algorithms, these moments of serendipity are becoming rarer than ever. Platforms like Facebook, Amazon and Netflix know so much about us, yet their view of us can be surprisingly narrow. Or at least that’s how it seems when you look at how they act on this information, primarily showing us recommendations based on things that they know we already like. Oh, you liked the Facebook page of a certain politician? Here’s a bunch of Facebook pages for affiliated political groups. Watched a horror movie on Netflix lately? Here’s a hundred other horror movies. Searched for a smartphone on Amazon? Feast your eyes on a thousand similar smartphones that follow you around the web waving at you from every page you visit. Just like the way you might find yourself in an online filter bubble surrounded by like-minded people because of the content you interact with, you can also end up in a loop of the same type of stuff being recommended to you again and again. But we are not as one dimensional as the algorithms might wish we were. Sometimes all we really need is something a bit different. TikTok is one of the few platforms that seems to understand this.

Read the full article on page 30 of WIRED Middle East‘s Autumn 2020 issue.

Posted by Rob in Social Media, Tik Tok, Wired Middle East

Reem Al Marzouqi Interview for WIRED Middle East

I originally wrote this article for the Autumn 2020 issue of WIRED Middle East magazine

Thomas Edison was a busy guy. The renowned American inventor was responsible for such innovations as the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb and one of the earliest motion picture cameras. In total, Edison was granted over 1,000 patents in his lifetime – a figure that is regularly used to illustrate his status as a pioneer. And it’s this symbol of the patent that’s such a powerful representation of innovation and originality – a way of quantifying humanity adapting to an ever-changing world. In a typical year, over 300,000 patents are granted in the United States of America alone, and since 1836, 10 million of them have been issued to inventors from all over the world. But until 2013, none of these came from the UAE. All that changed when 23 year-old Emirati engineering student, Reem Al Marzouqi, was awarded a US patent for designing a car for people with special needs that can be driven without using their hands.

Read the full article on page 79 of WIRED Middle East‘s Autumn 2020 issue.

Posted by Rob in Wired Middle East