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MUMBAI : It’s less than a year and a half since its launch but “Do people still use Clubhouse?" is the incredulous question often seen on social media. The numbers show that the hunch isn’t unfounded. The audio-only social app, introduced worldwide for iOS users in April 2020, backed by a16z and valued at $4 billion, has seen a dramatic fall in user growth and engagement in India, one of its top markets, over the last few months.

In June, buoyed by its launch on Android in the last week of May, Clubhouse clocked 5.9 million app downloads in India across Apple Store and Play Store. This plummeted to 1.4 million in July, as per data from Sensor Tower, a mobile app analytics firm. In August, app installs stood at 558,000, an almost 60% drop compared to the previous month. Clubhouse’s daily active users on Android devices in India stood at 1.26 million in August, 46.75% less than July, according to data from Similarweb, a web analytics platform.

“Most platforms plateau after attracting a significant user base," says Gautam Mehra, CEO of Dentsu Programmatic. “This (drop in numbers), however, is not a regular phenomenon for an app in its growth stage." If the engagement numbers continue to fall for another 2-3 months, it will be worrying, says Mehra, who is also the chief data and product officer at Dentsu APAC. “It’ll make advertisers more cautious about taking risks and betting on new platforms."

On Clubhouse, users get together in an online chatroom to listen to conversations on a variety of topics—a bit like a panel discussion without the video. It became all the rage after celebrities from Elon Musk and Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerburg ‘walked’ into rooms and joined conversations.

A Clubhouse spokesperson said, “Those numbers are not accurate, but directionally, there was a spike in June due to the pent-up demand from Android users waiting to join. In the months since, we’ve continued to see waves of new users join, and engagement grow."

Even if sudden demand pushed June’s numbers up, Clubhouse downloads seem to be on the decline. Downloads for August are far lower than May’s 1.5 million. Many users told Mint they have shifted from hosting daily sessions to weekly rooms and reduced time spent on the app. The easing of pandemic-related restrictions, which inadvertently boosted Clubhouse’s growth, might be a reason it is losing steam.

“During the lockdown, a lot of people starved of social interactions needed a platform where they could speak, listen, and forge meaningful relations with like-minded strangers," says Vibin Baburajan, who joined Clubhouse in November 2020 and has over 10,000 followers. “But now people are meeting in real life, so there is very little social conversation for which I need Clubhouse."

Until 21 May, the app was available only to iOS users in India, and rooms had limited attendance. “During June-July, my rooms started attracting 200-1,500 people," he says. “Now that number has come down to 70-100 people for a really good topic." Baburajan is the co-founder of an 82,000-member strong ‘All India Startups’ club on the app. It is tough to be passively engaged with an audio-only app as it doesn’t allow for scrolling or engagement as other social media platforms do, he says.

“An engaged, long-duration, audio-only format is against any trend we’re seeing in the content consumption space at the moment," says Mehra of Dentsu. “It’s all about quick snackable videos right now."

Clubhouse seems bullish on India. “We launched our first CreatorFirst Program outside of the US in India and have received enthusiastic participation. As we continue to expand further, we will be rolling out a host of new features, including monetization, to help empower creators," the company spokesperson says.

Saina Jayapal, who has been on Clubhouse since February, says those still active have dedicated rooms they follow or run. Besides a weekly room on nostalgia, Jayapal, a PR professional from Bengaluru, co-hosts a current affairs room every morning where she and three others read newspaper headlines from Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka. It completed 100 episodes recently. She, too, has seen the strength of her rooms slashed to a quarter of what it used to be two months ago. There’s definitely a sense of fatigue, says Jayapal, adding that it is difficult to sustain rooms and interesting conversations.

Rooms with themes like music and ‘shoot your shot’ (for romantic pursuits) have done well consistently. Anirudh Deshmukh, who co-hosts a music-themed room, Late Night Jam, with over 66,000 followers, has also seen a dip in numbers, but he says it is because people got familiar with the app and started forming smaller clubs.

It’s still premature to say if Clubhouse’s loss is Twitter Spaces’ gain, but the likes of Deshmukh and Jayapal may not switch platforms because they are Clubhouse-first creators who built their tribe here. Deshmukh says if there’s a ‘Clubhouse fatigue’, it does not apply to him. “Audio live-streaming allows little room for editing and backspacing in the conversation. This format suits me."

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