How Clubhouse’s Viral Engine of Growth Works

Photo by Josh Rose on Unsplash

Clubhouse has taken the world by storm. Everyday I get notifications that one of my long-lost contacts have signed up for the service. They have built a phenomenal engine of viral growth — let’s take a look at how they’ve done it.

We all know what it’s like to have username envy — those first name Twitter handles are a prime example. Tapping into this desire to claim a limited resource, Clubhouse allows anyone to claim a username, even if they have not yet been invited or made an account. This is an easy way for the Clubhouse team to get users into the first step of the funnel.

The app is currently invite only. Rather than opening their doors to everyone only to have half of their users churn because the product was not fully fleshed out, the Clubhouse team focused on a niche. Launching with tech scene in SF allowed them to get feedback and make adjustments quickly. Controlling the availability of invites enabled them to turn on the gas once they had confidence the product was fit for broader adoption. This invite only system also made the app feel exclusive — their early users were big names, adding to mystery and desirability of this new audio-only social network.

This is the big (and controversial) one. When setting up Clubhouse, you’re asked to provide access to your contact list to find people you know. Ever since LinkedIn spammed all your email contacts with invites many years ago, we’ve all become leery of granting this type of access. However, because they’ve cultivated a mysterious allure via step 2, and a friend you trust personally invited you, you’re more likely to proceed. When you do, you’re presented with the standard list of contacts to follow, but they also put together a list of contacts that are not on Clubhouse but have a lot of friends that are. This is a clever way to grease the invite wheel and get the people that are the most likely to have a positive experience in the app invited.

Not only does every profile show when the user joined (a la Twitter), it also shows the profile of who invited them. This changes the invite incentives because now early users have the opportunity to have their username name stamped on someone else’s profile for life. If you only have a few invites to share, you’ll probably think twice about who you invite, causing invites to naturally flow to people who are the most likely to ‘succeed’ on Clubhouse.

When someone you know joins, Clubhouse instantly sends you (and all of their other contacts on Clubhouse) a push notification to talk with them in a room. This causes existing users who may have churned to be brought back into the app to connect with a friend, drive app engagement. Two, having personal connections onboard new users is much more likely to get them to the elusive ‘aha moment’ than any automated experience could, improving long-term app retention.

When I first installed the app, I was getting a lot of push notifications. To be fair, some of them worked. I was able to join a room that had Marc Andreessen speaking — cool! That being said, it was getting overwhelming. Typically I would just disable all push notifications from the iOS system level. But instead Clubhouse has added the ability to tune the notification frequency in the app. Problem solved.

There you have it. I expect to see more of these tactics being used in other social apps soon.

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Previously product at NBC News and AMC Networks. Looking for my next opportunity.