John O’Brien MBE on how to make the most of Clubhouse

John O’Brien MBE on how to make the most of Clubhouse

If you haven’t heard of social networking app Clubhouse, you will soon. Part talk radio, part conference call, it’s an entirely audio-based platform. Some of the biggest names in business and entertainment, from Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to Kanye West and Oprah Winfrey, are among the members of this exclusive, invitation-only platform.

It was launched a year ago this month. So we asked John O’Brien MBE, Managing Partner EMEA, at Omnicom agency One Hundred, for his tips on how it all works.

Hosting two, popular shows a week on Clubhouse his impressive guest list has included King of Shaves Founder Will King, US Olympic gold medallist Diane Dixon and MD of ICELAND Foods, Richard Walker and Mumsnet Founder Justine Roberts.

Clubhouse is the most talked about app at the moment. User numbers recently surged form 3.5 million to 8.1 million in just two weeks. Is it just hype or do you see it as a valuable channel?

John: “Yes, there is quite a bit of hype around it but whatever happens, such as the risk of it being acquired by Facebook, I think it’s here to stay. Firstly, because it’s voice-based – it’s not visual. That, for some people, creates new freedoms and opportunities. Over the weeks I have been there, lots of people have been saying I have a distinctive voice. Someone even asked if I work for the BBC. I’ve never seen my voice as a part of my identity. That can be an opportunity for others.

“I have shared platforms and made good contacts with prominent individuals in high positions in society through Clubhouse. I already have a good network in real-life but I’ve found it to be another channel to reach people because I’ve been talking about things that they too are interested in.

“It’s really about authenticity. If you’re a celebrity or a business leader used to having content created for you then adding a smattering of your personality, that doesn’t work here. It has to be you. For example, two days ago I was in a room with Mark Zuckerberg and at another time with Elon Musk.”

When did you join and how many talks do you host and attend in an average month?

John: “I joined on 18 January this year and have used it in two ways. For the first two weeks, I just listened in to see how it works. Then I tentatively put my hand up in a room. Even though I have taken part in conferences, talks and workshops in real life, I was very nervous the first time. But once it happens, you start.

“I use it like radio playing in the background. If I hear something interesting I put my hand up and comment.

“I also host a regular midweek conversation on Wednesdays from 7 to 8.30pm and a pop-up on Thursdays from 4.30 to 5.30. The Thursday talks are work-focused around purpose. My midweek talk is usually with four guests. I recently had Justine Roberts, Founder of Mumsnet and soon we will have James Timpson, the owner of Timpson.

“I run it like a talk show. I always ask something like: ‘What was it like growing up – did you show any early signs of being an entrepreneur?’ and we usually talk about leadership and purpose.”

What issues have you found interest users the most?

“I’ve found three topics have been popular. People are desperate for leadership tips – their own and the welfare of people around them and personal development. Secondly, a lot of really basic business management knowledge like HR. And there is a lot of interest in how to grow market share.”

What is your approach to each discussion?

“I have one golden rule. I try to respond with experience rather than advice.”

Do you think marketers could use it to drive influence or build their brand?

“Yes, but only through people. Brands have to realise that they cannot build influence and profile on Clubhouse based on the qualities of their brand; only on the quality of their people. Unless you can communicate through your voice and share all your human characteristics, people won’t re-invite you.

“Compared to other social media, which are all highly visual, I liken it to the time when silent movie actors started working in ‘the talkies’ when sound was first available in film. Some of the actors’ voices didn’t live up to what audiences expected. On Clubhouse, you can only influence through your voice and showing understanding of what you’re talking about. And you have to be human.”

What are your top tips for creating a great talk on Clubhouse?

“It’s similar to a real-life event. Be clear on your topic. I’m not trying to position or sell anything but I’m sure that if you wanted to offer ‘Top 10 tips on building a corporate reputation’ people who are interested in that would come. But you need a big following first. You also need interesting guests. And you need to lay down the rules of your room straight away – how you’ll handle questions, whether you’ll move people up asking questions or move them down. You need to determine and stick to these rules.

“And finally – and I’ve seen a few disasters around this one – there’s quite a lot to do during a talk. So have a gang of moderators to bring people up on stage. They need to be people you trust and really know or they won’t know what to expect of you.”