Navigating Clubhouse as a South Asian creative is complicated
February 5, 2021
What you need to know about the networking scene on Clubhouse.
By Nivita Sriram & Samia Abbasi
Clubhouse is a drop-in audio chat app that launched its beta stage in 2020 that you might be hearing more about. What’s interesting about the platform is that: a.) It’s free but invite-only to access and currently only for iPhone users in certain countries. b.) There are various conversation rooms you can hop in and out of throughout the day. c.) Anyone can create a room with co-moderators, and moderators can invite audience members to speak. There’s a good sense of fluidity on Clubhouse. You can be listening on your phone while working or actively participate in a conversation. But there’s no pressure to speak; maybe some internal pressure, though. The decision is yours to opt in if given the opportunity. There are a ton of clubs and conversations that span a variety of identity, interests, careers, and social/trending topics. We are both emerging South Asian creatives and writers, so navigating Clubhouse has been interesting. After joining some conversations and hearing people’s perspectives about the app, we have a few things to unpack with you.
The good: How Clubhouse centers storytelling & information-sharing
Given that Clubhouse is a voice-based platform, it encourages long form content instead of visual content. Think of it like impromptu Zoom panels that you can attend without RSVP-ing and not feeling bad about leaving 15 minutes in. You can get connected to so many different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. Provided that a room is truly an inclusive and safe space, there’s a removal of barriers to having your perspective shared and listened to.
Clubhouse can be a great networking tool for new and emerging creatives to share their stories.
After listening to a couple of conversations and figuring out the flow of Clubhouse, you can reflect on what you want to hear more about and have the ability to make that conversation happen. As emerging writers, we can share our storytelling and experiences in a different medium.
We’ve been able to listen and participate in conversations with South Asian creatives on topics such as mental health, relationships, and getting from point A to point B in your career. You know a room is good when people are ‘taking space, and making space,’ being both vulnerable & insightful, and adding new layers to existing conversations.
The not-so-good: How Clubhouse mimics networking norms and toxic behavior on social media
Recent conversations have been happening about the lack of content moderation on Clubhouse and accountability for folks who exhibit racist, sexist, xenophobic, and bigoted perspectives. This can be really uncomfortable for marginalized people to navigate yet another platform that doesn’t make them feel safe. Despite Clubhouse being a platform that is voice-based,
There isn’t a collective culture of centering, listening to, and uplifting viewpoints from marginalized voices on Clubhouse.
We’ve been in some respectful and inclusive rooms. We’ve also been in rooms that are uncomfortable and reinforce binary ideas about gender, family, culture, and more. Especially in larger conversations on Clubhouse, cis men often take up space (unsurprisingly) in ways we already see happening in the workplace, on panels, and many industries in general. We’ve often seen women and gender expansive voices step in to steer the conversation in a more inclusive and perceptive direction — that centers collaboration rather than competition.
3 Things we’d love to see more of on Clubhouse:
1. More listening. Something we both have consistently noticed in Clubhouse is the tendency for people to go unheard, ignored, or brushed off. Sure, there may be personality involved — there most definitely is. Those who are confident enough will unmute themselves and speak, regardless if there were other people waiting their turn. It’s obviously difficult to navigate a space where you can’t read faces/facial expressions, or truly get a grasp on ‘reading the room,’ but there are some guidelines to follow within the Clubhouse world. It may be a moderator’s ‘job’ to handle these difficult situations — and many people have effectively created an open space for everyone to feel welcome and heard. Alternatively, if one person is speaking, it is common courtesy to let them finish before jumping in. Just like we wouldn’t interrupt someone in a ‘real life’ conversation, it’s imperative that listeners...listen. Interruptions happen, and more often than not, the interruptions tend to happen when a woman is speaking, and a cis man continues to speak over her. When someone is sharing their story or real life experience, as audience members or fellow speakers, and moderators,
We owe it to the individual speaking to listen to their full story, and acknowledge them sharing their part.
2. Less Q&A’s, more inclusive discussions. Open Q&A’s are great in a formal, in person panel setting. In Clubhouse, Q&A style rooms tend to send off a hierarchical vibe that can rub people the wrong way. Yes, there are experts in specific fields, but having ‘X’ number of followers does not equate to deeming oneself as an expert on the chosen topic. Rooms that are successful tend to be more conversational, with open-ended questions that lead to deeper discussions that may continue for hours at end. Q&A sessions prevent individuals with a ‘smaller following’ base from having their voices heard, compared to rooms that are fostering conversation about a general topic, that individuals may or may not be seen as ‘experts’ in. Rooms that leave us feeling rejuvenated, inspired, heard, understood — and best of all — with a sense of belonging, are the rooms that allow for differing opinions and friendly conversation. The rooms we find ourselves staying and participating in, are the rooms that welcome everyone to become a speaker, giving everyone in the room a voice. That is what Clubhouse is for, and that’s what it needs to be.
3. We hate to say it, but authenticity. Transferring a large follower base to Clubhouse from Instagram simply because of influencer status...really? Clubhouse is not a platform designed to quickly gain followers — followers don’t matter that much on Clubhouse. Are you sharing helpful information, insights, experiences and stories that listeners can walk away from, feeling better than before? Do listeners have the ability to spend time in your room and leave the room having learned something new?
Remove speakers who express xenophobic, offensive and intolerant views. Clubhouse certainly isn’t the space for a negative rhetoric. Encourage individuals to share their stories, while maintaining a safe, confidential space. If your desire is purely to lead to an increase in followers on social, do so by hosting rooms that are beneficial to your potential listeners as well — even about general topics rather than the area you see yourself as an ‘expert’ in, whether it be through passion or profession. This, to us, is what Clubhouse is all about:
Creating connections based on conversation and shared information, rather than eye-catching images on a feed.