With an increase of 1,000,000 followers in just two weeks, new social media app Clubhouse is suddenly the hot topic. But what is it, what does it offer, and what chance does it have of making new friends in an already-saturated market?

The voice-and-audio-based social network Clubhouse is still unknown to many. This is mainly down to two reasons – firstly it’s exclusive to Apple, so can only be accessed by around 25% of mobile users, and secondly it’s currently invite only. This exclusivity, along with the allure of the number of celebrities using it (Oprah, Drake and MC Hammer are just some of the famous names you can potentially talk with, along with Spring founder Erika Clegg), is a potent mix, but can people sustain another social media app?

The standard social media format is pretty much sewn up (even the mighty Google couldn’t break the hegemony) and the only truly successful new social media networks have become big players by striking out into clear blue waters – Snapchat went after the teenagers who wouldn’t be seen dead using the same platform as their parents, and TikTok is in the process of hoovering up the younger adolescents. When you want a piece of the cake but there are only crumbs left, what can you do?

Clubhouse has chosen to change the model. While you do need to be invited on to it by someone you know, and it does show you how many of your contacts are using the app, it is more about connecting you with people you don’t know. You can browse a range of rooms where conversations, talks and round tables are happening and join and leave them at your leisure. As you become more involved in the discussions which are going on you naturally form links with other participants and grow your Clubhouse network.

Another draw is its audio format. In this working-from-home world it’s hard to get away from the computer, and even our socialising has to be via our devices: community has become Zoomunity. Clubhouse lets you slip the shackles of the screen, allowing you to interact while you’re on a walk, doing the washing-up, tending the garden or anything that requires your focus. It’s the next evolutionary step for podcasts, and with the rise in popularity of the smart speaker it can only benefit as we near the tipping point for a change to voice as the way we primarily interact with our devices.

In the business world Clubhouse has enormous potential for brands. As it’s essentially a networking event and giant free conference all in one. Companies can host their own room and share their expert knowledge and advice with attendees, establishing themselves as authorities in their field. They can run an exclusive workshop for clients and allow them to invite a ‘plus one’; an easy way to forge new connections. They can identify clients they’d like to work with and join one of their rooms to establish contact quickly and easily. Even attending a general talk on a subject the brand specialises in will put its profile in front of dozens, perhaps hundreds of potential new clients. And because interaction is verbal on Clubhouse, with all the nuance and tone and the ability to respond immediately that entails, it’s far simpler to establish rapport with people than through the written posts of rivals such as Facebook and Twitter.

There’s still plenty of mountain for Clubhouse to climb before it can truly be considered a social media giant though, most notably it needs to work out how to scale up its userbase without losing what currently makes it special. It must also find an effective way to moderate its users – something that has eluded companies like Facebook and Twitter – and it needs to develop a suitable way to monetise what it has created. Get these factors right and in a couple of years Clubhouse could well be the app that’s found on everyone’s phone.