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As established social media companies turn to copycat features that mimic the latest platform grabbing users' attention, experts say understanding the audience is key to success. In the case of Twitter Spaces, it may have potential to outlive Clubhouse, its inspiration.
Twitter Spaces is a new feature within Twitter that allows users to create rooms for voice-only chats. Twitter Canada confirmed in an email that the feature will be available to Canadians next month. The platform is similar to Clubhouse, which launched last year. Facebook has also announced it will offer a similar voice-only chat room feature soon.
Shaan Puri, a California-based entrepreneur and start-up investor, says that Spaces has the advantage of having over 300 million active users already to attract to its new tool.
“It’s really well made and fits like a glove [on the platform],” he said in an interview. “The Clubhouse app may not succeed long term, but the feature will live on inside other big social networks.”
Puri added that Clubhouse isn't just an app, but rather is a “content format,” similar to Snapchat, which originally created the concept of a 'stories' feature, as now appears on Instagram and Facebook.
“Now it’s a race. Can Clubhouse add tens of millions of users faster than Twitter can add Clubhouse features into its app?” Puri said, adding that big social media companies are “net importers” of innovation.
He says big companies “don’t have the speed, focus, and creativity” to come up with new features, so they let other companies do it and “just copy the one that works.”
“It worked for Instagram cloning Snapchat stories, which slowed down Snap’s growth for some time. It didn’t work with Facebook’s poke clone, or reels so far with TikTok,” he said.
Richard Lachman, an expert on user experience and associate professor at Ryerson University, says smaller companies now tend to be much better funded and can scale themselves, and choose to not sell their company at an earlier stage.
“So what you instead are now seeing is this photocopying of features,” he said in an interview. “The challenge is really if it’s a match for you, is it a match for your audience? If you can take something and turn it into a match for your existing audience then it can be good.”
Instagram found success with stories because it had a very specific type of audience, Lachman said, adding that the same wasn’t the case for reels.
“TikTok has a very different audience than all the other social media platforms. So any attempt to try and copy the TikTok model is a challenge,” he said.
Where Twitter will succeed with Spaces is if influential people start using it as a way to extend a conversation from a tweet they’ve put out, he said.
“So if the question is what am I going to listen to? Using tweets as a path in, as an index, as advertising to an interesting topic I tweeted about and then I’m also going to be talking about it, that’s a good match,” he said.
Where a company finds success is in how much they understand their audience, Lachman said, adding there have been other major social media companies that stayed true to their model and chose not to add features and scale-up.
“Reddit could have a lot of other features, they could monetize more, but they’re incredibly loyal and the fans who are on Reddit are on it seriously. They get their audience and they don’t need to roll out eight million other features,” he said.
Ramona Pringle, a tech expert and associate professor at Ryerson University, says while Clubhouse is innovative and a great space for speakers, it hasn’t figured out how to get users to connect with each other. She added that after using Clubhouse, users are going to Twitter to connect with speakers.
“Clubhouse, they don’t acknowledge it, but it’s a service that leans very heavily on Twitter. The fact that there is no internal messaging means that most people are communicating through Twitter,” she said in an interview.
Pringle says either Clubhouse will build out a messaging feature, or it will continue to lean on Twitter for those purposes.
With Spaces, Pringle says we’ve yet to see how successful it will be, but that if the content in Spaces is compelling enough for users, it in turn will have a good chance at being competitive.
“Twitter can do a good job of Spaces because they’ve already got those features [like messaging] built-in, it’s a much more seamless experience,” she said.