Ello, Paid Social Networks and Marketing

Last week a new rage hit the Internet in the new social network site Ello. Reports were invite requests to join the site were poring in at 40,000 an hour. Interestingly, it’s not any set of new features that is drawing a crowd, but rather a bold manifesto the site holds that its users are not for sale to advertisers. This is primarily a reaction to Facebook which makes most of it’s money in targeted advertising. To do that, Facebook has to carefully watch what you post on the site as well as who you follow and what you “like”. This is Big Data analysis in the service of advertisers finding the right audience to sell to. Don’t kid yourself, Google was the first to pioneer this business model, but for some reason, Facebook gets most of the flack for using it. The second major issue that gave momentum to Ello was when Facebook said people could no longer use pseudonyms or stage names. Turns out many drag performers and other people like to use their stage names or nicknames and this new Facebook policy drove many of them to Ello. As of today, however, Facebook has already indicated they may backtrack on this policy, at least a bit.

So here comes Ello, who proudly proclaim they will not play the advertising game and where freedom reigns. The question you should be asking yourself is, how are they going to make money because nothing is free. The answer is, they will run a base set of features for free and charge for certain enhanced features. This idea of a paid for social network that would eschew, advertising is not new. App.net tried this, with little success, as an alternative to Twitter and Diaspora tried famously to replace Facebook. It also failed. You can puff out your chest and proclaim the evils of Facebook all day, but that alone will not make you a success.

The other part you need to know about Ello is that it’s very stripped down as far as features and the look is very unusual. It is bare bones utilitarian and even sports a typewriter font. It’s raw simplicity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there are many features missing that I think most people will be disappointed by. Currently, there is no way to block or silence annoying users and url’s that are pasted in are not automatically shortened. There is also no way to easily re-share a post and the search engine only searches users not content and doesn’t do a great job of even that. No doubt, Ello will grow and change and some of these needed features will be added.

So, the first big question is, will people pay to avoid ads on their social network? For a certain set of people, I am sure they would, but for the vast majority, I say no. For better or worse, people are used to advertising. They see it everyday on their radio, on their tv, in magazines and outdoor billboards. We are completely surrounded and saturated with advertising, so what’s a little more on Facebook. Most people really don’t care that much. This is a tech elite problem; those with the time and brain space to get uptight about it. Often you here people complain about Facebook in one way or another, but they continue to grow and financially they are very heathy.

The second big question is what does this mean for marketers? What do you do with a social network that shuns you? You also have to assume that many of the users on Ello are there because they don’t want to see advertising. To market on Ello will require the cleverest kind of content marketing. You’re probably never going to be able to directly ask for the sale, but simply build your brand by providing high value content. In the end, I don’t think it will matter either way, because Ello will not become a network of any size or importance. It is possible, though, that it will become a niche network for certain kinds of people or persuasions. If you have a product or service that suits that audience, Ello may yet have value to marketers.

As a social media professional, of course I have an account and you can find me at https://ello.co/davidajacobs,