Why Marketers Shouldn’t Write Off Ello Just Yet
Ello. A month ago, you’d never heard of it. Two weeks ago, you couldn’t escape it. Today, you realize you haven’t heard about it in a while. The newest social network all but disappeared from the online news cycle. Such is the attention span of the Internet. But here’s why you shouldn’t write off Ello just yet. Let’s go back.
Ello is the brand new, ad-free, invite-only social network that exploded into the public consciousness last month. And it’s kinda exclusive. You kind of have to know someone willing to whisk you off an email invite code to this beta, invite-only social network. Or you could spend a ridiculous amount of money buying one on eBay.
But let’s assume you are friends with people in the cool designer-y crowd and end up on what’s been dubbed the newest anti-Facebook. What will you find here?
No Advertising, Except…
“Wait! Should I even be on here? It says no ads. Are Mad Men hunted for game here?!”
Relax, online marketer. Be cool.
Ello aims to be different by never selling advertising and never sharing user data with third parties. “You are the product that is bought and sold,” write the Ello developers in their manifesto, referring to some other unnamed social network. While the network is free for users, the creators say their plan is to offer future premium feature upgrades to users for a small fee. These were the talking points the tech blogs were obsessed with, but this was also the point where most stories seemed to trail off.
While the Ello manifesto certainly stakes out a clear position on advertising, that doesn’t mean the platform is noncommercial, even at this early stage. One of the first dozen or so profiles you’ll happen upon under the site’s Discover tab is @budnitzbicycles. One of Ello creator Paul Budnitz’s previous startup ventures, these bikes promise to be “the fastest, lightest, and most elegant city bicycles in the world.”
“Hmm, that sounds like ad copy…”
Here you’ll find a feed full of beautifully photographed bicycles looking as elegant as possible in soft-focused urban and rural settings.
“Wait, isn’t that content marketing?..”
There’s also a helpful link to budnitzbicycles.com.
The answer is of course: yes, this is a commercial profile. You can shop for bicycles on Ello while it’s still in beta. But Budnitz Bicycles isn’t a lone commercial outlier.
You’ll also find thousands of designers, brand strategists, writers, graphic artists, photographers, and creative thinkers on the newest social network. These users aren’t shy about sharing their work, their process, or their URLs.
There’s plenty of commercial opportunity here. You just can’t hit people over the head with it. You’ll have to dedicate some time to contributing thoughtful posts and comments and building relationships with real individual people. Imagine that. On a social network.
A Melange of Existing Platforms
If you think this social network is starting to tread over familiar territory, you’re right. It is. But it’s also very distinct from any one existing social network. It’s a mix of the most popular platform names and features you know, with a few really original ideas thrown in for good measure.
In my simplest of oversimplified appraisals: Ello is like if you took Behance and made it more like a stripped down Tumblr-y Facebook and added some Twitter functionality, with the possibility for creatives to do some LinkedIn-esque networking.
As many creative types know, Behance is a social-ish portfolio site used by graphic artists, art directors, copywriters, typographers, and photographers. There are social aspects, including “appreciations” (likes) and commenting, but the focus is on the work. Ello creates a space for such talented creative people to interact in a less business-like environment.
Parts of Ello resemble familiar Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr features. Not unlike Twitter Lists, you can sort followers into “friends” and “noise.” Your followers are unaware of which list you place them in, only that you follow them. The Friends feed looks like a stripped-down Facebook feed, showing actions, mentions, comments, and shared media. But Noise looks more like one of Tumblr’s grid-style themes, giving you just a bird’s-eye view of posts.
Some of the best features of Ello are what’s new. Facebook allows you to sort your post audience into public, friends, and custom lists, but it’s often feels too easy to share the wrong sentiment with the wrong audience. Twitter’s original direct message designation (DM) also tripped up early posters. Ello seems to have found an easy way to distinguish audiences as you compose posts and messages I haven’t seen anywhere else.
At mentions begin with the familiar @ character, but change the background of the text to yellow as you type your message. Private messages are indicated by two of the same character, as in @@, changing the background of the text you’re typing to red to indicate the message’s audience.
Imagine that. Color-coded text backgrounds to make it crystal clear what audience you’re about to send this post to. It’s a really simple idea. I can’t imagine the code is that difficult, either. But it’s the kind of thing you can’t focus on if you’re trying to parse billions of data points to package and sell to advertisers.
Of all the existing social networks, Ello really seems the least like Facebook. Funny, considering that’s become the go-to comparison. Where Facebook wants to know as much as possible about you, Ello wants an email, username, and password. You can add a name, picture, URL, and whatever info you want to a 192-character bio field. Tumblr comes to mind in this respect. You can say as much or as little as you want to identify yourself, while retaining complete control over how you define your online persona.
“Doesn’t Everyone Hate the Design?”
Yes. Yes they do. Not being a designer, I don’t quite feel qualified to give you a definitive design appraisal either way, but it’s certainly something people have opinions about. The only complaint I have is that the lightest of several text colors is too faint against a pure white background to be easily readable. And the site functionality (or lack thereof) takes some getting used to. But this is a beta product.
Otherwise, I like the simplicity. I like the rounded profile pics and the and big top banner images. The color-coding for public and private comments and mentions is a great new idea, as is the freedom to define and describe yourself in your own terms.
A Network With Potential
So, Ello is a melange of existing social networks filled with very creative people who are united in their distaste for overt advertisement.
For people who love social and content, that’s really not a bad place to start. You love creativity. You value building digital relationships with people. You want to express your point of view, your values, your personality. Those are the things that make you, your product, or your services, valuable and worthwhile. If your audience is on Ello, you can be, too.
At least at this early stage, this really distinguishes the network: there are only a few specific audiences here. The universal nature of Facebook and Twitter have really come to define those platforms. Reaching a specific audience is difficult because you’re in such a large space. For now, that’s something that isn’t a concern for Ello. There’s even the possibility that the early core user group could influence who stays engaged in the network and who looks around and leaves.
In a way, your profile and feed are a digital storefront. Just don’t stand out front with a digital bullhorn.
I’m pulling for Ello
I definitely feel some sort of connection to the Ello ideal. These developers are people who would rather do something difficult their own way, that may not work, rather than seeking success with something more conventional.
I even think users would even be okay with recurring dollar-a-month payments if it meant something was potentially private, unobtrusive, useful, and well designed. People don’t seem opposed to paying for services online as long as the service is well-priced, the infrastructure is secure, and the process is seamless.
I see a lot of potential for Ello. It’s a distinct enough niche and approach that it just might work. The key will be finding a way to meet the needs of both creatives and privacy advocates.
You can find me on Ello at @t0phe. It’s early enough that I could’ve picked 3 or 4 lowercase letters (like many others), but I just decided to be me instead, zeros be damned.