Ello? Is anybody out there?

Ello Invitation

Ello is promoting itself as the first ethical social network. Known as the anti-Facebook because of its anti-advertising, pro-privacy model, Ello promises not to collect and use its users’ information.

With Facebook, “every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe there is a better way,” reads the Ello manifesto. Rather than selling ads, Ello said it plans to introduce an app store, where widgets and add-ons will be sold to let users customize the site and individual profiles.

Anti-Marketing or Just Anti-Advertising?

This all begs the question, is Ello really anti-marketing? Actually, according to a Content Marketing Institute article published this month, many of the people who initially joined this invite-only app were marketers and social media community managers. So even though Ello is anti-advertising, it is not anti-marketing, “particularly if the content is stylish and interesting enough to fit in with the celebration of creativity and design that Ello aspires to be.” Rather than relying on traditional advertising, which interrupts the user, Ello and its co-founder, Paul Budnitz, aim to pull marketing towards the user based on relevance and genuine interest.

Ello Invite

Ello, Goodbye

Back in September, Budnitz said that requests and approvals for access to the invite-only service were totaling 40,000 per hour. Six months later, statistics have shown that interest in the site has wained. While user sign-ups have been high, people aren’t sticking around. The network peaked at 30 million visitors in October and had only 9 million last month. It seems like the social network’s ethical approach isn’t enough to convince people to leave their beloved Facebook. Remember when Google+ was invite-only when it first came out? And we all know how well that turned out for this often-forgotten-about social network.

Ello? Anybody There?

No one seems to be on Ello. Even those who are obsessed with posting their every move to the social networks they’re currently on aren’t on it. Why is this? Well, for starters, while people might try out a variety of social networks just to see what they’re like, they’ll probably only regularly post on one to three. Second of all, it seems that the “ethical” nature was not enough to convince people to use it. In order for us to change what we’re currently using, the alternative has to be better. Ello is not better than Facebook. As Content Marketing Institute author Jonathan Crossfield said, “While some minority groups may value the freedoms and privacy afforded by Ello, many other users may not see the poor user-experience and stripped-back platform as an adequate replacement.” In other words, when you take away Ello’s manifesto, all that’s left is a poor user experience.

While, at the moment, I can’t see Ello killing off Facebook, the new ad-free social network serves as a warning to all the other major networks that people want to keep the social in social media and as a reminder that organic content should be just as valuable if not more valuable than paid content. Before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube used to rely so heavily on advertising, these platforms were about engaging in genuine conversations with people and providing feedback or answers to questions. We can’t leave the original purpose of social networks behind for algorithm updates and advertising dollars. Ello is on to something here with its manifesto. With that said, while people might be in favor of its no-advertising stance, I don’t think they’ll be jumping on the Ello bandwagon anytime soon. They’d rather stick to their ad-cluttered Facebook page, which they’re familiar with and is easy to use, rather than trade it all for a new social platform that barely has any sign-ups and offers a poor user experience.

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12 thoughts on “Ello? Is anybody out there?

  1. Hello Lynette: You bring great points about a company’s intent of weighing between being socially responsible and earning profits at its audience’s expense. Just like you, I think the idea of providing this experience for the users sounds like a good plan. However, businesses exist to make money and I don’t trust they will earn money by selling extras, unless they “gamify” the experience by providing an experience attractive enough to move users to desperately purchase these extras. I’m thinking about Angry Birds and other games, which once they get you involved, you need to pay to get the ultimate experience if you want to win the game. Now, how can Ello achieve this? By making the platform irresistible, by intending to hook up people with their “game” so much that they want to pay to enhance it. I’m not sure it can because, to begin with, the product is incomplete as of today. We haven’t been able to access the whole experience as they’ve been dropping bits and pieces of the features.
    I like your analysis about the company being anti-advertising or just anti-marketing. I think they’re sending a message to advertisers by saying that the discourage that practice. The funny thing is that advertising is a part of marketing plans, so does that make them anti-marketing? Probably, even so because they want to protect privacy by not selling data and marketers do rely on data.

    • Hi Celeste,

      I really liked your comparison of Ello to Angry Birds. I’m not sure how many people would actually pay extra to get the “ultimate” experience on Ello. I guess it all depends on how much you enjoy being on the network, if your friends are already on there and if you find that you just can’t live without those premium features you’d be able to get by paying.

      The fact that Ello is still incomplete as of today is pretty frustrating to me. That means that even the people who are invited to try the social network out aren’t even to get the full experience in order to determine whether it’s something worth leaving Facebook over. Hopefully, we’ll get a more complete version that we can all try out soon!

  2. I loved reading your post! I had a very similar opinion about Ello. Although the site claims to be advertising free, I don’t think that it is strong enough to beat out Facebook, Twitter, etc. People are bothered by data mining, but I don’t think they are bothered enough to leave what they are familiar with and go to an entirely new site. People have had Facebook for 7+ years. They have their friends, family, and co workers that they connect with. I don’t think that the invite only aspect of Ello is very appealing either. I also don’t think that their app store is enough to keep them going. Without ads, it is hard for a social network to make a profit. I had the same line in my blog post about Google+. Everyone thought that was going to be the next Facebook, and it has truly flopped. If it wasn’t for the SEO, then no one would be on Google+. That is probably my least favorite social network out there. There is always something fresh and new out there, but I think it is going to have to take something HUGE for Facebook to no longer be people’s first choice, even if they data mine.

    • Hi Casey,

      I completely agree with your take on this. Ello’s going to have to do way more than not provide ads to get people to switch over from Facebook, which they’ve likely been on for more than seven years and where they have family and friends who they frequently interact with. As you mentioned, the invite-only aspect of Ello reminds me so much of Google+, which was also a flop. You would think Ello would learn from this. I’m hoping that they’ll open it to the general public soon. After all, it’s better to have a bunch of people testing it than only a select few because it will help them get additional feedback that could help them improve their social network.

  3. I admire Ello’s goal to create an ad free experience for its users and think they are speaking to people who are simply tired of advertising and paid content bombarding their social media experience. I agree that most people are probably not going to jump on the Ello bandwagon because Facebook has become something that people are familiar and comfortable with. In order to really compete with Facebook you are going to have to offer an amazing user experience, but the fact that it is a struggle for me to find people who are actively engaged on the site males me wonder about that experience.
    I think if Ello is trying to prove a point to social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that users do not want advertising as a part of their experience then they should have opened up the platform to everyone and not make it invitation only.

    • Hi Emily,

      I feel the same way about Ello’s invite-only feature. If they truly wanted to get gauge whether the general public would even be interested in an ad-free social network, it would be best if they actually opened it up to the general public to use rather than just allowing select marketers to test it out. After all, marketers only make up a small percentage of the people Ello is marketing its product to. Personally, I don’t know anyone who’s been invited to test out Ello, which is strange considering that I know a lot of people in the marketing/social media marketing field. So my question is, who’s actually been invited to try this thing out?

  4. Lynette,

    Thank you for your comments and reaction. One of my biggest questions for Ello, has been in order to survive/thrive as a business there has to be capital. Their proposal for App store was interesting. Do you see this as competing against the Apple store or complementing it? By the looks of it, Ello’s App store appears that it will be just on the site. I wonder how it will work through mobile devices and their own App stores. Interesting potential issue to figure out.

    I liked your comparison to Google + and thought you were pretty spot on. I remember all the early adopters and advocates touting how great it was and how we should set up accounts and accept their “friend requests.” You’ve got those new fads that will enter and leave the market place, but I don’t know if Ello will break the vice-like grip that Facebook has on social media. I hadn’t seen Ello’s numbers going down, and in fact found an article that they sign half a million new users two weeks ago. Far different than the 30 million you referenced. Ell almost feels like the new restaurant in town.

    And like a new restaurant, does Ello have what it take to survive into the long-term? Capital and resources, price, differential and quality products? Don’t think it does. But I could be wrong – what do you think? Do you think Ello is employing a “shock and awe” type of approach to its platform?

    If I may, I’d counter your statement on the effect it will have. I don’t know if it actually will have an effect on social media companies. Not unless they have the numbers and followers to rival Facebook. And why would businesses want to engage with that audience group if they can’t market or sell to them? I think it may cause some social conscious actions, but again I go back to what I said in my reaction of Ello. It’s a public benefit corporation – what’s the benefit or greater good it’s offering? I just don’t see it making a dent in Facebook’s influence. So could this be seen as a monopoly on social media? Is that even possible?

    So if you were a business owner would you engage or put resources toward Facebook or Ello? What influenced your decision?

    Thanks again for your post and your thoughts!

    • Hi Frank,

      Thanks for commenting! You brought up some excellent points. I, too, thought that their proposal for an app store was interesting. Google Chrome and Apple now both have app stores. Personally, I don’t see the two as being competitors, but maybe that’s because I don’t use them enough to know whether they actually are. The fact that Ello wants to add another app store to the mix doesn’t seem to me like they’re wanting to compete with the other two apps stores rather they’re more so just trying to join the app store party. Do we know if Ello is going to have a mobile app as well or at least be mobile friendly?

      I, too, remember when Google+ was all the rage back in 2011. I was interning for a PR firm at the time and both of the account executives I was working under kept telling me that I had to get on the network and try it out, so they invited me to it. Now, anyone who has a Gmail account automatically becomes a Google+ user. Perhaps Ello could consider doing something similar rather than making their network invitation-only.

      To touch on your last question, if I were a business owner, I would put resources toward Facebook, without a doubt. Ello hasn’t proven to me that its a contender in the social media race, so until it does, I wouldn’t bother investing time or resources into it.

  5. PatAce says:

    Hi Lynette,

    You make a great point about user experience. This in many ways affects the success of a platform over their data mining techniques. Back when Facebook changed their privacy policy, users were flocking to Ello by the thousands, making it a point to show how much they valued their privacy. However, and as you point out in your article, the user rate has rapidly gone down since then. The manifesto is certainly powerful, especially for someone who cares deeply about their privacy, but if the platform is not always user friendly, then even if someone creates an Ello account, they are not likely to use it as much. The invitation part of the platform can also be a bit annoying, at least I don’t particularly like it, and I think it might one of the reasons behind the decrease of users wanting to join. Also, many of the people using Ello seem to be in the creative side. While looking through some of the accounts, I noticed a lot of photographers, designers, painter and the like. Not being that creative of a person, I would find it a bit daunting to jump into a platforms where I might feel that I wouldn’t really be able to engage other users.

    • Hi Patricia,

      You made some great points in your comment! I think making sure that a social platform is user friendly is key for it to succeed. If Ello can’t achieve this, then it won’t be able to attract enough users to its site to remain a profitable network.

      It’s interesting to hear that the majority of the network’s users right now are in more creative fields. Why aren’t there more social media marketers on there? Is it because they didn’t find it to be appealing enough for them to want to leave Facebook? If Ello would like to be geared more towards the creative types, I think it should mention that in its platform’s mission statement.

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