Ello is often called the anti-Facebook social networking site. It’s even been described as “ad-free and porn-friendly” in this article on zdnet.com by Eileen Brown. But what is Ello, really? Ello is a refreshing take on social media, even with its short history and its being a venture capital funded corporation (for now).
Ello is an invitation-only social network that was born almost a year ago in 2014. It was created by a small group of artists and programmers as a private social network to share their work, but has grown due to their desirable policies on anonymity and privacy. Ello works just like many of the big social media networks, with a news feed (called a stream), a status bar (called the omnibar), and the categorizing of friends and subscribers (friends and noise in ello-land). Ello is still in its beta stage so it can be glitchy at times and many features planned for the site are not yet available. Ello is a free service, but as special features are added, Ello will operate under a freemium model, meaning you pay a small amount for add-ons and upgrades, if you choose to use them. Most importantly, Ello is completely ad free and, according to their popular manifesto, will always be free.
The Ello Manifesto
The easiest way to join Ello is knowing someone who is already a member. They can send you an invitation and you’re in. But if you don’t know anyone, like I didn’t, you need to request an invitation from Ello.
The first thing you are presented with after entering your email address is Ello’s manifesto – their proclamation to what they believe in as a company . It basically says that other social networks are all about advertising and collecting data on its users and you are merely a product. Ello claims to be different, operating on simplistic philosophies and celebrating beauty and life. A funny observation stated in this article on inc.com, “If you disagree (to their manifesto), it cleverly sends you right back to Facebook, where you belong.” Point, Ello. But when you click the agree button, you receive a message saying they will be in touch. Being inundated with invite requests, up to 38,000 per hour back in September 2014, and being in a closed beta stage, Ello is only handing out invites in very small batches. Ello started with only 90 profiles and their systems and interfaces haven’t grown as fast as their popularity. So they are taking it slow so they don’t get overrun. However, good samaritans are posting unused invite codes online. You can also look for an invite using Twitter hashtags #elloinvitecode or #elloinvitation. On the flip side, there are others who are selling invite codes on ebay. Do not buy these! They’ll probably work, but it certainly goes against everything Ello stands for.
Ello – a Public Benefit Corporation
So what’s the big deal? All our favorite social networking sites started out ad-free, but eventually you need to offer advertising to make money, right? Not Ello. “To assure that Ello always remains ad-free, Ello converted to a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC). A Benefit Corporation is a new kind of for-profit company in the USA that exists to produce a benefit for society as a whole — not just to make money for its investors,” as stated in the WTF section of the Ello website. This means that Ello will never turn a profit for selling ads or user data and neither will anyone who purchases Ello in the future. Their goal isn’t to become as big as Facebook. Their goal is just to do it better, for the people.
Ello does use Google Analytics for data to improve their site, but everything is of general nature and anonymized so it can never been traced back to the users, by Ello, Google or anyone else. If you are super serious about being completely anonymous, you are able to opt out of being a part of this data as well. Ello received a major boost in invitation requests during the Facebook Real Name Policy controversy, where many members of the LGBT community left Facebook after being forced to use their real names and not their assumed names or stage names. On Ello, you don’t have to use your real name. Taken from their website, Ello says, “We believe that you should be able to be anyone you want on Ello, and you are not required to use your real name when signing up. Quite honestly, we don’t care who you are because we don’t serve ads and don’t sell user data.”
There are few celebrities on Ello. There are profiles for Miley Cyrus, Wil Wheaton, Stephen Fry and even a profile for the Death Star, but there’s no way to verify if they’re real. Which is too bad because I could really dig seeing some of the work coming out of the Death Star these days.
Ello is referred to as the anti-Facebook site but Ello addresses that nickname saying they aren’t anti-anything at all. They don’t even consider Facebook a social media network. They call Facebook an advertising platform. In that spirit, Ello said no ads, but companies are welcome. Even founder Paul Budnitz has a separate profile for his bicycle shop, @budnitzbicycles. No ads means Ello will never boost paid posts or put advertisements into your stream. It is up to the member to follow a company profile or not. If the user wants a completely organic experience, they don’t have to follow any brands or companies that might promote a product or service. The Wall Street Journal, Netflix, Sonos, just to name a few, are also on Ello. But is Ello business friendly? Well, it is if you buy into their culture. Can you appreciate the irony in this Ello user post?
It is unclear if the Netflix page referenced was authentic. Ello isn’t about cross-promoting strategies and integrating with other platforms is sort of the opposite of what they started out to do. Ello isn’t even mobile friendly yet. But it will be. Just hang in there.
The first thing a company should determine when considering if they should create an Ello profile is are their customers on Ello? If your target market is on Ello, then you probably should be too. But as discussed in this article on sproutsocial.com, “if your potential customers aren’t the sorts of early adopters who have already joined Ello themselves, you might be wasting time and energy promoting your brand to people who aren’t interested — or, worse, promoting your brand to people don’t welcome a business in their social space.” I think this is a great point and should be taken to heart. Paul Armstrong said in this article on theguardian.com, “Tread carefully and have a reason for being there – reposting brandfill won’t fly with this crowd.” Is your target market the trend setting, creative type? If not, skip Ello for now.
If you do decided to join the Ello experience, remember to have fun with it. Since Ello is so new, there are no best practices to follow. You will need to experiment to determine what works for your company. “Brands will need to focus primarily on creating valuable content and engagement with their ‘fans’ rather than treating Ello like another advertising channel,” said Brian Marr in this article on flipthemedia.com.
Ello will definitely supply your brand a little sprinkle of cool factor. But Jack Smith said it best on observer.com, “It’s when our parents show up that we really have to be worried.”
Check out my Prezi on this topic: Melissa’s Ello Prezi