Anti-advertising Ello is already attracting brands

Edit: Update added to this article at the bottom.

Like Path and Diaspora before it, born out of various issues of malcontent with mainstream social media platforms, here we are again. Today, everybody is checking out Ello: a social network born out of two key tipping points that have put some eyeballs on its public beta.

Path sought to rebel against the largeness of your social graph in an attempt to make social media feel more intimate. Diaspora targeted privacy and structure, aiming to democratize social media. Ello is closer to the latter.

For the uninitiated, Ello aims to bring privacy back to consumers’ digital data. The network’s brand manifesto is a virtual Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino “get off my lawn” moment:

Ello doesn’t sell ads. Nor do we sell data about you to third parties… We also think ads are tacky; that they insult our intelligence and that we’re better without them.

This is a digital “No Trespassing” sign covered in so much barbed wire that it may induce tetanus just by looking at it. Unfortunately, brands don’t always think this way. They think in pure reach and impressions, forgoing the importance of engagement and sentiment.

Digital strategists lead the charge on many things, such as guiding brands on what platforms they should be on, and what their purpose should be. They work with brands on discovering the fulcrum between available resources to find a return on their investment and align on channel recommendations.

This leads to common sense implementation. This is why BP isn’t trying to curate a collection of images on Pinterest, why Viagra isn’t developing an Instagram following and why Axe isn’t thinking about sponsored content on ChristianMingle.

Some brands don’t get this. Strategists start burping out things like “disrupt!” or “innovate!” when what they’re really trying to do is win the race to be the first. Being first isn’t innovative or important if it doesn’t make any sense. In the case of Ello, we already have a “winner.”

Congratulations, Sonos! You’re the first brand on Ello. Unfortunately, you missed all the warning signs that you’re not welcome here, at least for now.

Maybe there was something about an “ad-free social network” that tripped you up, but trust me: right now, this is not the place for you. I see that you haven’t posted anything yet, but it’s best that you don’t.

An ad agency for Sonos may have some arguments to make. One argument would be that brands existed on Facebook before paid media mechanisms did. That ad agency would be right, but Facebook never explicitly told brands to go scratch from the outset. Facebook had ads on it as early as 2004.

That same ad agency may argue it’s providing legitimate content that fits in line with the target demographic of Ello users. But it’s impossible to know what a “target” is on a network that is both in early beta and won’t share any of that data with any sort of corporate entity. This is pretty clearly outlined in its mission statement.

Maybe it’s a stunt. You know, for the lolz.

Sometimes rebelling is good. Sometimes rebelling can gain you traction. This is not one of those times. Sonos is acting out of turn, and their presence on Ello is like the digital equivalent of double-parking. It’s not illegal, but the other cars you’re sharing a space with know you aren’t supposed to be there. It’s a crappy thing to do.

Data privacy aside, Ello has also seen an uptick in users due to outcry from the LGBT community on Facebook’s real name policy. With the impact this would have on drag performers who aren’t comfortable with a brand page, they are seeking a safer digital haven.

Ello is still in beta, and will likely remain there for a while. In another race to be first, digerati are quick to call Ello dead in the water, or a brilliant counterattack to Facebook. These claims feel presumptuous to apply to a beta social network that requires both people and time to extrapolate any actual findings.

For usability: it is simple, it has clean design and it supports animated GIFs. I have six friends on it. That’s all I’ve got so far.

For its longevity: if you think you know, you have no idea. I certainly don’t, but I’m keen to pay attention.

One thing is for sure: there are some folks who aren’t happy with their social networks, and competition can often spur innovation. No matter where we net out, so as long as that’s the case, the Internet wins, and that’s a good thing.

And in the case of brands identifying places to be? Let’s apply some humanity and try to respect literal stop signs when presented with them.

EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention that Paul Budnitz, the founder of Ello, has a brand page for his bicycle shop on the platform.

This is perplexing. Maybe Budnitz doesn’t get that branded content is advertising, or maybe he sees his own as an exception to the rule because of the aesthetically pleasing way in which his content is presented.

So, this brings up two key points:

  1. I’d find it hard to believe that Sonos took their lead from Budnitz’s bicycle company, so I still believe they’re wrong by flying in the face of a pretty staunch mission statement.
  2. Budnitz needs to align his platform’s mission with his own actions, as he’s contradicting his manifesto. “Ads are tacky,” he says, apparently except when someone deems them visually appealing.

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