Social Spotlight

Should You Care About Ello?

Admittedly the thought of writing an Ello post this early makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit. That said, here I sit. For those who haven’t already heard, Ello is the latest social network to enter the fray. It’s invite only and promises a social experience not governed by ads. Given that last point, why should you — presumably a brand of some sort — care? Here’s my two cents.

Do we really need another social network? This question is usually on the tips of our collective tongues when a new social platform launches. This is followed by a barrage of SEO-driven posts designed to capitalize on all of the attention the new network is receiving. You could say I’m doing the same thing here. However, my goal with this post is to help you prioritize your time and, more importantly, answer the question we always focus on at Brand Driven Digital — can it help you build a better brand online?

The Buzz Machine

The above question isn’t always easy to answer for a new social network. That’s because we often get caught up in the crashing waves of the early buzz and hype. The invite-only launch is something of a shrewd public relations tactic (Google+ did the same thing). Of course it’s a very practical way to manage growth and ensure that the network can handle all of its new users but it also re-creates Studio 54-style exclusivity online. Everyone wants in! And they’ll wait in line to get in! But once you finally get in, what’s inside?

Is Good Design Enough?

One look at Ello and you’ll see a very different looking social network. With a stark black and white aesthetic and minimalist icons and fonts, it’s pretty obvious that Ello is a social network designed by designers targeting those with a modern visual aesthetic.

Okay. That’s nice. But … so what? This was a big part of the Google+ sales pitch and four years later we still don’t know where we stand with a social network created by the world’s largest search engine.

Forgive me for being blunt but is good design really enough to hang your hat on in a crowded social ecosystem? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of good design and the power gained through the right marriage of form and function. But I see so many focusing solely on the design of Ello that I have to ask — is that enough? If that’s the form let’s take a look at the function.

Ello’s Defining Feature? Less Noise

ello designEllo delivers less noise in a couple different ways. First, when you follow someone you can sort them into one of two lists – friends or noise. Think of a prefab, stripped down version of Facebook and Twitter lists or Google+ circles. This simplicity holds promise. All of the other means of sorting social conversations are entirely dependent on the user creating their own organizational system. By providing two buckets out of the gate, all users have the choice of easily managing and toggling between signal and noise.

The other noise cancellation Ello promises is an ad-free experience. A social network not governed by brands. Admittedly marketers have grabbed ahold of most of the other social media giants. We see paid platforms growing by the second on Facebook and Twitter with LinkedIn and Instagram gaining steam as well. Our feeds are crowded with ads for companies we follow and those who would like us to follow them. There is a lot of noise. But there are also a lot of people.

While the Facebook user experience leaves much to be desired, it’s also where everyone is. All of the people. From your grandparents and college roommates to your co-workers and kids’ friends, everyone is there. Say what you will but that’s not nothing and it doesn’t show signs of changing any time soon. While many grumble about the increased ads, algorithmic shifts, and privacy concerns, most reports show Facebook use holding strong.

Google+ said it would be a more streamlined, less noisy version of Facebook but opened up to brands a few months later and is now plagued by rumors that it’s a ghost town. For my money, the social network that does “noise free” the best is the one that marketers never talk about — Path. And that’s because there is NO place for marketers there. It’s an intimate social circle where users are limited to a set number of friends. Small, truly social conversations.

Limitations are good as they force users to get creative. This is why Instagram and Vine grew as fast as they did. They are blissfully simple and, for the most part, have avoided adding extraneous features. Ello limits how you can respond (no resharing of posts like Instagram), minimizes icons (to a fault perhaps — where are notifications and likes?), stresses less noise, and promises good design. But is that enough?

Beware of Checklist Marketing

The biggest danger with something like Ello is that it perpetuates a trap that too many of us fall into – checklist marketing. When we’re overwhelmed by all of these shiny new things, we resort to treating all social networks and content platforms as items to check off of an arbitrary list instead of focusing on what makes the most sense for our own unique organizations.

This is easier said than done. That’s because it’s dependent on having a solid strategy in place first. Unless you have your marketing anchored with a business objective, you won’t be able to answer what media platform makes the most sense. In short, focus on what you want a new social network to do before you cross it off of your checklist. I digress. Back to Ello …

Play in the Sandbox (Or Don’t)

ello nickIt sounds like a copout but it’s really too early to know much of anything about the real long-term impact of Ello. Especially when it comes to how or even if brands engage. These early days (and weeks and months) of a new network’s launch mark the sandbox phase. There’s no harm in getting in and playing around a bit. I’ve shared a few invites with colleagues as well as my wife and two teenage sons.

There’s also no harm in not playing in the sandbox either. Our marketing time is spread thinner than ever these days. Many can hardly get our current social media and digital marketing done in the time we have. If you fall into this category, don’t fret. The first paragraph above says it all. Ello is an experience defined by its lack of advertising interruptions. Given this focus, I’m not certain any of us should waste time creating interruptions here. Is there a place for a more intimate brand-driven conversation? Only time will tell.

Some people like to play in the social sandbox. Let them report back on the castles they’re able to build – or not – before you explore this for your brand.

What Do You Think?

Those are my thoughts on Ello. Too harsh? Too negative? Small-thinking? You tell me in the comments below. I’d love to know what you think.

P.S. If you’re looking for some great background on Ello’s founder Paul Budnitz, check out Chris Brogan’s recent interview on the Owner’s Mind podcast.

P.P.S. You can follow me on Ello here (I’m @nickwestergaard there, too).