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(h)Ello or goodbye? What you need to know about Ello

This post is based on my experience with Ello so far (about a week), mostly as a non-posting participant. The aim is to give marketing professionals the key points about Ello, of course from my personal perspective. Opinions are mine. 

- Ello is not “the new Facebook”, the “Facebook killer” etc..

Of course, comparing and contrasting a new entrant in the arena with the world’s most famous social network is tempting for some of the media.  Also, it is true that much of Ello’s manifesto and its identity so far seem to stem from a reject of social media as corporate behemots (hello, F!) focused on capitalizing on users data. However, the reality is that the two are not even comparable by size and by nature. If nothing else because its target is vertical (people who are unhappy with “mainstream social media” generally fall in one specific demographic, whilst mainstream is universal by definition). In my opinion, Ello is far from constituting a threat to Zuckerberg’s creature but also a viable alternative for those with time and energy for one more platform. Let’s see why

- It is invite-only, but it’s growing fast

Reports are of up to 31k signups per hour, although each user is only allowed 5 invitations. Creating scarcity is a tried-and-tested marketing technique and Ello is no exception, generating a mild frenzy and even apparently a black market for invitations (I still have three of mine, if anybody is curious). The alleged reason is that the “servers” need to keep up with demand. Surely, the platform is still in its technical infancy and needs to iron out a few glitches and bugs if it want to expand further than the current limited, dedicated, on average tech-savvy user base of early adopters.

To put things in perspective,  other platforms such as Diaspora, AppdotNet , Path etc. also experienced a very high number of early adopters before stagnating and eventually dying off.

ello waiting list

- How does Ello make money? a “freemium” model

Of course, as of today, it doesn’t. But it will have to, and here’s what they say about it:

Very soon we will begin offering special features to our users. If we create a special feature that you like, you can choose to pay a very small amount of money to add it to your Ello account forever. We believe that everyone is unique and that we all want and need different things from a social network. So, we are going to offer all sorts of ways for users to customize their Ello experience.

So, Ello business model is meant to be “pay to unlock” – whilst access to the basic platform is free, users will be able to purchase “features”. It seems like a fair, well-intentioned plan: every time Facebook or Instagram introduce a new ad format, many users protest that they would “pay” for an ad-free version. In practice, I think it will be really hard to get a significant number of people to actually pay for social networking (even in the glorified “create and collaborate” Ello version), especially if the first impact with the free platform is not going to sweep them away. Which leads us to…

 - Ello’s user experience: not a Minimum Lovable Product (yet)

My own Ello user profile. As you notice, both cover and profile image are tilted 90 degres but i could not easily figure out how to fix the problem on my mobile so I gave up.

My own Ello user profile. As you notice, both cover and profile image are tilted 90 degres but i could not easily figure out how to fix the problem on my mobile so I gave up.

Ello’s UX and design are informed by the principle, as stated in the Manifesto, of “beauty, simplicity and transparency“. It certainly does look cool and trendy in 2014 web design terms; yet, some have called it a “design disaster”.

It is taking modern, fashionable design trends and applying it to a web application without any thought as to how it impacts usability and readability.

(Jeffry van der Goot, Medium)

Critics focus on its ample (excessive?) use of negative space, use of fonts and colour, mixed round/square graphic elements, annoying quirks (the “Ello smile” emoticon has no need for “:” , yet emoji are touted as one of the first upcoming features), confusing affordances, etc. Personally, I found it visually sparse, not intuitive and lacking on its very promise of being functional and beautiful. Sure, it may be that simply too many years of Facebook and Twitter and prompts had me brainwashed and I am wrong in thinking a user should be spoon-fed. But if I need to attempt three times to understand how to post and then discover I have to learn a few keyboard shortcuts to do things, frankly nobody ain’t got time for that. It does feel quite half-baked and clunky, and it does not have a mobile app for now.

As Italian digital expert Piero Taglia remarked in its interesting article about Ello,  a “Minimum Lovable Product” (as opposed to a “Minimum Viable Product” must be not just viable but also able to generate a positive first impression on early users – otherwise, there may not be a second chance for a “better” version later.

Also, I find the language and tone of voice is such a collection of hipster clichés it really grates me. The words “awesome”, “love”, “shit” and sparkling emojis are sprinkled liberally throughout, and the “about” section is called WTF. It’s so tongue in cheek it ends up sounding like a self-parody and it make me feel a bit ashamed of myself. In the middle of this general hippiedom, the harshness of the label “Noise” as the only alternative to the “Friends” list stands out a bit – plus, if it’s worthless noise, why would I want to have it on my feed anyway?

 - Who’s behind Ello and what’s the future looking like

For now, Ello has been build and launched by a small group of developers and designers with respectable backgrounds in arts and music – the most prominent being CEO Paul Budnitz and front-end developer and unofficial PR guy Justin Gitlin.

Sure, it is “ad-free” and state with a certain smugness that “you are not a product”, however, like all large scale Internet projects, it does not run on unicorns and rainbows but requires money.  Ello is backed by venture capital with an initial investment of $435,000 from FreshTracks Capital, a Vermont-based fund and this has been enough for some early advocates to say goodbye to Ello already, in the name of true independence.

ello new features

An email from Ello announcing improvements to the platform and new features

Conclusions: the ups and down of Ello

Ello is not posing a threat to Facebook or to any other mainstream social network; however, its very existence and the amount of attention it has attracted signals that there is (still) a space for “non-mainstream” social media. The question is – will Ello manage to transform that space into a viable market? For with all its revolutionary, pure intentions, Ello is a business that needs a plan to generate ROI – it may be with its users as paying “partners” rather than being treated as “products”, but still it needs to be a market. It may be that Ello will find its own niche of happy paying users – or maybe it will die off like Pheed or Path in the midst of growing privacy concerns (even now, their policy states that they “may” pass on your details to future partners) and users fatigue.

Quoting one of @scobleizer posts on Ello,

Most will not join for a while. It’s too sparse. But I’m sure it will find a niche. I’m already noticing that the Facebook-hater crowd is quickly coalescing here and advocating it. That will kill off Google+. […]

But it is a fresh start and we’ll see how far it goes. I don’t think anyone answering this question really knows. We need at least a month or two for the hype to calm down and for the real users to show themselves (and the real use case).

Are you on Ello? What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.














The rumour had been around for a while amongst the social media professionals crowd; in January, Ogilvy’s  Marshall Manson  published a widely commented white paper aptly titled Facebook Zero: the death of organic reach  based on systematic observation of over 100 Facebook brand pages (thumbs up for the smart cross-agency data analysis). Three months down the line,  the consensus seems to be officially that Organic Facebook Reach (also known as Unpaid Reach) is no more, at least for Facebook Brand Pages.

An analysis by Social@Ogilvy of 106 country-level brand pages found the average reach of organic brand posts had plummeted from 12.1% in October 2013 to 6.2% in February.

Chart source: AdAge, "Four Reasons Your Brand Posts Are Fading On Facebook", March 2014

Chart source: AdAge, “Four Reasons Your Brand Posts Are Fading On Facebook”, March 2014


Over the last couple years, many industry observers had written on the danger of “digital sharecropping”, a complicated-sounding concept which can be summed up as “Facebook, with its easy management and relatively inexpensive advertising, is creating a honey trap for brands big and small but remember that the only digital property you fully own [display, engagement, analytics] is your own website”. The argument was sometimes tinged with dubious antagonism towards Facebook as a company- which is is fairly pointless- but some of it was nonetheless valid, as the recent development showed.


As every other platform, Facebook went through a (more impressive than every other platform) cycle of growth based a “free for all” (people, brands, publishers) model which allowed it to gather the biggest user base on the Internet; then it started selling display advertising space; the monetisation of exposure for branded content to its user base was just the next logical step in Facebook search for a viable business model.

Whether you’re a big brand or a small business, you’d better stop whining and start thinking how to handle the shift.


From what has been circulating so far, it is fairly simple – companies will have to “pay” (in one of the many formats and options that Facebook now offers) to reach the very same people that “liked” their page back then – in the days when a giveaway or a clever Facebook app would reap thousands of fans and all it took to keep them entertained was a post of a smiley dog every Friday – never mind if you were selling life insurance.

In those same days, “Facebook experts” mushroomed around the Internet, trying to lure small businesses around the world into paying them for nondescript services in exchange for the chance to reach thousands of customers and prospects “for free” and without having to set up mailing lists, websites or a proper CRM process.

Whilst big brands and their agencies had to quickly come to a realisation that some media spend was required to grow an audience, most SMEs and cornershops were happy with just making use of Facebook as a cheap alternative to a website, occasionally dabbing in a small-scale Facebook Ads campaign. Those business, together with big brands who failed to diversify in a consistent, multi-channel content+reach strategy and just put most of their eggs in the Facebook basket, are going to be hit the hardest by the change if they don’t react quickly.

In a way, with this move Facebook is accelerating an industry shift which was already taking place, led by some of the most forward thinking brands and agencies – by forcing everyone to realise that content is king, but without distribution it is a king with no kingdom. And that neither content nor distribution are free.

lazy social media content

Lazy social media content was lousy anyway – example from the always funny “Condescending Corporate Brand Page” on Facebook

Media budget managers and media agencies are probably now very happy, but does this spell doom for (good) content producers?


Well this is my opinion at least: hell yeah, for the simple reason that it will raise the bar for social media content in a way that no regulation could ever do: by making it necessary for companies to put their money where their mouth is, literally. Hopefully, by now most marketers (from the C-suite and below) have realised that “social media is free” is the new “build it and they will come“: naive at best, dangerous at it worst.
Good content will need to be supported by paid reach, so hopefully sloppy, routine content will be abandoned to focus on the one which is worth supporting with serious media $$$. 

With our News Feeds increasingly cluttered by an annoying “background noise” of silly chains, spammy tagging, fake sensationalists news and lame attempts by brands to hijack the latest meme, this may be welcome news.

Facebook acknowledged in December 2013 that it had tweaked its news-feed algorithms to surface more links to articles from media organizations, especially to users on mobile devices. That has helped yield a massive spike in referral traffic to publishers like Buzzfeed [...]. (Ad Age, March 2014)

“Brand as publishers” will be more and more the name of the game – and with higher stakes in play, we will likely see a new and better model emerging with more companies taking cues from Red Bull, Coke and Dove and producing content with the potential to go viral, and committing the financial and creative resources to make it happen.

The latest short movie from Dove, “Beauty Patch”, was launched simultaneously in 65 countries with a considerable paid media effort to kickstart its viral potential.

What do you think about the death of Facebook reach? Let me know in the comments

P.S. when I was halfway through editing this post today, Ogilvy’s James Whateley (AKA Whatleydude) wrote for The Drum on the same subject.  We seem to agree on a few points about the drop in Facebook reach and its impact for brands, and  I take it as a confirmation that I am not the only one to welcome this change. You can read James’ insghtful piece here.




sxsw asia trends

SXSW 2014 trends from Asia – Pacific: lots of music, little digital

So, SXSW Interactive has been and gone for 2014 – and no, I was not there so don’t expect any namedropping and bragging about party antics  snippets of digital wisdom from me this time. I have been following the event mainly on Twitter on the #SXSW hashtag, and occasionally tuning into a live streaming.

With over 1,300 sessions going on (check out this cool infographic on SXSW 2014′s numbers by the folks at Simply Measured), “death by content” wasn’t an unrealistic scenario at SXSW; also, you would expect the average attendee to have an above average level of activity (and for some, influence) on social media. Result: over 2 million mentions of #SWSX on social platforms over 10 days (source: Synthesio).

SXSW creates an insane amount of noise – on the web and in the real world -it’s very easy to get lost in it all. The place is swarming with freaks and geeks, one in ten of whom are panelists, all of whom have LOTS to say and aren’t afraid to tweet about it. Keynotes, panels, hashtags, conversations, demos…it’s a 5-day content bender.

(Scott Woodhouse, Campaign Brief)

Being the analytics freak I am, I have read a few roundups and summary pieces (I recommend the one quoted below from Campaign Brief) and then turned to my favourite social media listening tool* – for some  data-based evidence.

Looking at the social media mentions of #sxsw  from 7th to 16th of March period, here’s a few pointers:

SXSW has become a global event but its social footprint it’s still America-centric

The volume of buzz generated by Asia-Pacific countries (including users localised int hose countries, including those travelling to Austin), although not small at over 100k tweets over a week, still only accounts for a fraction (around 5%) of the overall buzz.

What has Asia been talking about the most during SXSW?

sxsw asia trends

Data courtesy of Synthesio

Unsurprisingly, NOT about amazing innovation, revolutionary technology and cultivated debates about digital: CATS (ok, pets) and RAP MUSIC were the hottest buzz topics.

Music acts from the iTunes Festival, and especially Australian acts got the most attention alongside Lady Gaga’s and a rapper called Tyler, the Creator who allegedly incited a mob at his gig and almost caused another fatal accident.

The feel good factor went through the roof thanks to the exposure given to Austin’s local pet charity APSCA campaign for visiting and resident geeks to adopt a pet. Cue doe-eyed puppies and adorable cats next to tattooed and bearded tech types, as featured in Mashable - Australia went literally abuzz.

homeless pets rescued sxsw

SXSW collateral events drive buzz in peripheral Asian markets, tech & innovation in more mature ones.

Indonesia, the single biggest country after China in the region, accounted for the highest share of SXSW buzz followed by English-speaking Australia , Japan,  India and the Philippines. China is not even on the top 10 (!). These figures seem to reflect closely the estimates on social media penetration for APAC in the We Are Social  “Social, Digital and Mobile in APAC” 2014 report.

interestingly,  users in countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia were mostly retweeting celebrity news whilst the bulk of conversations about the “serious” stuff happened from India and Australia.

Was Asia a topic at SXSW?

Looking at which Asia-related topics have surfaced in the SXSW buzz, well – on a macro level, none. Entertainment at SXSW, rather than discussions about digital trends in the region, had the lion share again. The highlights:  a concert by Japanese classical music act Yoshiki getting a big wave of support amongst local fans, and the gig by Side Effect – the first Myanmar band to ever play at the event.

On the actual content side of SXSW, a few topics which made (small) ripples on social media buzz included mobile apps from the Korean contingent.

korea startup sxswOrigami, the ancient Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes, is getting a makeover for the 21st-century. A new puzzle game for mobile called Let’s Fold made its debut at SXSW in Austin [,,,]. The startup behind the game, South Korea-based FiveThirty, was part of the Korean startup delegation dubbed Geeks from Gangnam (source: Tech in Asia)

A talk about “How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation” by SIngapore-based marketer and researcher Tara Hirebet did not seem to generate significant media buzz, although the topic seems most intriguing and the speaker very qualified. With the sheer number of official and unofficial events going on over 10 days at SXSW though, this is probably unsurprising.

Now that the dust has settled over an edition of SXSW which someone has defined as “an orgy for brands“, I am looking forward to  in depth wrap-up pieces with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region- hopefully without annoying  music and psychedelic backgrounds like this ambitiously titled “The SXSW Wrap: Lessons for Asia” (I am kidding- good try, guys).

 *Disclaimer: Synthesio is my current employer. But they are awesome. Promise.


Content from Coke: “Social Media Guard” campaign ridicules #FOMO

Coca Cola – “Social Media Guard” (2014)

Like it or not, Coca Cola really does have a way with content marketing – in fact, it is probably the brand that has best embraced the storytelling revolution, second only to Red Bull in my modest opinion, and it is in it for the long run, as outlined in their “Content 2020″ digital agenda. [And if you are rolling your eyes and thinking “storytelling” is an out-of-date circa 2012 buzzword, then come up with a better word for the billions of user-generated stories from their latest integrated campaign (you can read the “Share a Coke’ case study from The Drum here].

The “Social Media Guard”  well crafted, tongue-in-cheek video  is a further example of how the brand manages to keep relevant to different audiences – this looks to me as a bit of an inside joke for marketeers and social media people. It definitely draws on a current trend for expressing social media fatigue and sometimes going into withdrawal (just recently, my favourite blogger and self-diagnosed social media addict Emma Gannon declared the end of her Facebook love story).

the offline world is [...] that thing that happens when you run out of battery

At a more basic level, it contains the key elements for a viral video:

- appeals to emotion (classic elements: children; pets)

- contains a twist: the infamous #FOMO is often blamed on social media; here, the mesage is “social media addiction is making you miss out on life”

- it tells a story, and one most people can relate to

- it is easy to consume (tight editing, catchy music, masterfully produced)

The “Social Media Guard” is another well-placed tile in the overall Coca Cola storytelling mosaic. Of course, not every attempt is equally great and some will find this particular piece contrived, or cry at the irony of mocking social media addiction…on social media – but that is beside the point. I think that, if one criticism can be aimed at the “Social Media Guard” idea, its link with the “Open Happiness” brand message appears less immediate.

I find it impossible though not to admire the conviction with which the world’s most recognisable brand is pursuing its strategy and investing – wisely – not just on big stunts but on a constant stream of quality content.

Now…where is my Social Media Guard? I am a true social media addict, but now have an unmissable appointment with the rest of my life.