In September and October 2014, all tech aficionados and social media commentators could talk about was Ello, the new social network with a minimalist look and an iron-clad stance on advertising.
Ello was dubbed the ‘anti-Facebook’ at a time when many people were feeling disillusioned with Facebook’s policies, and there was a lot of chatter about making the jump over to a more principled, user-centric social network.
Like most people at the time, I got hold of an invite code and signed up to Ello, couldn’t really figure out what to do there, and promptly forgot about it. Then last month, after well over a year of radio silence, Ello’s emails were back in my inbox.
The revived Ello has shown itself to be savvy about branding and audience, appealing to a community of makers, designers and visual artists with its new tagline “The creators network”.
It has used its time away from the limelight to better develop its direction and implement features that bring it up to par with other major social networks. Ello has also planted its flag firmly in the ‘visual social media’ space, showing just how wide of the mark all the comparisons to Facebook were.
Ello is as firm on advertising as it ever was, even going so far as to enshrine its anti-data-collection beliefs in an Ello Bill of Rights for Social Networking Users. With more and more networks opting to increase advertising and introduce algorithms to dictate what content users see, this principled stance could place Ello at a huge advantage. By all accounts, it already has: Ello stated in a recent press release that sign-ups to its network and downloads of its iOS app are up almost 15x.
But it also doesn’t mean that Ello is closed off to brands and businesses – and its organic, user-focused approach to social networking is one that businesses could benefit from getting involved with.
The Creators Network
From the beginning, Ello has cultivated strong links with its community members, particularly those who are artists and creators of visual media, actively promoting their work and seeking collaborations. While this might seem fairly typical of a website in its early days, Ello shows no signs of ending this approach as the network grows. On the contrary, it has stepped up its efforts to appeal directly to creative members of the community, cementing its new image as a “creators’ network”.
In March it sent out an email newsletter celebrating a “huge influx of makers into the Ello community”, highlighting the work of a number of individuals and small businesses producing crafts and handmade items and encouraging Ello users to check out their talent.
Late in 2014, Ello launched a partnership with online T-shirt and apparel seller Threadless, whose clothing features designs by independent artists. The collaboration produced a line of T-shirts featuring designs by artists from Ello’s community, complete with links back to their Ello profile in the product descriptions, which can still be bought in Ello’s Threadless store.
Ello has also recently begun handing over the reins to community members to curate its “weekly Ello” newsletters, most recently teaming up with fine art and fashion photography magazine SPOON to produce a newsletter spotlighting Ello users who combine art and fashion in their work.
Ello’s partnerships with businesses are beneficial to both parties, as they give businesses a platform for promotion whilst allowing Ello to show that it cares about its users and what they publish to its network. Ello has proposed a business model which could see it monetising features that would be useful to creative professionals on Ello’s network, or marketing products designed by its users. Maintaining a relationship with businesses and professionals who use Ello will only help in this regard.
Contrary to what its policies on advertising might suggest, Ello has never been closed off to brands and businesses having a presence on the site. Brands are free to sign up and post what they like, but Ello has made it clear that it won’t be involved in forcing users to see those messages.
As Ello co-founder and former CEO Paul Budnitz told Mike O’Brien, “If a company puts up a ton of ads, they can do that. But you don’t have to follow them and if you don’t, you’ll never see them.”
Ello’s press release at the beginning of this month drew attention to the increasing trend of algorithms and advertising among other social networks, and emphasised the benefits of its own organic approach for brands who want to connect with their audience.
“With recent news that Instagram and Twitter have implemented algorithmic based streams, Ello offers the only alternative for creators, brands and publications to maintain organic reach with the followings they build. It’s not just that 1 in every 6 posts in an Instagram feed is an ad, but also that quality brands get nickel and dimed to have their posts viewed by the followings they have built. This model is less about serving people the “best,” and far more about serving as many ads as possible.”
And while Ello is obviously partisan in this regard, it seems that users agree. Sign-ups to Ello and downloads of its iOS app have reportedly increased fifteenfold (though Ello doesn’t mention over what time period this increase has taken place). Photographer Thomas Hawk wrote in a blog post that he prefers spending time on Ello to other social networks: “I hardly ever use Facebook or Instagram anymore because because the advertising just seems so overwhelming to me. I also find that I feel much more positive after spending time on Ello instead of Facebook and Instagram.”
The best of visual social media
An ad-free user experience isn’t Ello’s only selling point as a social network, of course. It has always been a solid platform for visual media, supporting large, high-resolution images with no noticeable constraints on size or formatting. It added support for videos and music to its arsenal in January 2015, but it also supports links and text posts, giving users a range of options for how they make use of the platform.
Ello users make the most of the platform’s support for huge, high-quality images.
Screenshot of “Surge” by @frankalexander
The community focus on aesthetics and high-quality images, combined with its flexible post formats and the ability to ‘repost’ other user’s content to your feed makes Ello a bit like the best of Instagram, Flickr and Tumblr combined. There is still room for Ello to improve its features, and some are confusing – for instance, ‘Starring’ users might seem like a throwback to Twitter’s old Favourites button, but is actually a way of creating a second updates feed – but there’s a lot that users can do on the site, and it’s miles ahead of where Ello was in 2014 when it first became popular.
So with that in mind, how should you get involved, especially if you have a brand or business you want to promote? While advertising is obviously off the table (technically there’s nothing to stop you from posting ads to your feed, but given that Ello users go to the social network for an ad-free experience, it’s unlikely to go down well), there’s lots of room to experiment with content marketing.
While we’ve seen that Ello likes art and businesses with a creative slant, this in no way means that you shouldn’t engage if you have a different kind of business. In my previous article on using visual social media, I gave a series of tips on how to approach any given visually-driven social network, many of which make good tactics for publishing to Ello.
Even if you don’t have a product that lends itself to images, you can use visual media to create a strong aesthetic that fits with your brand. Think about the brand image you want to promote, and create visuals – whether they be photographs, GIFs, videos or infographics – that fit with it.
High-quality visuals are a must; there’s no reason not to take advantage of Ello’s support for high-resolution images to upload some of your own. It’s also essential to bear in mind how your content will look on mobile; the Ello iOS app is already going strong, and an Android app release is right around the corner.
Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to visual media, as there’s lots of potential for interesting content using text or music. Cultivate a mix and find what works. Ello is also very much an emerging social network – technically, the site is still in beta – so don’t expect huge engagement overnight.
Finally, I would echo Tessa Wegert’s advice from her ClickZ piece on Ello for brands in late 2014: “Act natural.” Be attentive to tone, and give your channel an authentic, human voice. This is always an important rule for social media promotion, but especially on Ello, which has built its ecosystem around strong principles. Having a presence on its platform can show that you value building an authentic connection with your audience, and they will respond all the better for it.
(And if you want to look me up on Ello, you can find me under @bexsentance)
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