You are not a product. There’s a better way.

Those two simple, yet impactful, statements have opened the door to a new form of social media platform. I loved Ello’s manifesto, particularly the statement, “We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate – but a place to connect, create and celebrate life.”

I think this statement gets back to the basic premise of all social media platforms – to connect people, share ideas and develop/build relationships. Look at the terms and conditions of any social media platform we’ve discussed and you’ll see similar language. So what’s changed? What’s different? The need to make money and profit.

Based on many in the tech media scene, as well as numerous critics, Ello won’t survive without data mining or selling advertisements. “Data mining can grant immense inferential power. If an algorithm can correctly classify a case into known category based on limited data, it is possible to estimate a wide range of other information about that case based on the properties of all the other cases in that category. This how most successful Internet companies make their money and from where they draw their power” (Mashable).

However, I think Ello is showing “traditional” social media outlets that it can. Despite having such a strict stance on ads, Ello signed up another quarter-million users in mid-January 2015 (Observer).

  • “Since the sudden Facebook exodus to Ello, requests to join went from 4,000 to 27,000+ per hour, Twitter exploded with desperate requests for invites, eBay responded with an enormous black market for invites, and Ello became the fifth hottest trend on Google searches.”

It appears like Ello has overcome its first challenge – one of many to come. If you want people to stick around and post on a social network, they have to be able to actually share media with friends—or “noise,” as is sometimes the case on Ello. But just letting people post what they want can be a slippery slope for ads to slip their way in through embeds.

Ello’s whole shtick is that they’re a social media platform with no ads. But YouTube videos are like advertisement-filled trojan horses, and embedded video ads don’t stop rolling just because you have an anti-ad manifesto. So Ello faced a conundrum wherein they couldn’t let users post what they wanted without compromising their no-ads policy (Observer). The solution, empower users to delete their accounts if they don’t like the Youtube ads being shared by other users.

The question I ask is – Ello a fad or will be it here for the long-term? Will it be another Myspace and wither away or could we classify it as a niche social media site. Honestly I’m torn – as a social / communication / relationship site, I don’t know how it will survive without a steady stream of capital. It was able to raise $5.5 million in September 2014 when they registered as a public benefit corporation and bound themselves legally to never running ads or selling user data (Observer).

Ello is sure to attract social media users who will respond positively to Ello’s stance. It’s the basic foundation of communication – know your audience. I think their stance on no ads, no data mining, not selling out will appeal to many people, who have the same characteristics, culture and ideology. This is directly tied back to what we learned in week 4, and the social media ecology and the honeycomb framework to understand and develop social media platforms, and the social media landscape (Social Media? Get Serious!). For Ello, I think the site concentrates on sharing, conversations, reputation, identity and relationships. What group of users would flock to Ello? Aside from the obvious answer – artists?

I think the consequences for all social media would be centered around how polluted the channel and ads get. Think of TV, there are so many tools and ways to get around commercials and the cord-cutting wave is in full force among those not wanting to pay cable bills or deal with advertising. With Ello coming on to the main stage, I think social media platforms will constrict the volume of ads on their sites and raise the prices for businesses. That is if it takes off and users unlike their Facebook accounts and turn to other options – much like the cord-cutters and cable TV. As long as business see value in social media and are willing to pay for the data of the large population – I don’t see Ello having a big effect on the industry.

I cited this in my reading reaction, but I think it’s important to flag here as well. “In an increasingly competitive market space, retailers need to know everything they can about their customers: who they are, what they buy, when they buy, why they buy? And thanks to the amount of data flying around about customer buying behaviors retailers can answer” (Why Retailers Should Care About Data Mining). I think this sums up how businesses will keep using the traditional social media sites where they can get the data they need to target the specific customers they need to reach.

And for me, along with many other users, why would I go to a different social media site, when all of my friends and family are already on the existing platform, along with hundreds of millions of people?

As for Ello’s future, so far the Ello team has found a way to escape the for-profit pressures, but can it last? Ello has joined a group of businesses that are creating a new type of corporation structure – a for-profit company that is focused on public benefit. The founders registered Ello in the state of Delaware as a public benefit corporation (PBC), of which there are only about 1,140 in the entire country (The Observer).

This group of businesses, “look at profit as the means — not the exclusive end goal — of their business. They see profits as a means to fuel growth in social impact as well as to generate attractive returns for stockholders” (Huffington Post).

It was interesting to learn that, public benefit corporations function like, and enjoy, all the same benefits as traditional Delaware corporations and they will have three unique guidelines-  corporate purpose, accountability, and transparency. When reading the Huffington Post article, a couple things stood out to me around these three guidelines – all of which centered on how will Ello prove this:

  • Corporate Purpose: ‘To operate in a responsible and sustainable manner’. This language helps ensure that a public benefit corporation serves the best long-term interests of society while it creates value for its stockholders. It will be interesting to see how Ello will demonstrate this.
  • Accountability: Unlike in traditional corporations, which have fiduciary duty to maximize stockholder value, directors of public benefit corporations are required to meet a tri-partite balancing requirement consistent with its public benefit purpose. Again, I’m not really sure how Ello will prove this, but I feel that it goes back to providing a platform to communicate and integrate its members.
  • Transparency: Public benefit corporations are required to report on their overall social and environmental performance, giving stockholders important information that, particularly when reported against a third party standard, can mitigate risk and reduce transaction costs.

While I love the premise to all these, I just need the data to show how this will play out. Working for a for-profit company, one could argue that these same guidelines applies – so what I need from Ello is how are they different?

Questions

  • Based on our previous readings, what honey-comb style / social media ecology do you see Ello portraying?
  • What’s your belief – is Ello here to stay or will it fail?
  • What is your perspective on public benefit corporations? Can socially responsible corporations operate in this same manner/vein or is there truly a distinction?
  • How can Ello demonstrate it is benefiting the greater good or the public good?
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About Frank Clouser

I'm currently the Senior Corporate Relations Manager for Allstate Insurance's Northwest Region. I lead the regional corporate relations department responsible for reputation management, strategic communications, media relations, issues management, community relations and employee communications in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii. I manage integrated communications that drive outcomes aimed at increasing engagement, strengthen brand reputation and increase consumer consideration of Allstate. I also proactively manage emerging and existing issues that may have an impact on overall business performance and Allstate's reputation. Provide strategic counsel to Field Senior Vice President and regional partners as a member of the region's senior leadership team.

2 responses to “You are not a product. There’s a better way.”

  1. Angela Cook says :

    Frank,

    This was a very impressive read which I very much enjoyed! You brought up so many salient points that I’m not really sure where to start! I’ll jump in with some actions to your questions:

    I really love the thoughtful question you posed about how Ello can demonstrate its benefit to the public. You know, I think the most effective way to do this will be through a collection of user testimonials and even a creation of videos sharing positive reactions and experiences of the users. However, THEN I have to ask myself, does this go against everything Ello is all about? Wouldn’t this be considered a form of “advertising”? Would this violate practices of not collecting information about its users, even if the users offer the information with the intention of its use to be for the benefit of the growth of Ello, a site which they use and enjoy? I don’t know! This seems like a catch-22 to me.

    Like

    • Frank Clouser says :

      Angela,

      Thanks for your comments. I really like your point of user testimonials, but you’re right – would this be self – advertising, or collecting customer information, if they posted it to their site. Also, based on our learnings this self promotion might have a negative impact on Ello’s own trust formula. The one thing I still struggle with is quantifiable data. I don’t think Ello can go to its investors or donors with no information beyond self-produced customer stories. Definitely a catch-22 and a potential domino that sets questions of longevity in motion.

      Like

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