Why an ad-free, social media platform is too good to be true

By Sandra D’Souza

A new social media platform known as “Ello” has made waves on the internet on the promise of being ad-free.

A Social Media Platform just for you?

For many Facebook users, scrolling down their news feed can be a way to procrastinate or keep tabs on their friend’s lives. Some posts can make you laugh, while others simply pique your interest. As you scroll down the page, you chance upon articles on weight loss supplements, online sale of gadgets and similar others that you have not liked or followed. Do you find this annoying? Or do you simply ignore these ads and move along?

If these items are a nuisance to you, then you might find new social media channel Ellointeresting. The new entrant to the world of social media claims to shield users from beingbombarded with intrusive ads. Its manifesto states that advertisers pay social media networks to access profiles and user posts, and utilise these to push market their products and services. In essence, people that join social media networks are “the product that’s being bought and sold,” according to the Ello ‘About’ page.

This statement coupled with their ad-free promise of a social network has attracted thousands to flock to the new platform. As of Sept. 9, Ello received 34,000 requests to join every hour. However, the membership on the newest social media network is by invitation only, and those who are already registered can only add up to five friends.  You can request an invitation on the site, but itmay take weeks before you secure an approval.

Paul Budnitz, the CEO of Ello, created the social media site for his own circle of friends. The clutter made by advertisements prevented Budnitz from seeing the posts of his friends, thus he built an alternative. Soon enough, the site gained traction and was made available to 90 users by Aug. 7. Now Ello is seeing thousands of requests each day. However, the surge in applicants to the site may be fueled by the fear of missing out on a new trend.

Aside from its strong stance against ads, Ello also does not track your location, and it allows you to use pseudonyms on your own account. Recently, Facebook’s “real name policy” inspired backlash from many. This news made Ello a better substitute for Facebook, even if the social media behemoth has since then changed its policy and offered an apology for those affected. Nevertheless, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t appear to be concerned much about Ello. “I haven’t seen the site. Ever since I’ve been at Facebook, I see things all the time which are like, ‘My Mom’s getting on Facebook, I’m getting off’…What really matters is that people get the best product. And they get that by a company being very focused.”

Following its skyrocketing debut, pundits have been  doubtful whether this new social media platform will fare well.  Its stance on being ad-free could run out of steam, since it received$435,000 in seed funding from FreshTracks Capital in Vermont. This relationship may soon compel the company to look for avenues of profit, and compromise its manifesto eventually.  Budnitz, however, said that they still own the majority stake in Ello, and they plan to rake in profits by offering users to purchase additional features and customise their experience.

Ads are starting to creep up in other social media platforms

The revolutionary stance of Ello on ads seems so promising; it might inspire a new trend across other social media channels. This might be too optimistic though, with the advent of advertising on previously ad-free platforms. First off is Instagram. Users in Australia will soon notice ads from partners of the photo-sharing company under the roll-out of its advertising platform. Instagram has teamed up with brands like Kraft, Ben & Jerry’s Vegemite, Audi, Lenovo and others. Concerned users, however, can hide and provide feedback on the ads that they see in their feeds. Chris Chambers, digital marketing director of Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ), said the partnership with the photo-sharing platform will allow them to share the beauty of spending the holidays in Queensland. Meanwhile, the proliferation of ads on the site will enable Instagram to expand its business.

Another social media platform that will soon roll out ads is Snapchat, said CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel. The Stories feature that hosts photos and videos for 24 hours only would soon be the venue for advertising. Aside from this, the company will also release a stand-alone app of Stories known as Snapchat Discovery, which would also serve the same purpose. The proliferation of ads at the company worth $10 billion will allow it to generate revenue and address the demands of its investors. Spiegel said users would still be in control of whether they want to see the ads or not. For marketers, the move offers new opportunities, but given the self-destruct feature of posts, it is uncertain whether they will be able to conduct further verification on effectiveness.

Social media as tools for marketing and commerce seems to be the future.  What were once ad-free platforms are changing their stance. Facebook and Twitter are soon launching a “buy” button on their respective websites to capitalise on the upcoming holiday season. The plan builds on the notion that people purchase products and services based on the reviews and recommendations given by their friends on social media. To be successful, ads should be targeted to the right person to ensure that they would be encouraged to use the button.

An ad-free social media platform comes at a price

Advertising seems to be a permanent fixture in the realm of social media, since it would be the only way for these sites to last for a long time. Therefore, Ello may need to be tested if it stays true on its manifesto.

But, if you really want to stay from ads, you can do it. You just need to cough up $9,000 to join theNetropolitan Club. The site bills itself as a network for “people with more money than time.” Netropolitan offers an ad-free refuge for those who can afford it, and the site is not indexed toGoogle. In addition to the $9,000 initiation fee, you also need to pay $3,000 yearly under your membership. Users would be able to gain access to a platform that is similar to other free social media networks, but they would get to connect with other wealthy members and discuss luxurious endeavors in discussion forums without condemnation. Moreover, members would also have an unlimited cloud storage drive. The site, however, is not a concierge service, so users should not expect that moderators would get them a seat at a charter jet or any other favours.

Therefore, evading ads on social media comes at a high cost. It is not yet known whether Ello can be a truly advertising-free environment for the long term.  If you want to be bothered less, you can also simply ignore the ads in your feed, writes Metro’s Jessica Napier. Like an old adage says, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Ads will be prevalent, whether in social media or not, but it is still your call whether you’d be affected by them. Or if you really don’t like them, you may just have to find a way to get that Ello invitation – or spend over $9,000, so you better start saving!

This article originally appeared on http://www.learnmarketing.com.au/social-media/why-an-ad-free-social-media-platform-is-too-good-to-be-true/

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