Can Ello Dethrone Facebook?


Mike O’Brien

Brands are welcome to join Ello, but sponsored posts are out of the question, since the hottest new social network is adamantly against advertising.

Ello, the newest social media network on the block and the latest to offer an ad- and data-mining-free zone, promises to be the antithesis of Facebook. And with a manifesto that reads, “Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold,” it certainly sells itself as just that.

But while Ello strives to be the antidote to Facebook, there are similarities between the two. For example, much like the early Facebook, Ello isn’t accessible to the general public. Available only from current users or by submitting a request on the homepage – the platform is currently fielding 40,000 requests every hour — invitations are coveted enough that people are selling them on eBay for up to $50.


Ello will also collect data, but it claims that it will be anonymized and aggregated, so the company can see how people are using the platform in general, rather than on an individual basis.

Brands are welcome to use the platform, like anyone else. They just won’t have the option of sponsored posts.

“Your own feed is holy to us,” says Paul Budnitz, chief executive (CEO) of Ello. “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.”

Budnitz started Ello as a reprieve from the onslaught of advertising on other social networks. Initially comprised of people he knows personally, the network has expanded outside his circle over the last two months. Ello’s popularity has recently spiked, after Facebook famously kicked drag queens off the site for violating a rule stating that everyone must use their real names.

Ello’s anti-advertising stance may sound like bad news for brands, but Jonathan Rick, president of an eponymous digital communications firm, doesn’t see it that way. He believes that Ello can make often-aggressive marketers rethink the way they use social media and could potentially position itself as an alternative to Facebook.

“I think smart marketers will use Ello to forge a new kind of relationship with consumers — one that’s based on less of a demographic, less of a statistic that can be plugged into a spreadsheet, and more about a flesh-and-blood human being,” he says.

He thinks brands like Apple and Coca-Cola will be able to leverage the platform best, since their campaigns tend to focus on lifestyle more than the actual advertising, which is what many users join Ello to escape in the first place.

“[Ello is] using a brilliant strategy of their own,” Rick adds. “They’re using the tried-and-true method of identifying an enemy — in this case, Facebook — and they’re positioning themselves self-righteously and ostentatiously as the anti-Facebook.”

Some have already been won over by Ello. “It’s not as sneaky. It isn’t jumping into your mind and catering your feed to that,” says Steve Wilson, a Denver art director who uses the social network. “If I wanted to see [advertising] it’s already everywhere else.”

Wilson, who uses ad blocking software for other sites, finds the ad-free experience much less distracting, and compares the platform to “Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all rolled into one, without the ads and the fluff and the clutter and the noise.”

Whether or not Ello will have staying power still remains to be seen, but it certainly seems to have made Facebook sweat. Just yesterday, reports that the social network is working on an app that will allow users to log in anonymously, were brought to the surface. This is something that may have been spurred by the backlash from those like Budnitz. Still, Ello’s CEO maintains that if the platform monetizes in the future, it’ll be through special add-on features that users can purchase and not by selling third-party data.

What do you think? Can Ello dethrone Facebook? Let us know in the comments below.