Monday, September 29, 2014

The Need for Middle Ground and Skepticism - Not Hype, Not Contrarianism - On Social Networks (eg, Ello)

Ello launched - to a lot of hype - the past week. It's the Facebook killer, the latest and greatest in that category (pulse check on Facebook ... yep, still alive and pretty strong) and done with a great (albeit not that true) backstory that should make any public relations person proud: we're ad-free, we're not taking funding (oops, turns out to be a lie), we're community friendly!

And almost immediately, I started to see marketing and communications professionals on Twitter and Facebook adamantly scream their need to be contrarian (read as slow and followers, those late to everything and never on top of things) and claim that they'll never join Ello.

Which is great. We need more followers in the public relations, social media and overall marcom industries. We don't have enough original thinkers, and it's better to have followers that will not bring counsel, strategy, original thought to clients but rehash old and tired ideas or just knee-jerk follow directions from clients even if they know they're the wrong directions.

If you can't tell, that's sarcasm. To proudly proclaim that you're not going to join a new communications/social network platform to be contrarian shows an inability to jump into new ideas, or try out new things. As marketing communications professionals, you want to be one of the first on a platform to see if it will do anything (most of the time, no) or if it's something that you need to get clients onto, or at least start to monitor.

Are these the same people that said Twitter was stupid (probably) or that Snapchat was just for sexting (um, projecting much?) or that Facebook is dying (always, it's dying - it's almost as bad as the annual PR is dead meme) or that PR should never pay bloggers (how'd that work out for the firms?). Are these the people that are going to miss out and be late to the next platform, or aren't really grokking that privacy is the next hot thing, eg, Snapchat, Secret, Whisper .... (yes, they are.)

There is a middle-ground that seems to be missing in marcom, and a healthy skepticism. Too often, the industry is all or nothing (remember the hype that oversold SecondLife internally at agencies, and the firms/people too weak to push back on the ideas?) and not enough middle ground. So this anti-Ello stream is just pig-headed and wrong without actually being on the platform and playing around.

Now, there are tons of issues about Ello that make it seem like a really fast to burn-out star: nothing mobile (yet), less a Facebook killer and more like the bastard child of Instagram plus Tumblr, the adamant claim of no advertising (remind anyone else of Tumblr?)

On that last point, Greg Brooks has a great point (posted on Facebook):
Positioned as the anti-Facebook, their manifesto reads as a thing born in the fever-swamp mind of an untalented freshman Lit major. So very, very many Big Ideas(tm)(r)(c).
I'd like to say back to Ello:
I don't mind my social network being funded by advertisers. I understand their motives, they understand my browsing habits. It works. Commerce isn't evil -- it's the most effective force ever devised for pulling people out of poverty. 
You claim audacity, beauty, simplicity and transparency. But what's transparent about allowing fake identities? What's beautiful in asking users to pour personal information and relationships into a site with no long-term plan other than "trust us"? 
Simple, I'll give you -- the whole thing does seem simple. 
Ello aspires to be a place to "connect, create and celebrate life." But if that's all it is, then the party won't last long. People -- and companies -- that only focus on the lofty often end up sleeping in bus shelters when things go south. 
I may or may not be a product. But I'm certainly not gullible.
Yes, Ello has been greatly hyped with a great launch (almost seems, well, calculated to take advantage of anti-FB sentiment, like it was done by professionals...) but that doesn't mean it is or isn't worth the time to at least check it out, just don't immediately buy the hype (another issue in PR/SM).

It's a new shiny toy, and to ignore it in the PR/SM space shows a lack of understanding basic tenets in the industry and for your clients. Ignoring it is almost as bad as the "I'm dropping Facebook for Ello!" crowd. It's not an all-or-nothing thing, it's about testing out new platforms and having informed opinions.
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