Ello & Tsu: Are The New Me-Too Social Networks For Marketers?
Columnist Mark Traphagen explores opportunities for marketers on two new social networks.
Why are so many clamoring to get into these very beta social networks? What are their chances of long-term success? Are they good places to market your business?
In this column, I’ll give my answers to those questions and more.
Ello And Tsu: Unique New Value Propositions
A first glance, both Ello and Tsu appear to be fairly ordinary social networks. With a few limitations, you can do most of the things you do on other general-purpose social networks: post updates, share images, comment on the posts of others, etc. So what’s so special about these new networks?
In both cases, they have attracted attention not because of their features but because of the unique value propositions they offer users.
Ello: We won’t sell you or sell to you. Ello put its stake in the social media ground with a bold manifesto. From the start, it promised users that “Ello doesn’t sell ads. Nor do we sell data about you to third parties.”
That “you are not a product” ethos attracted an early user base made up mostly of artists, designers, coders and other hip, vaguely anti-establishment types. But Ello really exploded when a group of drag artists and their friends in the LGBT community felt threatened by Facebook’s real names policy. They adopted Ello as their new online home, and that propelled the nascent network into the news spotlight and set off a clamoring for elusive beta invites.
Tsu: Why shouldn’t you make money off your own content? If Ello positions itself to appeal to those sick of being a “product,” Tsu seems to be pursuing exactly the opposite motivation: come be a product, and get paid for it.
Tsu says they will share 90% of all revenue they earn with active users who are producing content on the site. The revenue sharing is apportioned by a complex and partially secret formula, and part of it gets distributed “upstream” via “family trees” of users who were invited in by other users.
Will Ello & Tsu Succeed?
Both networks have been successful in raising initial capital from venture capitalists, enough to at least get them through this initial tidal wave of new users. And both seem to be scrambling to implement as quickly as possible new features that these users are demanding.
What may be more in doubt is the long-term success of each network. Do they have a viable business model that will enable them to keep building and that will keep users happy enough to keep participating and inviting their friends?
That question is important to businesses and marketers who may be considering whether it is worth their time and investment to pursue either network.
Again, because of their unique value propositions, we need to consider each network separately.
Since Ello has firmly established it is neither going to accept advertising nor sell users’ data to others — the most typical revenue routes for social networks — it obviously needed some alternative method to generate income.
Ello has announced that it plans to monetize via a “freemium” model. The network and most of its features will always be available for free to any user. It will eventually create a set of premium features and services that users can purchase for a few dollars each. This is similar to the model used by many apps and online tools.
While a freemium model doesn’t sound as lucrative as an advertising model, Ello has to its advantage that the ambitions of both its creators and investors seem to be modest: bring something “simple, beautiful, and ad-free” into the world with a sustainable but not “greedy” business plan. In other words, they seem content with being forever “lean and mean” in order to not be beholden to bigger corporate interests.
However, success doesn’t come just by having a viable plan (if indeed Ello’s plan is viable). A business needs customers and, particularly for Ello’s model, that means dedicated, passionate users — users that are big enough fans of the network that they will shell out cash to buy premium services.
With that in mind, the question becomes: does Ello have enough unique about it to sustain such a community?
I’ve been on Ello every day since September 28 (in fact, I got so deeply involved that within three days I’d written the most complete user guide to Ello yet available).
During that first week when everybody wanted to get an Ello invite, I noticed that all the same social media early adopter crowd I’ve come to know over the years were there, and most were posting actively. For a few days. Now, a month later at this writing, all but a few have gone silent.
However, when I switch over to my Noise stream, it’s a different story. (Ello has users divide people they follow into one of two groups: Friends or Noise. Think “signal vs. noise.”).
When I joined, I decided to follow a lot of the “smart creative” types that had adopted Ello before it was famous (social media hipsters?). I find that they remain very active, and seem to be bringing in more of their soul mates.
So, the future of Ello may, indeed, lie in its ability to keep a fickle niche-market happy and feeling like they are part of something socially good.
Tsu seems to have two means of revenue generation, one active now and one to come.
The presently-active income producer is traditional banner ads in the margins. Each Tsu post also has a rocket icon at upper right that informs the poster of the ability to pay to boost the post into his or her extended network, or to specific demographics.
However, at present, you have to email Tsu to set that up. There is not yet any self-service interface for ads or boosted posts.
The future revenue stream (and according to Tsu CEO Sebastian Sobczak, the real revenue plan) for Tsu is to become, in his words, “the peoples’ banker.”
Eventually, users will be able to use money in their Tsu bank earned from the revenue-sharing as credits toward purchases from vendors. Sobczak seems to hope to attract online merchants and turn Tsu into part social network, part shopping network.
The question for Tsu is whether a model where 90% of revenues are given away to users retains enough capital to continue to maintain and grow the network. A lot may depend on how soon and how successfully Tsu can implement the shopping aspect of its plan.
Are Ello & Tsu Useful For Marketers?
And now we come to the $64,000 question (adjust the value to your expected ROI). Are there any opportunities for marketing or business promotion on either Ello or Tsu? Once again, I’ll take them one at a time.
Note: Both networks were still invite only at the time of this writing, so you will need to find a current user who can give you an invite to get on.
Looking at Ello from a marketing perspective, the social network that first comes to my mind is Reddit. While the two networks have significant differences, I think they have similar cultures. That is, cultures that are highly suspicious of marketing and self-promotion, and very protective of their space.
On Reddit, not understanding the culture (and what has come to be known as “Reddiquette”) will get you downvoted and even banned faster than you can say subreddit (Reddit’s name for its topical communities).
I think it will be similar on Ello. Ello users go on the network to see and share the creative, the artistic, the unusual, and the thoughtful.
With that in mind, here are my preliminary tips for exploring Ello as a marketing opportunity. (I say “preliminary” because the network is young and may change greatly in the coming months.)
- Branding: Ello may be best for branding. Think Instagram. Brands that are successful on Instagram don’t directly push product or sell. They add to the fun experience of their followers in ways that reflect well on their brand.
- Personal Branding: Ello may be even better for personal branding. Again, given Ello’s culture, users are more likely to be receptive to what appears to be a real person than to a brand name account. If your brand has any personal representatives who are active on social media and adept at creating engaging content for social media, they may want to try out Ello.
- Connections: Follow, follow, follow. Aside from inviting people from outside Ello, the quickest way to gain new followers is to start following people. In the early days of a social network people are hungry for connections, and many will follow you back. Check the follower lists of people on Ello who are influential in your audience and follow people whom they follow and who follow them.
- Reach: Ello’s reach is very limited mostly due to the current lack of any reshare mechanism. This means that for now there is no such thing as viral content on Ello. That limitation may be enough to turn off many marketers.
After a rocky start where it was inundated by spam (surprise! offer to pay people to post and you get spam!), Tsu seems to be finding its feet, getting the overposting and spam under control, and actually turning into a real social network.
People are adding friends, and liking and sharing content they think their friends will enjoy. It’s beginning to feel a lot more like Facebook.
Since anyone can have an account, and Tsu treats brand accounts just like people (so no Facebook branded content throttle), there may be a real opportunity to gain an audience and get attention for your brand. Here are my (again provisional) tips for marketing on Tsu:
- Content Range: Do what you did in the early days of Facebook Pages. Remember those idyllic days before Facebook throttled the life out of your organic reach, when you could actually believe that most of your followers would see your content? They appear to be back on Tsu. Sure the audience is much smaller, but they are growing rapidly and have that early adopter hunger for sources of good content.
- Connections: Friend and Follow. Same advice as above for Ello. However, be aware that Tsu limits each profile to 5,000 Friends and 1,000 Follows (although any number of people can follow you). Also you can only make 50 friend requests per week. (Friends have a two way relationship and can see each others’ posts. You can see the content of people you follow, but they don’t see yours unless they follow back.)
- Performance: Test, test, test. Tsu comes with rudimentary analytics for all accounts, so you can see what posts perform and how. So test different kinds of content
Have you experimented with either network yet? What do you think?