Ello isn’t trying to take on Facebook. At least, that’s what the social startup has been insisting since its media-fueled five minutes of Silicon Valley fame last year. (Fast Company wrote a few articles at the time.) So what is Ello? A place for artists? A political statement? It’s hard to tell.
That may be about to change. Today the company hired its first chief marketing officer, according to Mashable. Rene Alegria, formerly the CEO of a website called Mamiverse, will head the startup’s efforts to market itself to the public. That’s good, because Ello remains a mystery even to the relatively few who know about it. Alegria has his work cut out for him.
Last fall, Ello formally swore off the use of advertising as a potential revenue source, a move that didn’t stop it from raking in $5.5 million in funding.
After a massive wave of buzz and speculation, the interest in this ad-free, invite-only minimalist social network seems to have dissolved. In the course of its brief media frenzy, Ello was branded as a sort of anti-Facebook, in large part due to its staunch anti-advertising stance. It has since tried to discourage the anti-Facebook angle, opting instead to present itself as a place for artists. Indeed, scrolling through the site today, it looks a lot like Tumblr or Pinterest. Which begs the question: Why do we need another social network again?
A big part of Alegria’s new job will be to hone that message. The focus appears set to remain on “galvanizing the creative community,” as Alegria told Mashable. The first step is decrying the “catfight” fueled by media framing so Ello can reposition as something other than the anti-Facebook.
Of course, Alegria will also be helping the company figure out a way to monetize the social network without breaking its founding promise of never, ever selling advertising or user data. Instead, Ello will experiment with “internal campaigns that capture the spirit of our artist community.” Details are scarce.
Whatever Ello does to make money will likely only be harder now that users have stopped begging each other for invites, presumably having fixated their fractured attention spans elsewhere.