Guest author Yoav Vilner is a co-founder of Ranky.
It’s almost 2015, and it’s time everyone realized that users matter more than anything. Yes, more than the actual product and far more than the short-term revenue that app developers and social networks can earn off them.
Yet not everyone gets that. Certainly not Facebook, which—as this recent Time piece illustrates—is still busy aiming to expand across the globe. Facebook isn’t asking for money upfront but rather selling all of our personal data and spanking us with advertisements in order to earn their dough.
It’s a strategy Todd Berger, co-founder of the “anti-Facebook” social network Ello, calls its “world domination approach.” Ello is taking a different path—one based on a “freemium” business plan for users that gives them basic access for free, promises not to sell their data to advertisers, and allows them to pay for additional features such as upgraded profile designs.
“Freemium is working the world over,” Mr. Berger said, “Versus: ‘No, no, it’s free, it’s free! But we’re selling all your data to god knows who at exorbitant rates in order to create new scams for people who didn’t ask for it.’”
Ello offers more than feel-good principles, a potentially ad-free model, and a possible threat to the Facebook throne. Although the social network has taken its share of arrows for an elusive business model, a glitchy site design, and difficulty living up to the enormous wave of interest it started drawing earlier this year, it still offers a key insight for businesses of all stripes.
In short, today’s users may prefer to settle for less rather than be exploited and ignored.
How Ello Is Like Occupy Wall Street
Like the Occupy movement a few years back, Ello is a case of frustrated citizens reclaiming their authority to speak up against giants. Internet users are making it clear they want autonomy: We want to feel that the Internet is ours. We get irked when news leaks of companies abusing our information or privacy because we inherently believe the Internet is a service by the people and for the people.
No matter what area you work in, the Ello phenomenon serves as a strong reminder that users matter more than profit margin or marketing campaigns. Too often companies behave in a way that shows they seem to believe they are the ones in charge. In fact, though, your business is nothing without customers.
Ello gained so much traction because its public launch as an ad-free social network timed perfectly with the growing concerns over user privacy and advertisements on Facebook. Online advertisements have become inevitable and inescapable, but there’s a way to advertise while still prioritizing the experience of your customers.
Putting Users First
Today, your customers are huge influencers over the course of your business. This is why we keep hearing about engagement and the importance of creating personal bonds with your online community.
It’s no wonder that successful entrepreneurs are launching new platforms designed to do just that. That would explain Eric Schmidt’s investment in Commerce Sciences, which aims for new levels of website personalization and engagement, or the new venture by Soluto co-founder Ishay Green, Spot.IM, which helps websites transform their existing traffic into an on-page social community.
Treating customers as numbers to collect data, failing to take users’ complaints seriously, and not demonstrating that you care about their needs is a surefire way to lose your customers’ faith and put your entire business at risk.
“Companies are hunting cookies and IDs, but does that makes the customer happy?” Ivan Guzenko, VP of UK-Based SmartyAds, says. “The customer should return as the king, not as the target audience.”
The technology used right now to target people is working unfairly. I believe the user should actually get money for viewing ads and disclose only the information he sees right.
Why This All Matters
The Internet marketplace is a nation, and its citizens want a voice. Whether sharing user experiences about local stores online, rating a company on Yelp, or choosing where to spend money, the voices of users matter.
Take a look at the death of the black market website Silk Road. Users didn’t simply take the FBI’s raid of the hidden site as the inevitable end of the Internet black market. Instead, they sought new ways to re-create it. Much the way Ello’s functionality remains a pale shadow of what Facebook offers, the bot-ridden Silk Road imitators, replacements may not be up to par with the old model.
Still, users often value authority over quality. Stay at the top of the rat race by giving users a sense of power, control, and voice.
While Facebook is busy trying to dominate the world by selling the information of their billions of users, Ello is learning from the serious backlash of Facebook’s privacy actions.
What This Means For Your Business
Think of your competition. Identify the leaders in your niche and figure out their weaknesses. What aren’t they giving their customers? How can you provide customers with those missing elements and possibly convert them to your product or service? How can you improve your advertising and data collecting strategies in a way that genuinely puts customer concerns first?
Because Ello picked up so much steam so fast, it faces a risk of burning out. So avoid following in Ello’s footsteps, and be sure that you can follow up on the promises you make possible clients—or risk even more wrath if your service fails to meet expectations.
Users migrate all the time, so getting them to feel your service is impossible to leave is key. What’s important to learn from Ello is the importance of retaining the customers you already have and strengthening their bond to you. Facebook’s pull is strong—right now, arguably the strongest of all social media sites—but if Facebook doesn’t begin to pay more attention to its users’ concerns, it may be standing on a rickety platform.
Don’t find yourself in this position—prepare to weather storms with your loyal customers by your side.
Lead photo by Thomas Hawk