Hello, Ello: A Look at the Next Big Thing*


There’s a new social network in town — say hello to Ello. Still in beta and adding members on an invite-only basis (you can request one, good luck — Ello is reportedly getting 45,000 invite requests an hour), Ello has made headlines for its fist-in-the-air manifesto that heaps shame on the popular model for social platforms (particularly those named Facebook):

Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you make and every link you follow is tracked, recorded and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership. We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate — but a place to connect, create and celebrate life. You are not a product.

Ello, in other words, promises not to sell, share or otherwise monetize your personal data or content. Ello’s design is intentionally minimalist, a thumbed nose at the visual busyness of Facebook’s wall of distraction model.  Users can be anonymous, a feature which piqued the public’s interest over the past few weeks as controversy around Facebook’s “real name” policy swelled in the LBGT community.

Bottom line: Ello is new and cool and exclusive (proof of coolness: there’s already a backlash). Facebook is your mom liking or commenting on everything you post.

So how will Ello make money?

From Business Insider’s interview with Ello founder Paul Budnitz:

Ello is firmly against the idea of selling your information to advertisers, so to make money, Ello’s founder, Paul Budnitz, says users will be able to purchase small, specific features that will help people build their own version of Ello that’s customized to their taste. “Ello is made to be simple, exactly what you need to have fun and be a great social network,” Budnitz told Business Insider. “It makes Ello really easy to use, and at the same time, it’s also the basis for the business model. When a network is very simple, people want specific features, and they’re willing to pay for those features.” So while the core Ello experience will “always remain free,” Budnitz says, people will be able to expand Ello’s capabilities, spending a few dollars for that new killer feature — whatever it is.

Yeah, but will it work?

Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post is skeptical. “For starters, large social networks — with servers and programmers and office space — do not run on dreams and fairy dust,” she writes in WaPo’s Intersect blog. “Typically they run on ads, which Ello doesn’t have. In lieu of ad revenue, Ello has suggested it might adopt the Radiohead approach — pay-what-you-like, or what-you-think-it’s-worth. It’s more or less the model employed by a number of individual bloggers, podcasters and livestreamers, as well as by public radio and nonprofit media — who may also sell ads and solicit grants or corporate donations to cover the vast swaths of budget that users don’t. The difference, of course, is that Ello won’t have grants or corporate donors, and the amount of money it costs to run a social network dwarfs the monetary needs of some guy on Twitch by a factor of a zillion to one.”

Although The Guardian raises a good point…

Ruby J. Murray of The Guardian breaks down Facebook’s core uses into two categories:

  1. Photos. “The only part of ourselves that (Facebook) lets us store, search and catalogue in any meaningful way,” Murray writes. “Considering that Facebook claims American users spend 40 minutes a day on the site – a whopping 243 hours a year – it’s no surprise that our past selves are starting to seem oppressive and unwieldy in their muumuus.”
  2. Interpersonal connections. Facebook ruined the joyful serendipity of posts from long-lost friends and relatives, however, through “News Feed algorithms and default filters to choose whose posts you saw…and boost the likelihood you’d see Britney Spears’ updates over your friends. Its overall effect was infantalising.”

Is Facebook — with its 1.3 billion users, its utility as a universal registration mechanism, its function as the scrapbook for much of the past eight to 10 years of our lives — really so bloated, unwieldy and depressing? Do people really care about the advertisements that much?

Maybe. “According to a survey conducted last year, 68% of respondents stated that advertising on social networks such as Facebook was ‘unacceptable,’ because they didn’t use social media as a purchasing tool,” Dan Shewan writes on the Wordstream blog. “Furthermore, less than 20% of consumers actually made a purchasing decision after seeing an ad on a social network, and only 9% did so more than once.”

This alleged sentiment does not seem to stop companies from buying ads. Facebook revenues are up 60.5 percent since last year and the company is set to roll out new, sophisticated “people-based marketing” ad technology.

But certainly privacy is a big issue! Or maybe not, according to Dewey: “It’s also unclear if the general Internet-browsing public — a.k.a., the very people Ello wants to save from Facebook and its ilk — really care about being saved from Facebook, at all. According to a 2013 Pew poll, 94 percent (!) of adult Internet users have done nothing to hide their personal data from Facebook, et al, which doesn’t exactly evidence the widespread adoption of Ello’s pay-what-you-like principles.”

So Ello probably is not a Facebook-killer?

Of course not. And, really, does it want to be? Ello is intentionally precious. It’s cool because it’s different and (seemingly) earnest (although some are a bit disturbed that Ello accepted $435,000 in venture capital). Most of the users I have seen on Ello are industry thought-leader types, the quasi-spiritual marketers who embrace buzz like it was their own dear mother.

Will Ello retain its indie cred once it goes mainstream? Will minimalist design be enough to keep the space hip once the bigots and SHOUTERS and all the people from your high school show up? Once the brands show up? Again, probably not.

Hey, what about those brands?

Apparently, they are allowed to create profiles (as Ben Breier points out, Sonos — and Paul Budnitz’s bike shop — are already on Ello).

Is there an inherent contradiction in allowing brands to create profiles on a site that eschews ads? The argument could be made.

Is it a bad idea to create brand pages on a site that eschews commercialism (or at least the perceived tawdry, tacky, over-the-top commercialism found on other social networks that Ello users are ostensibly avoiding)? Again, that argument could be made.

So did you sign up for Ello?

I did, and I do not get an invitation. I am not cool.

*For now.

Inbound Takeaways: Part II


Hubspot’s Inbound marketing conference is the largest gathering for inbound marketers in the world. This year, Hubspot hosted over 50 countries, 10,000 attendees and 150 sessions. I had the privilege of attending last week with our owner Gary Miller and our director of digital content, Ben Kirst.

Considering this was my first conference experience, let’s just say the bar has been set pretty high.

The Perks

We fully enjoyed our four-day venture in the heart of Beantown. We walked around the city taking in the skyline views (when Ben wasn’t getting lost), enjoyed seafood galore (and the best crab cake I’ve ever experienced) and had the opportunity to learn and interact with organizations just like ours.

Headliners included public influencers like Martha Stuart, Malcolm Gladwell and Simon Sinek (who’s the most phenomenal public speaker, if I may say so). But for me, the most captivating ideas came from the small influencers – the individuals who regularly practice inbound and have real experiences to bring to the table.

10 takeaways from Inbound 2014

1. Embrace the DARC side.
Mike Volpe explained what exactly makes a good inbound marketer. According to the Hubspot CMO, we need to hire those who show DARC: Digital, analytical, reach and content. In this day and age, we need the ability to create remarkable content — but only if we’re going to measure and understand the importance of that content. Trust a well-rounded, versatile mind over a depth of knowledge in just one area.

2. Be Human. Seems simple, right? But far too often, organizations’ only measure of success is performance metrics. I don’t fully buy that “SEO is so 2009,” but I do see why there’s so much more than results alone. How will you interact with your audience and delight your customers? When we understand our buyer personas from the very beginning, we can be human – which ultimately, is what our consumers want.

So stop hiring for talent, and hire for people instead. Create a culture. Remember that relationships mean far much more than numbers do.

3. Repurpose everything. Hubspot’s favorite term is “remarkable.” But how to get there is the issue. The conference taught us to plan for what’s going to make you stand out. In the content world, repurpose your creations. Turn a blog post into a white paper. Turn an infographic into photos for Twitter. And hello – video! Google owns Youtube, my friends. Use that to your advantage and create original and shareable pieces.

4. Don’t overdo it. Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist of Canva and former chief evangelist of Apple, emphasized how easy it is to create an effective blog post in a few simple steps:

  • Be bold. “Honestly, if you’re not pissing people off, you’re not being bold enough,” he told us.
  • What is your value? If it doesn’t entertain, inform or assist, you need more.
  • Schedule, then schedule again. “If someone sees you post the same thing twice, that’s their own social media addiction problem,” he said. It’s OK to post more than once a day, and OK to post old content. We must.


5. Inbound is all or nothing. It’s the agencies and organizations who all adopt to inbound who see the most value and success. Hubspot offers excellent integration tools to set businesses up for success. Not only can it help customer relations and gaining new business, it can help organizational structure from within. But to get there, everybody must be on board — from marketing, sales, operations, finance and beyond.

6. Hubspot’s new CRM system is no joke. Speaking of integration, Hubspot’s new system amazed me. Co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah announced the launch of Hubspot’s free CRM and Sidekick sales acceleration. And it’s a game changer.

The CRM connects to Gmail, Outlook and Google Apps and automatically logs emails with your contacts. It features a timeline view to help sales teams see deals, tasks and navigate opportunities in one single view. As they walked us through the process, you could hear the enthusiasm of current Hubspot users whose lives just became ten times easier.

7. Find relevance in an ADHD world. Internet users today have a 2.7—second attention span. 2.7 seconds! As content marketers, we have to work around this. Peter Shankman, an author and speaker (who fittingly suffers from ADHD) shared that although our digital world is chaotic and oversaturated, all it takes is some sincerity. We must do two things:

  • Brand everything you do. Shankman created a Youtube video that went viral and eventually received a share from Lance Armstrong, but guess what – he never gave himself credit anywhere in the video. If you have a valuable piece of content, give your brand credit. Nobody else is going to.
  •  Build rapport among existing audience. We won’t always stand out among the crowd. But we can build trust from within. Trust will break through the clutter and make us relevant.

8. Shift storytelling to story-making. David Berkowitz, CMO at MRY, gave a powerful speech about the end of storytelling. As a writer, hearing this is a punch to the gut, right? But it makes sense – when all we do is tell stories, we don’t get to a personal level with our audience.

We need to move to relationships, not one-way streets. Listen. Relate. Respond. Only then can we unlock memories and personal experiences with our brands.

9. Promote, promote, promote. This hit home for me. Chad Pollitt, co-founder of Relevance.com, emphasized the fact that our content has to compete with 2.73 million blog posts that go up every single day. Instead of trying to mass produce and keep up with the crowd, we actually need to step down content production.

The solution? Promotion.

“It’s an audience problem, not a content problem,” Pollitt told us. We don’t need to create more content, just focus on our reach of that content. Define personas, assess our audience, identify our influencers and the promotion will take care of itself.

10. It’s a great time to be a marketer. As a journalism grad (and someone who soon learned it may have been the wrong path), I couldn’t be more excited about my career. Inbound marketing can change the way organizations do business. We’re in the midst of a thriving industry. So cheers, fellow marketers. It’s great to be us.


What now?

Although I am Hubspot certified, I have yet to experience the true value of the platform. But after attending three days of information-packed sessions and speaking with agency members from all over the country, I can certainly understand the culture and following that Hubspot has built. After all, people have transformed the way they buy and live — so shouldn’t businesses, too?

If you attended Inbound, I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways! Connect with me on Twitter @KristnSullivan or with the Quinlan team @QuinlanCompany.

10 Key Lessons from INBOUND 2014


Three members of the Quinlan team — our owner Gary Miller, content strategist Kristin Sullivan and me — spent four days in Boston last week as attendees at Hubspot’s Inbound 2014 marketing conference. When we weren’t shucking clams at Row 34, having late dinners at Jm. Curley’s, taking morning runs through Boston Common, getting egregiously lost in Beacon Hill or sneaking off to lunches at Lucky’s Lounge, we learned quite a bit.

Who is Hubspot?

Even if you aren’t a user of Hubspot’s services, most marketers are probably familiar with the brand name. Hubspot aggressively promotes its white papers, webinars and blog posts through social media and email. It’s difficult to seek out content marketing thought leadership without ending up on a Hubspot email list or two.

Hubspot, in its own words, is “an inbound marketing software platform that helps companies attract visitors, convert leads, and close customers.” Here’s the Hubspot definition of inbound marketing, for those unfamiliar with the term:

Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.

Hubspot has essentially taken pull marketing methodology to its logical digital-era extreme, creating an entire sales process based on solid content and the ability to get that content in front of the right audience — that is, the audience that can and will do business with your company. Which, in the end, is really why we’re creating all of this content anyways, right?

Hubspot claims to have 11,500 clients in 70 countries. In the digital world, the need to create content — and to get that content seen and, preferably, acted upon — is universal.

Inbound 2014 – an overview

I heard varying estimates, but somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 (the number reported by The Boston Herald) attended Inbound 2014 from Sept. 15 and Sept. 18 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, more than doubling the 2013 figure.

The conference boasted star power — keynote speakers included marketing legend Guy Kawasaki, pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell and home guru Martha Stewart, among others. Janelle Monae gave a private concert performance on Sept. 17 for Inbound attendees. OK Go showed up to perform before Gladwell’s keynote speech that same morning.

There were also several dozen 45-minute session dealing with content marketing, sales, promotion, ecommerce, mobile breakthroughs and the other expected areas of discussion at an inbound marketing conference.

And, of course, Hubspot’s executives took an opportunity to sell (and why not, it’s their conference). The Herald reported:

IPO-bound HubSpot yesterday unveiled a slew of new products — including a sales platform that will take on established industry leaders — in a major expansion for the company. “(This is) probably the biggest day in HubSpot history for us so far,” said Brian Halligan, CEO and co-founder of Cambridge-based HubSpot, which is known for its marketing software.
In front of roughly 10,000 customers at its Inbound 14 marketing conference, which has joined forces with MITX’s FutureM event this year, Halligan and co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah announced Sidekick, a tool for salespeople, and HubSpot CRM, a customer management system. “The buyer has radically changed,” Halligan said. “The seller needs to change too.”

I’ll be honest — I don’t know enough about Hubspot’s tools to offer an expert opinion on the efficacy of what’s available (I am Hubspot-certified in content marketing, for what it’s worth).

I will say, though, that for companies struggling with content marketing, or are new to the process, or floundering trying to establish some sort of content-conversion funnel, a tool like Hubspot could be very valuable. Hubspot offers structure where there would otherwise be none, a set nomenclature that allows everyone in an organization to speak the same language, and a strategy for moving forward.

As simple as these concepts may seem, there are many companies that struggle to simply define what it is they are trying to do online — and Hubspot (or its competitors) can help.

Top 10 takeaways from Inbound 2014


As I mentioned, the conference was fun — we ate, we drank, we enjoyed a slew of beautiful fall days in one of America’s great cities. The event was also surprisingly educational.

Why was it surprising? I honestly didn’t know what to expect — based on Hubspot’s online presence and the hyper-enthusiastic tone of the event copy, I was slightly concerned that Inbound 2014 would be a four-day commercial for Hubspot. And while — to a certain extent — it was, the sessions were quite valuable.

Here are 10 lessons I took from Inbound 2014 (and here’s a freebie — if you go jogging in Boston, carry your phone in hand so you can easily reference your map. It is shockingly easy to get lost in Beantown):

  1. Have a plan. As mind-numbingly simple as this may seem, it’s almost embarrassing to realize how much work is done without regard to audience or goals. Sometimes, our audience becomes not our sales target, but our client — and that’s a mistake. We don’t need to sell our client on their own product, believe me. They are already pretty sure it’s great.
  2. Determine how you will use content throughout the sales funnel. First of all, remember that your content — whether it’s a tweet, a Facebook post, a new blog entry, a page on your website, a white paper, a webinar, and so on to infinity — is ultimately responsible for creating conversions.

    Think about your customer and the different ways she will access your content. At what point in the conversion process will she interact with your social media? Sign up for an email newsletter? Download a whitepaper? How can this content, in turn, direct her towards the ultimate goal of giving your business money?

    If that seems crass, I don’t apologize — we’re getting paid to create conversions, not to wow people with our wordsmithing / infographic design skills / subject lines (although we better be good at all of those things, too).

  3. Use an editorial calendar. Again, so simple, but so often ignored. It all goes back to the first takeaway — having a plan. You only have X number of hours in a work day, and unless you want to be one of those martyrs who spends 15 hours a day in the office, you’d better figure out what you need to create, when it needs to be created and how it’s going to get finished.
  4. Don’t be annoying. We hear a lot about creating a network (online and off) to glean ideas, share content and amplify the reach of our work. It’s important to remember that the most annoying person you know is the weasel who only comes around when he needs something, big phony grin on his face, asking for a favor. Don’t be that weasel. Organically create relationships that have two-way value and, when it’s time to ask for a favor, it really won’t be that big of a deal.
  5. There is a “virtuous circle” to social relationships. Marshall Kirkpatrick of LittleBird discussed this concept, and he nalied it. Social relationships start with “marketing intel,” or listening. Get online and figure out who is having interesting conversations in your field. Who is is respected? Who is smart? Who, for that matter, is loud? Transition into your own content and curation — you become part of the discussion through your own work, your own thoughts and your own willingness to amplify the best content of others. This, in turn, moves into advocacy, where you become a trusted source, a knowledgeable voice, the person who an individual back in the intel stage is now following. And you continue to do your own intel. And you continue to share, create and converse. And you continue to advocate. A circle, get it?
  6. Culture is more important than skills. Not everyone in your business — or every one of your clients — is going to be an expert at content marketing, or will even necessarily “get it” when you have the initial conversations. That’s fine — skills can be taught. Understanding can be created. Developing and sustaining a flourishing digital culture is the key.
  7. When it comes to SEO, being “number one” doesn’t matter anymore. Well, it kind of matters…but if that is your search endgame, then you’re going to be frustrated. The number of paid and local links, images, maps and other content that Google and its ilk are placing on search pages, along with off-page search factors, the rise of Google+ as a results-influencer and the neverending issues caused by the pandas, penguins and pigeons in the so-called Google zoo are making organic search results more and more of a crapshoot. Focus on best content practices, accept the fact that paid discovery is more important than ever, and fight the good fight.
  8. If you don’t have time to do content promotion, you don’t have time to do content marketing. Kind of a kick in the pants, isn’t it? If you aren’t going to make a real effort to get users into your content funnel, then you’re wasting your time. Consider each content rollout — from your most elaborate white paper to the simplest blog post — as a sort of mini-campaign that requires its own promotional plan. How will this content be supported in social media? Email? Will it be linked through other content of yours? Do you have a network of friends and influencers you can rely upon to share, spread and champion your work (see #4 above)? If not, it’s time to start creating less content and focusing more on effectively promoting what you have.
  9. Content promotion should make up 40-60% of your content marketing budget. This one blew my mind. Seems high, doesn’t it? Think about it, though — if you aren’t using at least half of your content marketing resources to build an audience, share what you’re creating and get content consumers into your sales funnel, then what’s the point? Creating content is not an end into itself.
  10. Be proactive. Ugh, buzzwords, I know. Words get buzzy for a reason, though! Proactivity means having an editorial calendar. It means identifying relevant topics to pursue. It means finding gaps in the industry knowledge base that you can fill. It means building your media relations and influencer network a little bit every day. It means plotting your budgets for promotion. It means talking to your clients about their goals. It means customer research. It means entering every day with a plan. Do any of those things seem buzzy or shallow?

You read this far – so what do you think?

Hopefully you enjoyed this top 10 list — and if you have any content marketing ideas, suggestions or thoughts that you want to share, I’d love to see them in the Comments section below or on Twitter at @QuinlanCompany or @BK77. Thanks!