Ad-free social network Ello hires a CMO

The move is an interesting one, considering how Ello has pledged allegiance to remaining free of on-site advertisements, and its business model is muddled at best.


The fledgling, invitation-only social network Ello has hired Rene Alegria, a former CEO of Hispanic media community Miamiverse, to become its very first chief marketing officer.

The move is an interesting one, considering that Ello has pledged allegiance to remaining free of on-site advertisements -- and its business model, at least on the surface, is muddled at best.

Ello enjoyed a blitz of media attention last fall, following a privacy fallout between Facebook and LGBT users. Whereas Facebook began requiring the use of real, legal names, Ello offered users the option of anonymity.

Along with the swarm of media attention came the claim that Ello was a Facebook killer -- an anonymous alternative to the data-collecting, ad-tracking ways of the social media elite. But the claim, to put it mildly, was unfounded and extraordinarily premature.

After the spotlight faded and its darling status dwindled, Ello's lack of strategy or real business plan turned the excitement into skepticism. Ello is free to use in its most basic form, but the company said it would make additional features, such as profile customization, fee-based. And with that, Ello earned the unfortunate comparison to failed pay-to-use social networks such as App.Net and Diaspora, which never managed to bring in a substantial user base.

Still, Ello's founders are marching on. The company told the Wall Street Journal that it would end the invitation-only format next month, to coincide with the launch of a new mobile app.

But it's still unclear what the ad-free social network will do with a marketing budget and a CMO. Ello says Alegria will handle all of the marketing and communication efforts for the nearly year-old company, but no other details exist beyond there.

What is clear, however, is that Ello is going all-in on the ad-free manifesto. In October, the company converted to a public benefit corporation (PBC), which it explained as a for-profit company "that exists to produce a benefit for society as a whole -- not just to make money for its investors".

The charter means that Ello, regardless of future ownership, can never make money from selling ads and user data. While that ideology will no doubt please privacy advocates, it makes Ello a tough sell to investors.