TORONTO — It seems like just yesterday that the Internet was overtaken with viral hype over Vero, a new social network that promised to right all the frustrating wrongs of the well-entrenched leaders like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
But after a few weeks of making headlines and signing up scores of curious social media users, the deafening buzz has abated.
Digital marketing experts say it’s an example of why businesses shouldn’t always invest time and resources in chasing fads online. And even the most digitally plugged-in netizens say they’re starting to tire of having to pick up and move to the latest “cool” social network.
Milton Ng says his girlfriend — an avid user of Instagram — first introduced him to Vero and despite already feeling overloaded with social media logins, he registered for an account too.
“At first in my head I got really upset because I was like, ‘I’m so busy already trying to handle my current social media — Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook.’ And I had tried to do Snapchat,” says 30-year-old Ng, who uses social networks to promote his comedy videos on YouTube and other platforms.
“I thought, ‘This must be the new thing, this is going to be huge, I should get on this platform as soon as I can.’
“But you have to build a following from scratch, and the majority of people who went on it gave it like an hour and said, ‘This is stupid,’ and they quit.”
Although first launched in July 2015 with the aim to “radically change the way consumers think and interact on social media,” it wasn’t until earlier this year that the platform suddenly went viral with a new pledge to “celebrates people’s passions without algorithms, ads, or bots.”
Vero — which means “true” in Latin — boasted it would display posts in chronological order at a time when some of its bigger rivals adopted an algorithm-driven sorting model. While an ad-free experience also appealed to many users, Vero’s founders said that would only be possible by charging a subscription fee. It was originally announced that the first million users would be eligible for a “free for life” offer, but that has since been extended “until further notice.” The company said in a blog post last month that it would release the start date and pricing for Vero subscriptions “soon” but has yet to make its announcement.
Kelly Paoli has liked the Vero experience so far but doesn’t think there’s much appetite for a subscription-based social network.
“I probably wouldn’t be inclined to subscribe to it if a paywall was put up,” says Paoli, a director who also relies on social media as a promotional tool.
“In what I’ve seen so far there hasn’t been — from a business standpoint — a benefit to having an account.”
Ernest Barbaric, who teaches a social media strategy course at Mount Royal University, says there are plenty of examples in recent years of buzzy social networks that couldn’t sustain their initial hype, including Color, Ello, Mastodon, Meerkat, Peach and Yo.
In Vero’s case, a few bugs and controversies may have hurt its chances of truly taking off, Barbaric says.
The app had stability and speed issues as users flooded into the service, and then many were taken aback when they realized they had to fill out a form and officially submit a request to have their account deleted.
A #DeleteVero campaign was also launched after questions were raised about the alleged practices of a Saudi construction company where one of Vero’s co-founders was previously deputy CEO.
“I think that has stifled their growth and I’m not sure they’re going to stick around,” Barbaric says.
But he does think the viral spikes of interest in new social networks suggest there’s an appetite for a game-changing service.
“I think this is showing some of the cracks in the monoliths that we have in social media,” he says.
From a business perspective, Barbaric advises that companies resist the temptation to sign up for every new social network — although it might make sense to simply acquire a username protectively so it cannot be co-opted by someone else.
“This is something that didn’t really exist a few years ago, the idea of domain squatting and username squatting — that’s a thing,” he says.
“Is there a first-mover advantage (to joining a new social network)? Probably, if you’re a company that’s active on digital and social media. But for smaller businesses, if this is just one of the 13,000 things you do, maybe it’s not that big of a deal right away.”
Paoli previously tried and abandoned Ello and now finds Facebook is hardly worth the time investment.
“Facebook it kind of seems is becoming a place where you can contact people you met two years ago for a job, or your family members are on there and you’re posting your cat photos — as opposed to something that actually builds up an audience for your business,” she says.
Ng hasn’t felt compelled to use his Vero account recently but did riff on the app’s meteoric rise in a comedy video, and took a jab at its “true social” tag line.
“If you want to be ‘true social,’ as we stated in our video, you really have to hang out with your friends, put the phone down,” Ng says.
“If you want to be true social you have to interact with people without your mobile device.”
Michael Oliveira, The Canadian Press