The Truth About Vero: A Marketer’s Manifesto
"While Vero's long-range prospects are murky - it suffers from a buggy beta, a founder with a pockmarked ethical track record, and a murderer's row of competitors who are quick to coopt whatever promising thing the new kid dreamt up - its meteoric rise suggests a lesson for digital marketers that's crystal clear."
These are strange days in digital. In social spaces especially, it's increasingly difficult to sort reality from fiction, fake news from facts, and authentic conversation from sponsored content. A deep, and maybe healthy, cynicism has set in. In this context, it's no surprise that Vero - a three-year old social app whose name is literally Latin for "truth" - has struck a chord.
The Vero conceit is simple, and more than a little old fashioned: Its posts are presented chronologically, not algorithmically; the platform is ad-free and supported by subscription; and users can easily class their followers into groups based on the nature of the relationship-concentric circles of friends, family, coworkers, etc. - and share posts only with those they've specified. The promise, in effect, is that users get more power to shape their social experience, and represent themselves within it.
"When you can control who sees what," Vero's manifesto reads, "you can behave in a way that is more natural, which we believe ends up being better for you."
Fair enough. Almost overnight, the platform jumped from an also-ran to the most downloaded app in 18 countries.
While Vero's long-range prospects are murky - it suffers from a buggy beta, a founder with a pockmarked ethical track record, and a murderer's row of competitors who are quick to co-opt whatever promising thing the new kid dreamt up - its meteoric rise suggests a lesson for digital marketers that's crystal clear.
Enough with the anti-social media.
People are spending more time than ever in digital spaces. And, not unreasonably, they're getting more sensitive to what actually goes on in their virtual walled gardens. This is a challenge for, and to, those of us who contour the strategy of socially active brands. Because people live on social, we have to make ourselves welcome guests. And, by and large, we've fallen short of this mark.
Here's the thing: The sheer number of people who have flocked to Vero - it passed three million users last week - is a stark rebuke to the quality and quantity of branded content we create. An ad-free experience is one of the app's principle selling points. It's an inconvenient truth, but when users race to Vero, they're actually escaping from us.
But there's a silver lining: We can (actually) do better. Here's the playbook.
1. Remember the medium
This is old news for socially savvy brands, but they're few and far between. Traditional media was a space for marketers to broadcast a clear message about a product, and even create (occasionally) compelling branded content that wove their story and product(s) into an entertaining narrative. Cool. That was then. This is now.
Social is not a space for megaphoning messages to followers, singing the same tune ad nauseam until it's worked its way into their heads. It's a space for conversation and interaction. Actual give and take between people, and with and about things that matter to them.
It's not a place to sell. And not even a place to tell a story-at least not in any conventional, linear sense. It's a place where you talk, and listen, and, over time, construct a coherent and likeable identity. Done right, you gradually build a following of people who care about the things you're talking about, and, in doing so, develop awareness of, and affinity for, the brand you represent. So it's favorably front of mind when they make decisions.
So: Don't sell, inform. Don't talk at, converse. Give and take. Speak, and listen.
2. Respect your followers
There's a peculiar trend on social that seems to have a lot to do with Vero's sudden prominence. People are, basically, mean to one another. Accidentally mean. Carelessly and casually mean. Deliberately mean. "Trolling" has been elevated to an art form. It's become such a fixture of social conversation that brands have even tried it on for size and, in some cases, made it a core feature of their social identity.
This can pay short-term dividends. It scans as authentic, refreshingly antiestablishment, and even amusing. It's a good way to get retweets. But, over time, it wears people down, and contributes to an environment that doesn't make them feel good about themselves. (Or about the brands, and people, who participate in it.)
Don't do this. Different is good, funny might be even better, but cultivated, sardonic, cynicism is a dead end.
So: Don't put people down, even when it's funny. Even when they deserve it.
3. Trust the wisdom of the crowd
Social media, at its best, is participatory. Users Wikipedia together new ideas, solve problems, and develop novel, memetic ways of communicating with one another at unprecedented speed. It's truly awesome in its ability to construct new things, and to give participants a sense of ownership and agency.
The smartest brands are open to this power, and give their followers influence over the content they create. The expression of this influence can take many forms: sharing user generated content, authentically reflecting the way your fans speak about the brand (because you're part of their conversation too), and creating content that invites interaction.
Or, most straightforwardly, simply let the fact of their engagement guide what you do. Every like, comment, favorite, and retweet is a vote in favor of the impact you're having on their social experience. Build your content democratically, and your followers will reward you.
This doesn't mean you flip-flop, and stand for one thing this week and another the next. Establish an identity, and stick with it. But give your fans influence over the expression of that identity. 100,000 of them are smarter than one of you.
So: Create your content democratically. And let your followers lead you.
This isn't an exhaustive blueprint for creating a better social environment for our followers, so we can establish healthier, more lasting relationships with them. But it's a starting point. And I believe it's an important one. The truth is: whether Vero lasts for three more months or 30 more years, the problem it's revealed is here to stay. That is, unless, we fix it.