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The curious case of Vero - from zero to hero, and then back again

Angela Southall
By Angela Southall — April 30, 2018 -

A couple of months ago, a previously little-known social media app - Vero - seemingly came out of nowhere, threatening to break through the unimpeachable social mobile monopoly of Instagram, Snapchat and yes… maybe even Facebook. But in the space of a month suffered a user backlash.

Does Vero represent a genuine challenger to the established social network juggernauts, with which user disenchantment appears to be growing by the week?

Or is it merely the latest flash-in-the-pan fad, soon to be consigned to the likes of Ello and Peach, who mustered up a similar challenge to mainstream social media, but ultimately failed to make a long-term dent on market share?

Either way, one can’t help but notice the timing of Vero’s moment in the spotlight. The correlation between Vero’s rise and Facebook’s darkest hour, sends out a clear message and reflection of the general growing mood among users.

Vero may not provide the definitive answer to the question of whether there’s a viable alternative to Facebook. But the very fact of its (even temporary) success reveals the extent to which people are actively open to the possibility of such an alternative.

Here’s a rundown of the basics of Vero, how it came to such prominence — and what that tells us about the power of word-of-mouth to shape mass consumer habits in the digital age…

The Story of Vero

Vero was founded in 2013, launching in 2015 with the pledge to be ‘a relationship-first social network’.

Some specific stand out features of Vero include:

  • the ability to tailor and personalise your communication with connections, by segmenting into different categories (like ‘Closest friends’, ‘Work acquaintances’, ‘General followers’ etc.)
  • a homepage feed free from complex algorithms - updates appear in reverse chronological order
  • zero ads - but still completely free to register and use (for now)

By 2018, Vero was already well-established, with a couple of years of steady yet pretty modest user growth under its belt.

Then, in February 2018 it suddenly and unexpectedly, took off.

By early March, Vero had risen to number one spot on the iOS download charts — ahead of Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube.

So what caused such a monumental surge in usage?

Well, that’s the $1 million dollar question on everyone’s lips. The short answer is: no one really knows, for sure. But as already suggested, a leading theory is growing disenchantment with Facebook. Whatever your view, all would agree that from a PR perspective, the social network has not had a great 18 months.

First, came concerns over Facebook’s lingering associations with the alleged Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election (where it’s widely reported that Facebook was a key channel leveraged by the supposed conspirators).

And now more recently, Facebook’s already perceived devil-may-care attitude to user data guardianship, has been absolutely confounded by the latest personal data controversy involving Cambridge Analytica.

Then comes the backlash to the backlash

No sooner were people starting to herald Vero as the saviour alternative to Facebook, than it rapidly started becoming the victim of its own unexpected success.

First off, due to the app’s unplanned surge in popularity, Vero’s servers were unable to keep up, and reports of slow loading and app crashed began to come through on the likes of Twitter.

Then, scrutiny swiftly built up over Vero’s supposed ‘cleaner’, user-first model. If Vero is completely free for users, and it’s completely free of ads… then what exactly is its revenue model? Well, it turns out that the app will eventually charge for subscription to Vero — but the first 1 million users will have free-for-life access. Fair enough.

But then people start digging into the small print of Vero’s terms of use — which seemed to suggest (which is standard fare among all other social networks, to be fair) that by registering, users are essentially giving their consent for all data and information they publish on their profile, to be Vero’s to do with as they please.

All of this leading to growing popularity of a #DeleteVero hashtag on Twitter.

Like a firework, Vero seems to have rapidly exploded into popularity, before crashing into negative notoriety, all within the blink of an eye.

Lessons learnt from the rapid rise and fall of Vero

So for anyone willing a brave new post-Facebook era world into existence, it’s looking like Vero may well be added to the growing list of false dawns.

That said, one can’t help but take note of the timing and context of Vero’s unlikely rise to prominence.

What the whole episode confirms is that public confidence and patience in Facebook is evidently wobbling — and from that, we’re seeing a growing openness and appetite for a viable alternative social app, built on organic connections, unobtrusive user experience, and ethical management of mass personal data.

This has also been a latest, stark reflection of the growing power of consumers and users in a digital age built on unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability. Unlike in years gone by, when corporations could more easily sweep publicity challenges and inconvenient controversies under the carpet (if their wallets were fat enough), the balance of power has now irreversibly changed in favour of an empowered public.

With a previously unimaginable amount of data and information at the fingertips of today’s consumers, the ways in which brands communicate, connect with, and build lasting relationships with target audiences has had to change.

We’re seeing that in the shift away from traditional broadcast advertising and PR, towards more consumer-first methods such as influencer and referral marketing. And we’re also seeing that in the far more direct and hands-on accountability that consumers now demand from brands — a lesson that even one of the chief architects of this new hyper-connected world, Facebook, has recently been learning the hard way.

Is time ticking for Facebook? Or will it take a much, much more significant change in habits and culture, over a more significant period of time for Facebook to ever be in serious danger of being knocked off its perch as the all powerful king social network?

If Vero isn’t the answer… a growing public question is being repeatedly asked. Is it just a matter of time before someone with a satisfying answer, comes along?

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