Special Offer Although I registered on Mastodon in 2017, like many, my account lay dormant for a long time. This all changed last month when I started to become active again, and 10 days ago, I set up own my mastodon instance (mastodon.modern-industry.com). In that short time I’ve already learnt a lot (and I have much more to learn), and it’s set me thinking about the inevitable interaction between Mastodon and business in general and ‘brands’ in particular. (I won’t get into a detailed definition of a brand, I just use it as a broad brush for companies with marketing activities).

First, we have to acknowledge the culture of Mastodon as it exists at the moment. Over time, Mastodon has evolved mostly into a home for people who have been marginalised on mainstream social media (or self-exiled) for one reason or another. These people are generally left-leaning, and opposed to pretty much any commercial activity on the platform. It’s important for business to acknowledge and respect the views of this existing community.

However, there is also large influx of users coming from Twitter who are significantly and rapidly changing the demographic. Most of these have quoted the lack of aggressive advertising as a major factor in moving over. I think that it is also important to bear this in mind when contemplating marketing activities in this space.

It’s worth thinking about who these new arrivals are. Given the lack of centralised anything on Mastodon, it’s difficult to get any meaningful statistics, but my general impression is that there is a high proportion of professionals in many disciplines. Obviously, there are a lot of techies, but scientists, writers, artists and musicians have come in abundance as well. Almost by definition, these people are early adopters. The general quality of their input seems very high.

This leads me to an interesting hypothesis. Although there have been a number of high-profile migrants from Twitter (eg: Steven Fry), it’s the bulk of the new intake who are more significant. The majority of the these people seem to be thought leaders in their field, as many are rapidly acquiring good numbers of followers rapidly. This suggests that although Mastodon’s user base is still pretty tiny, these early adopters have disproportionate influencing and recruiting power.

This may mean that business involvement in the Fediverse is already something to consider to get a first mover advantage.

Another feature of Mastodon, and the Fediverse in general, is its fragmentation into separate, independently run servers. This is frequently cited as a major disadvantage, but it can be a crucial aid to companies.

Creating new, independent, Mastodon servers is positively encouraged, and the largest servers have even closed admissions to encourage the founding of new communities. This opens opportunities for brands to start their own servers, catering to the interests of their target demographic.

For example, imagine a sports footware company starting a server to cater for runners in general and followers of their brand in particular. In this context, business promotion would be regarded as information rather than intrusion, as joining that server would be a proactive opt-in. (Seth Godin, the guru of permission marketing is the reference here. ) Marketing real-estate on such a server would be free, and solely controlled by the business, any content would also moderated by the company, so there could be no contamination by offensive material.

When (not if) Mastodon becomes a mainstream social medium, it’s pretty much inevitable that companies will seek to become involved in it. Rather than take to the barricades and try to oppose all commercial activity, I think that the Fediverse needs to look for constructive ways to engage with the business world. Although this may sound like a threat to the current quasi-utopian culture, it needn’t be. The Fediverse has more than enough collective muscle to keep egregious advertising at bay, users can block offending accounts, and admins can de-federate whole servers if necessary.

In the face of this, it won’t make much sense to companies to invest money in marketing on the Fediverse only to have the entire community block you. This gives the community as a whole considerable back pressure on egregious advertising. This is because adverts and marketing material are on the same standing as ordinary users, and can be managed the same way as other potentially offensive content.

Mastodon’s time has come, but we need to face the implications of mass adoption, rather than ignore them.