Ahead of Meta’s launch of text-based social network, a women-founded social networking startup RTRO launches its app this week with the aim of connecting brands, creators and their fans and followers in a more positive environment focused on human connections and communities, not algorithm-driven content. To achieve this, RTRO divides its social experience into two parts: on the one hand, you can keep in touch with friends or family in RTRO’s ‘circles’. On the other hand, users can switch to view content from creators and brands in their own space.
In addition, RTRO claims to provide robust content moderation features aimed at keeping the app free from bullying and toxicity and the ability to interact with ChatGPT.
Founded by two tech and marketing veterans, the startup’s approach to social is one that aims to take users back to a simpler time when social networks were more focused on sharing real content and making connections with other people. people. This nostalgia for old days is reflected in the app’s name, “RTRO”, a misspelling of “retro”.
After surveying Gen Z users and millennial users, the team found that the top complaints people have about today’s social media apps were about the number of branded ads showing up in users’ feeds and the algorithm-driven experience. But people also said they wanted to use social media to stay in touch with others they care about and view fun content.
Brands had also shared their own complaints about modern social media, the founders of RTRO explained.
Co-founders Nicole Falco and Tristan Brennan, with backgrounds in experiential marketing, had worked with hundreds of Fortune 500 and 1000 brands over the years, including Brennan’s marketing agency TH Experiential. This work included the creation of various digital products, apps and websites for brands to connect with customers worldwide. But the brands often expressed confusion and frustration about integrating social media into their campaigns.
“TikTok is still a bit of a mystery to them, and so on [Instagram]ever-changing rules and ever-evolving features and algorithms just make it a challenge for brands to figure out how to get ahead of who needs them,” said Falco.
These complaints from users and brands alike got the founders thinking about how to create something better.
“We looked at social media through the lens of the human experience, and how can we make it a little better, and also through the lens of technology, what technology can be used?”
The end result is RTRO, a social app that lets you switch between your personal connections and brand and creator content, as they each have their own spaces. On the personal side, there are no brands interrupting the experience, but they do have a way of staying engaged. RTRO asks users to post a few times a week – encouraging posts with affirmations, GIFs, or updates about what you do in real life (hashtagged as #LogOntoLife). Brands can sponsor these prompts if they wish.
Meanwhile, the other side of the app — known as RTRO TV — is an algorithm-free space where brands and creators intersect with their audiences in a chat-like environment. At launch, RTRO has about 50 TikTok and Instagram creators creating content for the app. Users can comment on their posts, such as a thumbs up, but no post or comment. To get in touch with RTRO TV, users browse various “channels” dedicated to topics such as travel, food, beauty and more. This gives users more control over what kind of content they see in their feeds, the company says.
“You can go to that channel and explore the content from the brand and creators, so you have full control over what you want to see. This is completely new. This kind of experience doesn’t exist in an app right now,” praises Falco.
However, the offerings are similar in some ways to TikTok’s test of dedicated, up-to-date feeds.
In addition, creators can choose to create a private circle and post to it within their channel space. When they are done, they can turn off the circle. Creators can also block users from posts in the circle or delete them if they are hateful or toxic.
Creators RTRO tested said they enjoyed having more personal and casual conversations with followers.
“On these channels, people with several hundred thousand followers are discovering that they can post one post a day on Instagram — it has a very tailored image,” says Brennan. But in the channels, they can now post many times a day, he explains. “They can have an informal conversation. It doesn’t have to feel so official [or like] their only moment to stand out. It creates something a little more personal,” he continues. “We find the same thing with brands, too. They don’t just post something to promote their products. They’re talking about their internal teams or culture, what they’re doing today… there’s something unique about having something that feels a little less official.”
Brands testing RTRO include Alastin Skincare, KISS Nails, Loops Beauty, Halo 42, JOAH, and others.
Another feature allows users to interact with ChatGPT through an integration that allows them to ask the AI for ideas and inspiration – something that could be another test case for how consumers might respond to AI in a social networking environment. So far, that’s been a failure for Snapchat — where users recently panned the My AI Feature app’s introduction, calling it “creepy” and asking for it to be removed.
Other apps have seen better luck merging AI and social. Ghost’s mobile messaging app, which allows friends to anonymously message group chats, just rolled out an iMessage extension and added functionality that allows users to create mini apps using ChatGPT. The app then moved to the number 5 spot in the social category on Apple’s iMessage App Store.
To get RTRO’s app off the ground, the team worked with an outsourced company, but the in-house CTO has previously created a number of digital consumer experiences and mobile apps for larger companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, iHeartMedia, CLEAR, WeWork, and Grailed. The startup wants to bring the outsourced team internally at some point in the future, and says those talks are already underway.
The company hasn’t yet shared its revenue model plans, but aims to release that part of its strategy in the next quarter or so.
RTRO, a remotely distributed team of less than a dozen, is currently backed only by angel funding, including investment from both co-founders. No pre-seed or seed funding has been raised yet.
RTRO is free to download on the App Store.