Are brands afraid of Tumblr?

Red Bull: shining example
Red Bull: shining example

Tumblr might have a demanding user base but that shouldn't put brands off, writes Neil Major, strategy director, Yomego.

On the face of it, Tumblr seems like a sure bet for a brand looking to engage with that elusive youth market. Almost half of its users are in the 16-24 year old age bracket and more than a quarter aged 25-34. It’s got a staggering 100m active users. It’s a buoyant social network led by a charismatic entrepreneur, and Yahoo thinks highly enough of it to spend a billion dollars buying it.

But when brands talk about social media strategies, they still largely talk about Twitter, Facebook and blogger outreach; there seems to be a fairly limited appetite to use Tumblr as a platform for social engagement. More brands are dipping their toes in the water, although the majority of them are US-based, and Tumblr is not yet at the forefront of most brands’ social plans. I should add that I’m talking in the sense of engagement rather than advertising, as Tumblr is still in the process of developing its advertising offer.

So why is this – and will it change?

There are a few reasons that Tumblr might be seen as a low priority for brands right now.

Firstly, it's seen as a safe place for creative expression of all sorts, with a distinctive and unique culture. It is driven by the passions of fans and fandoms that connect via the network. And so for brands, Tumblr isn’t about serving ad units, but about fitting in. Content from other networks isn’t necessarily reuseable or translatable to Tumblr, so it requires a bigger up-front investment in this unique strategy.

And if you don’t do enough to fit in, you risk mockery (the emotional reactions to the Yahoo and Tumblr deal showed how some of Tumblr’s heaviest users react to the idea of monetisation) or being ignored entirely. So it’s certainly understandable that brands might be cautious.

Secondly, Tumblr is also built on sharing – the reblog function is central to its success, much more so than on Facebook, where the ‘share’ option came late to the party. This means bad practice, as well as good, travels fast on the platform. Get it wrong or annoy a sensitive fan base, and brands could find their name is mud very quickly.

And thirdly, Tumblr is about content – first, second and last. Content is what drives the network and how news travels across it.

Tumblr is a place with a demanding, savvy user base that will see straight through marketing and social media waffle.

Many brands, while understanding that content is important, haven’t yet worked out what good content looks like for Tumblr’s audience or how to use it well. Despite some shining examples (hello again Red Bull, Burberry and the roll call of fame), content remains for many brands what social media was five years ago – something the intern can cobble together for a few cheap clicks.

While all of these points might seem negative or off-putting for brands thinking about venturing onto Tumblr – they’re actually the opposite. Tumblr is a place with a demanding, savvy user base that will see straight through marketing and social media waffle.

If you want to succeed on Tumblr, you need to know your audience, know your product and above all – make great content that people will really want to share because it adds value to their life.

For marketers using Tumblr, it’s a simple way to understanding what best practice on any channel looks like. The bar is set higher. Tumblr might be a slightly intimidating place for a marketer – but with the right strategy, a thorough understanding of your target market and some of the best original content out there, you can reach your own fanbase and steal a march on those too timid to try.


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