The cool kids have abandoned Facebook and headed to Tumblr. Twenty-nine million unique visitors signed in four days each week to gain access to 44 billion posts on 102 million blogs. The average user logged-in for 154 minutes and looked at 30 pages per visit. One in eight used a mobile device to tumble.
Tumblr users skew male, young (18-34), single, childless and rich (1/3 have household income greater than $100K). One in five is Hispanic and one in six is in the Pacific Time zone.
Now that they’ve drawn a crowd, Tumblr is trying to figure out how to make a buck. They have a “Radar” feature, which highlights curated posts and is supposedly seen by everyone, although I can’t figure out which posts in my feed are the “Radar” ones. I checked my dashboard and couldn’t find an ad even though they sell access at a minimum of $25,000 a pop. Supposedly, a bunch of well known brands have used the platform. But I’ve never seen hide nor hare of them, nor do I follow any of them. Maybe they appear in the 50-odd content categories that range from Actors, Cute and Gaming to Poetry, Street Style, and TV.
They’ve also rolled out a mobile ad unit, initially embraced by GE, Warner Brothers and ABC, that is served four times each day in their iOS and Android app. And they insist that ads appear as posts rather than as ads. I’ve never seen one of these puppies either.
Buying Tumblr for brands is a challenge. Blog content is highly visual and idiosyncratic. Like Facebook users only see content from those they follow. Unlike Facebook you can follow anyone without his or her blessing. So brands will have to develop significant followings to get substantial reach and or frequency against desirable segments.
The content categories aren’t channels per se just convenient ways to find blogs to follow. And they don’t reflect anything by a tiny selection of the 102 million blogs. Brands can’t frame up appropriate messaging because there is no common experience. Each of the 29 million users follows a different set of bloggers for 29 million different reasons and nobody has crunched the numbers to determine what the patterns and affinities might be.
The other consideration, beyond advertising competition from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, is an undefined user experience and customer expectation set. Brands need to know why people use Tumblr and how either the people and their moods and behaviors differ from the other social networks. And we haven’t even started to talk about qualifying the audience or determining product and service use. It’s hard to imagine running contests, begging for Likes or distributing coupons to this crowd on this platform. So what’s a brand to do?
As a focus group of one, for me Tumblr is a diversion; a time waster filled with startling images of people, places and things that I don’t see on Facebook. The 111 people I follow (fewer than the 133 average number of Facebook fans per user) post historical documents, travel shots, photography, cartoons, landscapes, portraits and very little copy. Posting short essays, I’m generally in the minority. And unlike Facebook, I don’t follow any brands and I don’t know or care how many followers I have. It’s a semi-private, self-constructed universe, where intrusive ads would be unwelcome.
Tumblr faces the classic social media paradox. They’ve developed a sizeable audience but they can’t yet package it and sell it to advertisers. And if they do, will Tumblrs hang around and take in the ads or will they defect and be off to the next cool thing?