Tumblr was recently purchased for $1.1 billion by Yahoo and as far as anyone can tell this is a sincere purchase - meaning Yahoo genuinely wants to improve the tumblr product, not shut it down. And immediately after that Tumblr rolled out a sponsorship program with campaigns starting at $200,000. And immediately after that, AT&T apparently paid $200,000 to create one of the worst Tumblrs anyone has ever seen. I wanna talk about all this.
I remember when YouTube first rolled out “partner” channels, which also had a starting price at $200,000. I was pretty close to YouTube at the time (as in Google was paying to have me flown out to California from my North Carolina dorm room to talk to the ad people at YouTube) and I was one of the first ever non-corporate partner channels on YouTube. And one of the things I remember about that big $200,000 number was that it was more of an infrastructural limitation than anything else. Their ad department was still figuring things out so they didn’t want tons of clients, but they needed some clients that were paying real money and expecting to get a real return. Baby steps.
Tumblr seems to be in that exact same position now, just swap Google for Yahoo and videos of laughing babies for gifs of laughing Zachary Quintos.
I remember a lot of early branded channels on YouTube not “getting it” but I don’t remember seeing anyone ever not “get” YouTube as badly as a AT&T is not “getting” Tumblr right now. First they make a marketing term that is a pun on the word homophobia (1, 2) then they pay money to promote posts that are nonsensical stock photo animations and screenshots from their commercials that don’t actually communicate anything.
If you scroll through the notes, you’ll find a lot of reblogs from young people who are either furious at AT&T or calling the company stupid, annoying or insensitive. This is obviously not the outcome that was desired by either Tumblr or AT&T. So I want to propose an actual solution to this actual problem. (The solution isn’t “get companies off Tumblr” because websites run on servers and people and both of those things require money to exist.)
I think the best solution is doing what YouTube did: Hire people from your community and assign them to work with individual brands on a one-on-one basis to make sure they stay on message and aware of the site’s culture and best practices. When YouTube acquired Next New Networks in 2011 one of the smartest things they did was assign YouTube veterans (that is, people who had been creating popular viral content for Next New Networks for the past three years) to handhold branded channels and ensure they got the most out of the money and effort they invested in their YouTube ad campaign.
I don’t think this would even be that difficult for Tumblr, as it is much easier to “master” Tumblr than it is to master YouTube (partially because it is a much simpler website and it’s community is much more homogenized) which means there are probably hundreds of people already in the NYC area that could be hired for this position. Heck, there are hundreds of kids in the NYC area that could qualify for the position and be unpaid interns. (Just to be clear, I’m not fishing for a job, but I could definitely make some referrals.)
I don’t think it would be wise to do this with existing staff: as I’ve seen on both YouTube and Tumblr (and almost every start up I’ve worked for) the people who work on a website use it very differently than the people who use the website. There’s often an implied Chinese wall at tech companies that discourages employees on the site from striving to become popular on the site, as they have insider information. And while most employees have accounts that they do in fact use, they don’t necessarily have the same experience as someone who has used the service with the intent on becoming popular. (For example, I made this post an image post instead of a text post so it wouldn’t get mangled in reblogs - that’s one of a handful of things only an actual user of the site would know to do.)
There are a lot of existing non-sponsored corporate Tumblrs that are way more “with it” and way less insipid than AT&T’s Tumblr. A good example would be the Doctor Who Tumblr run by BBC, which happens to employ the exact model I suggested above. Another good example is the Adventure Time Tumblr. I know for a fact that both of these Tumblrs are only solid because the companies behind them knew to hire people who were tumblr experts and they happened to know where to look.
But when you’re paying $200,000 to get popular on Tumblr, you shouldn’t have to know where to look to find a Tumblr expert. You should be provided one by Tumblr. It should be part of the packaged deal. If Tumblr implemented something like this it would create much more fruitful deals for Tumblr’s partners and a much more pleasant environment for Tumblr’s users.
There’s so much good here.