Native content doesn't just have to come in the form of written stories: Digital image platform Imgur says it knows how to get audiences to pay attention with pictures and GIFs. It believes if it can get people excited about a branded image, that will make users think highly of a marketer—and the more time people spend clicking through those sponsored images, the more positive association will build.
Imgur has been quietly doing branded campaigns over the last few years, but didn't have a direct sales staff until Imgur's head of special initiatives Tim Hwang joined in March 2014. Even with its limited launch into native ad territory, it claims to achieve average engagement rates between 1 percent and 4 percent, with content occasionally getting up to 12 percent. ("Engagement" refers to the sum of likes, comments and shares, similar to Facebook.) For comparison, Socialbakers reports Facebook pages with 1 million-plus fans get an average engagement rate of roughly 0.3 percent.
"The cultural currency of communication online is now more and more visual," Hwang explained.
For those who aren't familiar with the image repository time suck—and we mean that in the best way possible—the company claims it gets 130 million unique monthly visitors and 1 billion views per month. Each user spends almost an average of 10 minutes on its Web site, and more than 1.5 million images are uploaded daily.
"The big thing that we've been able to do is...search through all the continuous activity across the platform to design experiences and content that are a win for both sides—brands and the community," Hwang said.
Recently, Imgur ran a campaign for Fox's Let's Be Cops, in which it asked users to create an original image to illustrate what they would do if they were a member of the police force. The best submission would earn an all-expenses-paid weekend trip to Los Angeles, where the winner would enter a real training facility. While only 63 submissions qualified for the competition (mainly because the other ones weren't unique content), hundreds of people interacted with and commented on the contest page or suggested other pictorial content. The company has also run campaigns for Anchorman 2, hosted sponsored images for General Electric and worked with textbook company Text.com.
Imgur's COO Matt Strader believes that what makes its native images engaging is that Imgur is set up so that its albums naturally tell a story, except they use pictures instead of words. "From a native advertising aspect, the essence of that experience works great on the Web and great with mobile—and the impact just grows more and more over time," he stated.