Behind the Tumble of Tumblr, the Once-Hot Blogging and Social Advertising Player

Can Verizon do what Yahoo couldn’t?

Tumblr in 'the good old days' on an iPad2 in March 2012.
kycstudio/iStock

There was a time when Tumblr was included in the upper echelon of social networks, mentioned alongside giants like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Yahoo saw enough potential in Tumblr to spend $1.1 billion to acquire the blogging platform in May 2013, and then-Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took to Tumblr to rally the troops: “We promise not to screw it up … The product roadmap, their team, their wit and irreverence will all remain the same as will their mission to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve. Yahoo will help Tumblr get even better, faster … Tumblr can deploy Yahoo’s personalization technology and search infrastructure to help its users discover creators, bloggers and content they’ll love … The two companies will also work together to create advertising opportunities that are seamless and enhance user experience.”

But that potential was never realized, and Mayer’s promise was not kept. In today’s social media landscape, Tumblr is merely an afterthought, if it’s even thought about at all.

“Tumblr was such a gigantic innovation at the time,” said Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen, of the platform’s early days. “It was kind of democratizing blogging. It gave everyone a voice and a place to discover new ideas, share their pictures. We used to post campaigns to Tumblr. Tumblr was a really core part of how we were distributing and hosting content way back when.”

But times have changed. “I don’t think anyone even thinks about Tumblr anymore,” he said. “Tumblr could have been, Pinterest but it wasn’t. Tumblr could have been Medium, but it wasn’t. Content has become such a big part of what advertisers were creating and distributing. Tumblr could have been a really core part of that, but it’s not.”

Brand Exodus?

Agencies used to tout the General Electric Tumblr page as an example of how brands can play in Tumblr, highlighting innovative ways GE featured its products. GE’s last Tumblr post came on Sept. 23, 2016.

Agencies also used to highlight Coca-Cola’s early Tumblr efforts as another example, but its Tumblr page has been dormant since February 2016.

Tumblr was a “favored platform for many content creators because it wasn’t templatized like Facebook—you could customize it and make it your own,” said an agency social lead, who preferred to remain anonymous. “Many brands did great things with content, and organic reach was greater.”

She pointed out that at the time, quick-service restaurant brands used paid content on Reddit to drive Tumblr traffic with great success.

As recently as October 2013, Tumblr was a highly touted addition to the lock screen for Facebook’s Home Android overlay, on which the social network put a lot of emphasis at the time.

Tumblr began allowing users to monetize their blogs in July 2016, adding affiliate links via VigLink in September of that year.

But despite Yahoo’s grand intentions, Tumblr quickly faded into the background.

“Yahoo never really did a good job of integrating (Tumblr) into its business, helping to activate the advertising opportunity or even creating advertising opportunities,” Lowenthal said.

The challenge, it seemed, was a cultural one. Tumblr was a young(ish) platform; Yahoo was the jaded vet. Yahoo and Tumblr tried to come up with advertising products, but none of them took. Tumblr’s ad products are focused on engagement, and according to agency execs, engagement is not the top metric anymore; there is no correlation between engagement and business results.

Agency execs believe better targeting options and more diverse ad products would have helped Tumblr, but as it stands today, “I don’t know of many advertisers who are still spending on the platform,” said the agency social lead.

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