Young Tumblr Marketers Have Strong Advice for Yahoo

Millennial practitioners worry about the acquisition

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"We promise not to screw it up," said Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, posting on her brand-new Tumblr account this morning and effectively making official the $1.1 billion purchase of the growing social blogging site.

Well, Ms. Mayer, twentysomething Tumblr marketers have strong advice about how you can keep that promise. Of course, it's how you incorporate more ads into the site experience that may ultimately determine whether Yahoo either lifts six-year-old Tumblr to new heights or damages its ever-important street cred.

Marissa Mayer Photo: Getty Images

"Advertising should never be the first, second or even third thing you see on Tumblr," warned Conor O'Hollaren, 25-year-old lead strategist for retail-focused agency Gin Lane Media. "It should just be a part of your natural feed. And if they give it too much priority, it will dilute the experience."

Casey Savio, a 26-year-old social strategist at iCrossing, concurred with O'Hollaren that Yahoo should be extremely careful when introducing ad units. "Right now, Tumblr is really attractive as a community partly because it is easy to get around, and more ads would disrupt that experience," she said.

O'Hollaren recently helped Adidas run a #MyGirls initiative targeting 13-to-17-year-old females internationally on Tumblr. "That demographic is on Tumblr and Instagram," he explained.

Per comScore, 46.5 percent of Tumblr users (the site has 102 million blogs) are between 18 and 34 years old. Will they and their even younger counterparts flee Tumblr under Yahoo's stewardship? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining whether Mayer's big move pays off (as well as whether or not brands continue to lift spend for the platform).

"If it gets too [ads] heavy, people will absolutely walk away from it," Savio from iCrossing said. "We've already seen that to an extent with Facebook."

Yet, Facebook's billion-dollar purchase of Instagram 13 months ago seems to provide Mayer & Co. a bit of a game plan in terms of "not screwing it up." At the time of the purchase, many wondered if Instagram would lose its cool factor while joining the fold of Mark Zuckerberg's digital giant. That hasn't turned out to be the case. The Instagram audience has only grown since the deal though Facebook hasn't brought ads to the mobile app just yet.

However, in that situation, Facebook was clearly looking to swallow up mobile-social competition rather than bolster revenues right away. Yahoo likely cannot be as patient with Wall Street closely watching the financials in the aftermath of this humongous investment. Some marketers argue that Yahoo may be ill-fitted to run Tumblr.

"There's not a natural connection between Yahoo and Tumblr the way there was with Facebook and Instagram," said Leila Thabet, U.S. managing director at We Are Social.

O'Hallaren from Gin Lane Media, added, "With a big acquisition like this, I am sure they want to capitalize on it. They need to put in advertising that's unique to the platform. I wouldn't want them to [implement] some of their other platforms too directly into Tumblr. If they are smart, they won't. I think there is a kind of advertising on Tumblr that seems like it's supposed to be there—things like animated GIFs or very short video clips."

It's only been a year since Tumblr began selling ads, introducing its Radar and Spotlight products that have proven popular with brands. Erin Dooley, a 27-year-old digital content manager at happylucky, which runs Adidas Neo's Tumblr efforts, disliked the idea of an old-Internet, ads-minded player like Yahoo taking ownership of the social blogging site.

"Social platforms as a whole should move away from their perpetual end goal of being acquired," Dooley said. "It inevitably leads to a shift from something their users enjoy to being overwrought by the interests of advertisers. Once a channel grows to the size that puts them in a position to be of value, they should look to their community to define how the platforms they have created can be evolved to support the users.

"It should be the responsibility of advertisers to understand and adapt to the platforms as they exist," Dooley continued. "They need to start seeing the platforms as places to create interesting content for users, not just another place to push ads."

Hear that, Yahoo?

Meanwhile, Thabet (who at age 32 is an elder Tumblr user) makes a pretty good point about the marketing-tech bubble's reaction to the Yahoo-Tumblr deal compared to the greater world. "To Joe blogger, will it even matter?" she asked.

Indeed, the biggest tech news in months produces far more questions than answers.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.