Tumblr Inches Into Media

Like fellow platforms Google, Facebook and Twitter, Tumblr rejects the label media company. But unlike them, it’s not as shy about getting into the creation business.

Earlier this month, the hot blogging platform-cum-social network made an interesting move in hiring two writers to cover the Tumblr universe. Chris Mohney, formerly of Black Book, and ex-Newsweek writer Jessica Bennett are heading up an editorial team whose focus is to write about the 42 million users of Tumblr. The duo plan to hire more writers and build a full-fledged publication dedicated to the sprawling universe of Tumblrs, which range from photos of cats with bread on their heads (don’t ask) to offshoots of top-line publications like Newsweek, The Atlantic and The New Yorker.

This isn’t the first time Tumblr has made a move into content. For the third season in a row, the company has sent a small band of bloggers to cover New York’s Fashion Week, during which five New York-based Tumblr users posted images and content from behind the scenes.

In an interview with Reuters, Bennett said that the goal is to “surface genuinely interesting stories to an audience of Tumblr users and the world at large. It’s definitely possible we’ll address what users are talking about. And we totally, totally encourage community input — how will we find the best stories if not taking tips and ideas from our users?”

It’s a natural move for Tumblr as it gropes for a business model. So far, the company has made most of its money through venture capital (in September 2011, it announced it raised $85 million, after raising $30 million in December 2010). It has the advantage of being the place where popular digital culture is made, putting it in position to bring shape to what’s admittedly an amorphous organism that’s variously describe as a blogging platform, social network and online scrapbook.

“This will not only give prominence to trending micro-blogs, but will also create further interest by others to join,” said Travis Britton, executive creative director at San Francisco-based ad agency Cutwater. “With more users signing on, and more of the already-established blogs gaining spotlight, marketers could now have a more intimate venue to talk to consumers and, in return, give Tumblr an added boost in revenue.”

That would solve a problem for Tumblr. While it has huge audience growth — almost 20 million uniques and 7 billion page views in January 2012 according to ComScore — it isn’t like a Facebook or Twitter where users sign in everyday. Many, if not most of its users, arrive randomly via links from Facebook or Twitter. Others use the Tumblr dashboard to follow others, post themselves and re-blog posts. Those engaged users are far more valuable as an audience than random passersby.

“You don’t really know who’s there,” said Preston Bealle, svp at digital ad-buying shop Mediasmith, referring to users who will read the Tumblr site about Tumblr. “If you go on Tumblr and you want to read about high fashion, you know what you’re getting, you know who your readers are. With this new site, we won’t presumably know about [the audience]. It will be more of an inward-looking concept.”

On the other hand, according to Ryan Ku, planning director of Dojo, a San Francisco-based ad agency, this new content-driven site has the potential for marketers to follow the chatter and traffic and discover potential avenues for connecting with an audience.

“A curatorial, hand-selected view of Tumblr could help identify particular sites or verticals with enough audience size and momentum to make them good opportunities for marketers,” he said.

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