Yumblr? Tumblhoo? Thoughts on Monetization

The headline that likely best sums up Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr comes from an unlikely source: “Yahoo Back On Top After Purchasing Millions Of 13-Year-Old Girls’ Blogs,” blasted The Onion.

Snicker all you want (I did!), but basically Yahoo just spent $1.1 billion on a younger audience to bolster the aging users of its legacy platform. Well, if there isn’t a mass exodus – Infoworld suggested last week that tens of thousands of Tumblr users were migrating their posts to WordPress in the wake of the announcement. But honestly, most Tumblr users won’t care who owns the platform as long as they get the same use out of it.

Granted, Yahoo does have a reputation for destroying products it acquires, but we’re in the Marissa Mayer era now, so let’s forget the last seven or eight years ever happened. (Carol Bartz – who’s that?) Many Internet commentators are interested in the future of Tumblr porn, which I assume will quickly be excised as Yahoo’s brand advertisers wouldn’t dare be seen near such filth.

Yep – what really will determine the fate of Tumblr is how Yahoo chooses to monetize it.

Last year, Barbarian Group cofounder and former COO Rick Webb delivered the midday keynote at AdMonsters’ OPS conference, detailing his vision for monetizing Tumblr via his role as Revenue and Marketing Consultant. It was thoroughly entertaining speech and pretty damn informative, but most important, it was inspiring – Webb was promoting a brave new world (the good kind!) of creative advertising, branded content taken to the next level.

Less than a year later, Webb is out and Tumblr has been acquired by Yahoo. Not surprisingly, fears are running rampant that Yahoo will start pumping endless banner ads onto the beloved platform. Those ads would likely be programmatically bought junk that will bring back memories of old MySpace.

That’s not going to happen – despite its past missteps, Mayer and the Yahoo force aren’t blind to the fact the banner model is in deep decline. More likely, Tumblr’s monetization path will follow the social media (see StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) strategy of promoted brand posts. As I learned moderating an agency panel at the AdNatively conference last week, brands are increasingly investing in branded digital content, and a number of creative firms, content production networking systems and distribution services have popped up to assist them. 

Tumblr is a fantastic messaging platform – a clever mixture of the best parts of blogs and Twitter. Slap in some promotion ability with some basic targeting functionality (You post a lot on cooking, so check out this recipe from Nestle!) and watch the revenue roll in. Yes, a small but vociferous group of users will complain like they do on Twitter and Facebook (ad haters gonna hate), but exodus is unlikely because the inconvenience of promoted posts will be far less than the convenience of the platform.

Promoted posts would be best recieved in the dashboard mode – for individual blogs, the best method is probably a sidebar with related promoted content (think the Outbrain method – that’s kind of like a banner, but not…). 

Of course, monetization nirvana tilts entirely on Yahoo’s integration choice – first and foremost, Tumblr should stay a separate platform from the grand portal as it’s a very different model from a content consumption and monetization standpoint. Sure, sales people can cross-sell with larger branded campaigns, but operationally Tumblr should be kept independent.

If endless links to articles on various Yahoo sites start popping up in the sidebars, I’m going to predict a fair percentage of users will flock to the exits. Anyone disagree?