In the heated battle for digital and social loyalty, Facebook is squaring off against Tumblr, which is growing in size and as a platform for brands to have a different kind of voice, one that relates better to millennials in particular: more tongue in cheek, a little more freewheeling and more visual.
With more than 80 million blogs across its network, Tumblr is inspiring online (recently passing "blog" as a search term on Google) and offline buzz, as witnessed in a flurry of Tumblr to book publishing deals, such as Suri's Burn Book.
The microblogging site has hired a full-time literary community manager, Rachel Fershleiser, to help connect Tumblr bloggers to agents that could lead to a book, TV, radio or web deal — or some combination of those platforms. "I'll give them advice or I'll take a look at their book proposal," Fershleiser commented to the PBS MediaShift blog. "Sometimes I'll pass something along to an agent. Tumblr gives them a place to put their work and if it's great, we will get it discovered."
While clearly embraced by the younger creative community, Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp faces the task of monetizing its success by working with brands and marketers while not turning off its user base. Karp isn't a big fan of advertising, so he's looking for subtle ways to engage brands and his community.
He recently hired Lee Brown as global head of sales for Tumblr, charged with luring advertising equal to its $800 million valuation. Skeptics like Frank O’Brien, CEO of marketing firm Conversation, commented to the New York Post, “Tumblr is like a bootleg Pinterest. I’ll just go to the real thing versus a wannabe.”
“Marketers are definitely looking to other social networks beyond Facebook,” said a spokesman for eMarketer to the Post, “not because Facebook is ineffective but because the digital audience is more fragmented than ever before.”
The opportunity is huge, judging by data such as an admittedly unscientific survey by Garry Tan of Y Combinator. Tan was curious about which social networks were drawing younger digerati, so he dispatched Y Combinator’s Survata to check in with 1,038 people in two groups: 546 responses in 13-18 year-olds and 492 responses in 19-25 year-olds.
He found that Tumblr is more popular with 13-to-25-year-olds than Facebook, of whom 59% said they were regular users of Tumblr, compared with 54% for Facebook. Among those 13 to 18, the percentage who said they use Tumblr regularly was even higher: 61% versus 55%.
Even so, don't discount Facebook yet — as the Wall Street Journal noted about Tan's research, “The survey does seem to suggest that the death of Facebook among teens and younger adults was 'exaggerated,' with usage among those age groups far outstripping Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.”