In the never-ending fight to stay relevant, Yahoo! has made the interesting move of buying Tumblr, a six year old social blogging site, popular with teenagers and young adults as an arena to express themselves. Tumblr’s users are typically young and creative; exactly the kind of market Yahoo – and everyone else – wants to tap into.
On yer skateboard mum!
Despite the obvious motives, the move seems a strange one, akin to your mum taking up skateboarding in a bid to stay youthful and exciting. So, is this just a mid-life crisis, or is it a very clever business move by Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer?
Mayer has already addressed the concerns of the typically socially awkward user base of Tumblr and has promised – and I quote – “not to screw it up”. Having spent $1.1 billion on the acquisition of Tumblr from the young creator David Karp, Yahoo can do anything they want to with the social blogging site, but it is already successful in terms of audience and there are fears that messing around with it may hinder this success.
Justifying the expense
Marissa Mayer’s new toy may have a great following but, in terms of revenue, it doesn’t cut the mustard. The site only generated $12 million in revenue last year, and so to justify the buying price she will need to implement a pretty major shake-up to make the site pay. Tumblr’s audience has expendable cash by the bucket load and is part of the highly sought after 18-25 market that others like Facebook and Google are working hard to tap into.
At present, all ads are buried within the user’s timeline. When you log in to Tumblr, you do not immediately see ads – there are no banners, no sidebars and no overt commercialisation of the site at all. To coin The Social Network, “you don’t want to ruin it with ads because ads aren’t cool”, and right now Tumblr is still cool. The 100 million+ bloggers and even higher numbers of users are not likely to take kindly to having to share their space with advertisers, when the lure of the site is that it is completely customisable. Blogs are a representation of their owners, and timelines are customised to include only the things you want to see, and shoehorning ads in will be both irritating and obvious.
Inviting your mum to a party
Yahoo is 20 next year, which in internet terms is ancient for a company that ceased being fresh and relevant a long time ago. There was a time when many people may have had a Yahoo email address and used the site as their go-to search engine, but for anyone under 40 these days have long passed. Yahoo still exists because there are creatures of habit – almost exclusively not internet natives – who have been using Yahoo since they first adopted the internet in the days of dial-up.
In short, Yahoo is a dinosaur and there are fears amongst the coveted youth market that Yahoo will ruin the fun. Part of the appeal of Tumblr is the fact that, unlike Facebook, users are allowed to post NSFW content with no intervention, something that doesn’t fit with Yahoo’s family friendly, mumsy image at all. If the freedom to post a great mix of things goes from Tumblr, then it is likely that the users will follow. Some members are already migrating to WordPress in protest at the takeover.
Yahoo! has somewhat of a reputation for messing things up. Mayer’s statement proves that they are all too aware of this. There was the acquisition of Delicious, then not long after the subsequent resell, having made a mess of it. Similarly, Flickr was bought by Yahoo and then neglected into irrelevance.
Leave those kids alone
Hopefully, Mayer has already realised the dangers of messing about with a format that so many love and use several times a day. The 18-25s are a particularly difficult market to win given the fickle nature of trends and loyalties. With the right approach, Yahoo! may be able to finally close the net on this tricky sector of the market as they now have it in the palm of their hands.
They have already opted to keep David Karp on as CEO, therefore retaining the young figurehead for the brand. This, combined with hints that the content rules will not change, means that they are hopefully planning to largely keep Tumblr as it is. The trick then is to find a way to advertise and sell to the audience without it being too overt, garish or letting it get in the way of the prime function of the site. It’s quite a task, but if they can pull it off, Yahoo! might have found the fountain of youth.