Tumblr, Hollywood, and the Second Screen

Facebook recently re-launched Atlas, an ad network with a really powerful hook: Atlas will use Facebook’s massive user data to target real people instead of just following cookies, and they call it ‘People Based Marketing’.

It’s no secret that Facebook’s is going after Google’s Display Ads, but this is the volley that might do a lot of damage to Google because Atlas will use the data (interests, demographics, etc.,) Facebook collected through the years.

There is also a third threat in this category, and no, it’s not Twitter.

It’s Tumblr.

Tumblr is a microblogging and social networking site, co-founded and started in 2006 by David Karp and Marco Arment. Tumblr is known for its visuals, and for popularizing ‘reblogs’. Reblogs, like Twitter’s ‘retweets’, is when a user can repost the content of another user with attribution to the original user and source.

In 2013, Tumblr made the news when Yahoo, Inc. bought Tumblr for over a billion dollars.

Every marketer worth their salt wrote articles and posts about Tumblr from explainer guides and ‘how to-s’. Neil Patel, a highly sought-after digital marketer, wrote How to Use Tumblr for Marketing . The guide has practical and sound advice for using Tumblr as a blog and as part of an overall digital marketing strategy, but it doesn’t dive into what makes Tumblr a valuable property for Yahoo.

It’s been a year since Yahoo bought Tumblr and the question since then was, what is Yahoo going to do with Tumblr?

There are the standard answers, sponsorships and ads, and, of course, using the rich user data within Tumblr. Yet, each effort from Tumblr has been nothing but clumsy, to the chagrin of the users.

In this post, I’m going to talk about one aspect where Tumblr is winning the battle against Facebook and Twitter, and that’s the second screen experience, Social TV.


Television ads take up a big cut of the budgets for almost every corporation today. Facebook and Twitter are vying against each other, trying to gain the attention of the TV networks.

In fact, almost all of Twitter’s $1 Billion post-IPO strategy hinged on selling the second screen experience to the Networks, but there have been dissenting voices in the form of NBCUniversal‘s Alan Wurtzel, poking holes in Twitter’s claims that Twitter engagement leads to more TV viewing. “It just isn’t true,” Wurtzel said. “I am saying the emperor wears no clothes. It is what it is. These are the numbers.”

This is where Tumblr comes in.

A study Tumblr commissioned from Pulsar revealed the following:

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Pulsar’s study pulled Twitter and Tumblr data via Datasift, and researched activity around four episodes of shows that ran in the fall and winter of 2013: “Sherlock,” “Supernatural,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and “Sleepy Hollow.” It also tracked mentions of “Malcolm in the Middle” over an 11-day period in December.

In aggregate, Pulsar found that 70% of social mentions of those shows happened on Tumblr over an 11-day period, with the balance happening on Twitter. While the Twitter mentions (including retweets) spiked when the four live shows actually aired, they tapered off quickly and, 12 hours later, had dwindled to 3% of the peak on-air level. For Tumblr, Pulsar detected a far more gradual decline of mentions (including re-blogs) with sustained momentum for days. Chatter levels held at 43% of what they had been during the broadcast, 12 hours after the fact.

“The big thing this industry is starting to understand is that, it’s more than just mentions that happen on Tumblr,” David Karp said. “The folks on Tumblr tend to be what you call superfans or communities of fandom that are taking these worlds they’re obsessed with, and that is the inspiration for their art and their creation.”

And that’s where Tumblr’s secret weapon lies: The Fans.

Karp calls them, us, super fans– but, I think ‘fan’ is a sufficient enough description.

Twitter and Facebook are great for real time conversation and engagement on the day a show or a movie airs, but discussion of the shows taper off pretty fast, and without a proper way to sustain and build on the conversations, the discussions around the shows naturally dwindle off.

This is where Tumblr, as a blogging platform and network, pays off. Discussion can be sustained, built on, and keep the fires going. In the hands of fans in Tumblr, a TV show or movie can be sustained not only for days, but for months, even years.

Shows that have been off the air for years can find a second life with avid fans that are still willing to talk about their shows and share their love for it.

The Doctor: Honestly, Charles—can I call you Charles?—I’m such a big fan.

Dickens: What? A big what?

The Doctor: Fan. Number one fan, that’s me.

Dickens: How exactly are you a fan? In what way do you resemble a means of keeping oneself cool?

The Doctor: No, it means “fanatic”, “devoted to”.

Doctor Who, The Unquiet Dead

What is a fan? A fan is someone who is, as the good Doctor from above described, is someone who is devoted. They are not casual viewers; fans take the shows and the characters with them wherever they go.

Fans and fandom in general are regarded with some disdain and wariness, which is understandable because, fandom is not a community that’s easily understood from the outside. It’s a community of people from all walks of life, passionately devoted to their show of choice. However, when you’re inside a fandom and you’re among your peers, there’s no place you’d rather be or fit in.

Everyone in fandom understands why you would want to talk about that one particular moment, in that particular scene, or how an entire story arc played out so beautifully or tragically, and more than that, the fans themselves are content creators.

Fans interact with the original source, and from there create and craft essays, arts, and stories. Fans examine and remix the original source and share it with everyone they know.

Fans spend time creating and sharing things like these:

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Fans call Tumblr home for a lot of reasons but one of the biggest reasons is Tumblr makes sharing easy, and user onboarding is as easy as 1 – 2 – 3, but the biggest thing to understand about fans, is this: fans cut across demographics of age, race, gender, and ethnicity. A fan can be as young as a 12 year old girl, and a fan as old as a 50 year old woman.

Tumblr is, as Racethewind10 put it: “A platform where communities are based (primarily) on interest, not demographic. “

It’s a pity that Marketers aren’t tapping Tumblr the right way, heck Tumblr is actually just learning to use the vast amount of fan communities in Tumblr the right way.

Another analogy for this is Netflix and its award winning series House of Cards, what does the creation of House of Cards have anything to do with Tumblr?

A lot.

Netflix, which has 27 million subscribers in the nation and 33 million worldwide, ran the numbers. It already knew that a healthy share had streamed the work of Mr. Fincher, the director of “The Social Network,” from beginning to end. And films featuring Mr. Spacey had always done well, as had the British version of “House of Cards.” With those three circles of interest, Netflix was able to find a Venn diagram intersection that suggested that buying the series would be a very good bet on original programming. – New York Times

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In short, because Netflix used the data they collected from their users about the things they most like to see, they were able to create something right out of the American audience’s id, and knew from the get go that House of Cards would be a winner.

Think on this: Netflix has 27 million subscribers and Tumblr has over 200 million active users, and a big chunk of those users are fans. Fans who spend a large amount of time ‘liking’ and reblogging posts. Posts that can indicate what everyone’s interests are.

Keyword: Interests.

Tumblr user webgeekist argues: “the most important information you can have about the eyeballs reading your message is interests. [snip] Someone OUTSOURCED the BEST way for us to gather information about how frequently individual people actually USE OUR PRODUCT and not only do we not have access to that data for use in other systems and marketing specific offers to specific interest groups but the emphasis is on LIKES AND REPOSTS AND TWEETS AND THE DUMB NUMBERS OF SOCIAL INTERACTION and I bang my head against a wall every day over that waste of money and opportunity.”

It is a waste of money and opportunity. Yahoo bought Tumblr for a billion dollars and so far, its attempts to market or monetize have been clumsy and painful because they’re all looking from the lens of a standard digital marketing handbook that works at pulling in SEO.

They have in their hands people who are willingly telling them their own taste, the things they like, the things that they will literally scream: ‘SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.’

And, yet they’re completely missing the mark, there are some savvy Social Media teams who know how the Tumblr game works, and they’re rewarded with a supportive fan base willing to share their posts and sometimes even doing the whole leg work of promoting the shows with their own remixed content.

This brings us back to Facebook’s new Ad Network: Atlas. Facebook is boasting that it uses real people data and not cookies. This is something Tumblr can also utilize if they can only sit up and realize the rich user data they have in their hands.


I’m planning to do a series of posts about Tumblr, and why and how I think its the next platform Hollywood should be focusing on.

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Thanks to tumblr users: racethewind10 and webgeekist, and my sister Dana and friend Chinkai for looking over this post again and again.