Funny or Die Takes a Tumblr

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Between Two Ferns
Between Two Ferns

Earlier this month, Between Two Ferns, an exclusive series hosted by the online comedy website Funny or Die returned with its special Oscar edition. The show is essentially a mock interview in which comedian Zach Galifianakis sits between two ferns and asks celebrities some seriously awkward questions. Highlights from previous shows include Galifianakis ending an interview by sneezing repeatedly into Jon Hamm's lap (“I'm allergic to ferns”), asking Natalie Portman if she shaved anything besides her head for the film V for Vendetta, and hosting a joint interview with Jennifer Aniston and Tila Tequila.

With the upcoming Oscars, Galifianakis had a series of rapid-fire, mostly insulting interviews with nominees, including Bradley Cooper, Sally Field, and Jennifer Lawrence. These were teased on Funny or Die's Tumblr site not as video previews but as animated GIFs. This was by design.

For media companies and brands that cater to a younger demographic—people ages 18-34—Tumblr is increasingly becoming a marketing channel of interest. Anne Globe, CMO of Dreamworks Animation, said in an interview with Direct Marketing News that Tumblr had become a part of her marketing mix, for instance.

Tumblr is essentially a hybrid blog and social network. It has the reach and community (It has 93.7 million blogs and popular posts are reblogged—analogous to Twitter's retweet) of a social network, but posts are typically more content-rich than Facebook status updates or 140-character Tweets. Consequently, as a forum for content marketing and branding, Tumblr provides certain advantages over Facebook and Twitter.

“Twitter's about real-time response, messaging, capturing trends that are happening, but what you put out there goes away quickly,” says Hayes Davis, CEO of Union Metrics, a provider of social engagement analytics.  “Facebook has been doing more publishing sort of stuff, but they're losing out there because it's all within the Facebook silo.” While Tumblr doesn't have the reach of Facebook or Twitter, its platform provides at its most ideal a portal for rich content and social amplification.

“Publishers to a degree are frustrated that Facebook can say your page has two million likes, but you publish content and you know it's not being displayed anywhere near to that full amount,” says Greg Schindler, marketing manager at Funny or Die.

Funny or Die first registered its Tumblr account in 2009, but made it a priority in 2010. “Tumblr was very clearly driving a community that would only get bigger,” Schindler says. “It was so visually driven there was a lot of opportunities there for content.”

For instance, unlike a Twitter account—which Schindler says people are unlikely to follow in droves unless it already has around 100,000 followers or is affiliated with a celebrity—Tumblr users follow enthusiastically based on content quality.

As with most companies with content marketing strategies, Funny or Die put together a content calendar and measured engagement manually—tracking post data and figuring which types of posts—videos or photos—performed the best. This involved dragging data through Google Docs and Excel spreadsheets and sorting them through pivot tables in an attempt to find a correlation between content type and post time.

It was about as fun as it sounds.

Funny or Die signed on with Union Metrics to ease the process of collecting and collating data and learned that the Tumblr community—demographically younger than Facebook's and likely to be online more often—is 24/7. “We don't see the same restrictions we do on other platforms,” Schindler says. “It's not like there's a tight 9-6 window to publish content.”

With an influx of data—which includes traffic, clicks, and whether jokes posted on Funny or Die's Tumblr end up on other social media sites—Schindler and his team make a lot of assumptions and then perform a deeper data dive to ensure that those assumptions are accurate.

Midway through 2012, the team felt that though the Tumblr account was doing well, it had plateaued. “What we kept coming back to is that people liked Funny or Die videos, but they didn't want to engage video on a mobile device,” Schindler says. “So we decreased the percentage of videos, which had a higher barrier of entry to engage with. We started posting more photos. We have celebrities in the office every day and we posted behind-the-scenes photos and gifs from videos.”

Consequently, Funny or Die's acquisition rate doubled—the company had simply taken inventory of what its community wanted and altered its content calendar—increasing photos and GIFs—to deliver the type of media its followers enjoyed the most.

Understanding the community is essential to incorporating any social network  into the marketing mix. For Tumblr, this means respecting its social networking component. “Many [brands] think of it as a publishing platform,” Davis says. “And when they do understand the social component, they're stuck in a model where they're just reblogging stuff, they don't understand the variety of the different content communities.”

For instance, as Funny or Die learned, videos  alienated mobile visitors. “And if you're trying to put a coupon on Tumblr, people will be disappointed because that's not the right way to engage,” Davis adds.

Ultimately, Tumblr requires patience. Twitter posts and Facebook status updates are over in a flash. Tumblr posts, on the other hand, have longevity and might need time to find an audience. “Stuff picks ups days or weeks after it's published,” Davis says. “Twitter doesn't have that.”

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