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What Did Yahoo Really Buy Today?

Tumblr logoSo, the ‘net is all a-twitter (if you’ll pardon the phrase) about Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr today. But what did Yahoo actually buy?

Normally, I don’t get too hung up on tools (remember: they really are just tools). But Tumblr is much more than just a tool.

As I alluded to in an interview with Ragan a few months back (paywalled, sorry), Tumblr is a social network first and foremost. It’s where the cool kids hang out. And it’s access to those cool kids that Yahoo actually bought today.

Which might be the fatal flaw in this deal for Yahoo.

In a discussion with TechTarget, I’d referred to Tumblr as “…the world’s biggest underground thing.” The young demographic Yahoo so desperately wants to attract and retain with this acquisition aren’t altogether thrilled about Yahoo poking into “their” space. As one teen noted,

“It may seem strange that a site bringing together strangers from points around the globe can create a space for interactions that feel more real than those with people at school and at home, but that’s how it actually is.
Tumblr is so much more than a website at this point. It has grown into such a huge community, one that could be easily destroyed by the sort of reckless marketing that Yahoo must be about to unleash.”

If Yahoo’s smart, they’ll treat Tumblr the same way Google treated YouTube for a long time: leave it alone. CEO Marissa Mayer hinted that might by Yahoo’s strategy in a blog post when she said, “We promise not to screw it up.”

I do think this is a good move for Yahoo, but only if they execute correctly. At its core, social is people. And, as a result, all marketing is social. If you want to get in your customers’ heads (or pants… pockets), you’ve got to start by satisfying their needs first. Tumblr today represents a safe, happy place where like-minded individuals can congregate and share stuff they like. It’s a community, not a commodity.

And If Yahoo can’t hang on to the audience that makes Tumblr so attractive in the first place, they’ll find that instead of purchasing prime Internet real estate, what they really bought is a vacant lot.

Interested in more? Register to receive a free copy of my new special report, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World,” produced in conjunction with Vizergy, here. And you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of social generally and Tumblr specifically, including:

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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