Questions from Trends Worth Following: Tools for Advanced Social Media Users

When we led our free class, Trends Worth Following: Tools for Advanced Social Media Users, on Tuesday, we had a tough time sticking to our ambitious one hour time limit. We got many questions that we thought were valuable, but didn't have time to answer them, so we've selected a few of them to go into more detail here:
We are a non profit helping veterans with PTSD free of charge. We want to reach older Americans, yet what you just stated is that not many older Americans use Facebook. What would be a good strategy or platform for us? Thank you.
In fact I think that Facebook is probably the right platform for your organization. We are seeing increasing numbers of individuals aged 50 and older joining Facebook. So while they don't make up anywhere near the majority of the Facebook population, they are one of the tool's fastest growing demographics. Keep in mind, the older generation tends to take on more of a "watcher" persona on Facebook, interaction within the tool is kept to a minimum, but they are keeping tabs on people and organizations they care about and reading what is posted. 
If our needs change and we are no longer using a social media channel, is it better to just stop updating it or delete the account?
If you have decided, as an organization, that you are no longer going to use a specific social media account for the long term our recommendation would be to inactivate the account instead of just ceasing to post. Although, as with most social media advice, it depends on your situation. Having a popular channel, like Facebook, that was used and then abandoned might raise questions about the existence of your organization. However, abandoning an account on a lesser used or "past its prime" tool is much less of an issue. If you decide to leave, I would say that deactivating an account instead of deleting it would be preferable, as if you decided at some point in the future to return to the tool your history would still be there to draw on. 
We have Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts. Our audience on Twitter is virtually nonexistent. Is it wrong to drop it and put our time elsewhere? Do we delete our account entirely or leave it there even though we wouldn't be actively using it?
It is totally okay to decide that a particular tool is not working for you or your audience and to cut it loose. You only have a limited amount of time to spend on your day to day work, and there is no reason to spend time on something that you feel is not offering your organization an appropriate return on your investment. Specifically for Twitter, I'd say you would want to lean towards simply stopping to post for a while before you completely shut it down. After about a month, if you feel that you really don't miss it you can deactivate. Keep in mind that once you deactivate your Twitter account it will disappear fully in 30 days, so make sure you really mean it! 

Does the new Myspace have ads?
These days, just about every social media channel has some form of advertising. However, the ads in this case aren't especially jarring as they take the form of "featured" pages and content. Like the rest of the "New Myspace" redesign, most ads are very heavily focused on music.
If you're posting pictures of events/people, don't you need to get the individuals' permission first?
You should always have a signed agreement that states what a picture can be used for. This is especially true in the case of children. However, photos of events that are more pulled back and include a large number of less easily identifiable people don't require permission. Another great way to get photos is to have your followers take part in a photo contest, or encourage them to post their own pictures from events.
I manage a number of social media accounts. Any suggestions on social media management tools? Are there tools that can help update several of your online spaces simultaneously?
These are somewhat similar questions, but there is an important distinction. We generally recommend that you treat each social media channel totally independent of one another. For example, while a great photo from a fundraising event makes sense to post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and just about anywhere else you can think of, always sharing the same content across all of your social media channels can be less engaging to your followers, and will not play up to the strength of individual tools. Hootsuite is one commonly recommended social media management tool can post content to multiple social media channels, and even multiple accounts on the same channel.
Do you think Twitter will eventually overtake Facebook?
I would doubt that. According to a PEW Research Center report from February 2013, 67 percent of internet users have a Facebook page compared with just 16 percent on Twitter. Twitter has become a huge resource, and is great for keeping a pulse on what's going on in the world, your interests, and your friends, but it doesn't have the personal feel, or page customization possibilities of Facebook. Furthermore, I don't think they're necessarily mutually exclusive. The types of content you might share on Facebook probably won't translate directly to the short form of twitter. No matter what tool you're using, it's important to consider what kind of content you want to post and who you want to reach before you start considering which one is currently on top.
Does the downside of the hype cycle coincide with the social networking platforms trying to figure out a revenue model that will support their infrastructure (i.e. there is no such thing as free)?
It can. The hype cycle is a fascinating model, but it doesn't match up with every single social media tool. Sometimes it takes tools a long time to get off the ground, sometimes they drop off in users due to lack of updates to a site, or lose users because it's not meeting the expectations. The point of referencing the hype cycle is to show how the latest tools aren't always going to take over the world, even if tech media makes it sound that way. In general, it's hard for anything to meet inflated expectations when word spreads so quickly online, and not having a revenue model prior to launching can expedite that process.

Best of the Web: August 2013

The Idealware “Best of the Web” is a monthly roundup of the top nonprofit resources from the Idealware blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed to help you make the right technology decisions.

How Gmail’s New Inbox Is Affecting Open Rates (MailChimp)
Many email marketers are nervous about Gmail’s latest update. Recent changes include “tabbed” inbox browsing, which can automatically organize emails into “promotions” and “social” tabs) and a number of other customized allocations. Nonprofits are finding their blast emails are frequently ending up in the Promotions tab, but is that significantly affecting open rates? Could this be the end of email marketing as we know it, or is it a new beginning?

Five Things You Should Know about Changes in Facebook Functionalities (SocialFish)
Uproar surrounding Facebook changes is not new. Facebook’s millions of users are rarely quiet about their distaste for new features and looks, especially when they’re released faster than anyone can keep up with. SocialFish rolls out its take on the latest features added to your organization’s page.

75 Percent of Young Donors are Turned Off by Out-of-Date Web Sites (The Chronicle of Philanthropy)
If you want to attract younger volunteers, donors, and event attendees, a strong website is an important gateway. A new study shows that a majority of ‘millennials’ said they were “turned off” when a nonprofit’s web site had not been updated recently.” Are you inadvertently driving them away? The Chronicle of Philanthropy looks at ways to use your website to attract a younger crowd.

Engaging Youth in Nonprofits (Idealware)
Idealware’s 20-year-old Intern Rachel decided to break down what actually works for her when it comes to nonprofits engaging her generation. In her opinion, too many organizations are prioritizing social media and have neglected email and mobile outreach as methods of engagement.

Social Media Tips that May Not Be So Obvious (FrogLoop)
Frogloop lists a few Facebook “pro tips” to polish your posts and prioritize productivity, including how to edit link-associated text, change image captions, and push your best posts back out into the news feed where they belong.

Do Storytelling and Data Have Chemistry in Your Fundraising World? (Nonprofit Quarterly)
Nonprofits often have inspiring stories to tell. From their origins to the people they help to the volunteers who keep things moving forward, those stories can inspire donations and cultivate deeper commitment. A powerful way to reinforce these stories is with actual data about your programs, but those working in communications and those actually evaluating data rarely meet. How can your organization incorporate metrics into your story?

111 Low-Cost or Free Online Tools for Nonprofits (Nonprofit Tech for Good)
It’s clear nonprofits need a strong foundation of technology to get their work done efficiently, but the budget isn’t always available to invest in the latest and greatest tools. Nonprofit Tech for Good created a long list of the most exciting free and low cost tools that can help a nonprofit succeed.

Understanding Software for Program Evaluation (Idealware)
In our increasingly data-driven world, nonprofits need more than ever to be able to measure and monitor the effectiveness of their programs. It’s difficult to improve program services or reach without first measuring current effectiveness. Whether you're a veteran or just getting started, this free handbook provides all you need to understand how to make technology a part of your program evaluation strategy.

Want More Facebook Activity? Surprise Them and Make ‘Em Happy (Mobilisation Lab)
In a new study, Martin Lloyd, Greenpeace International’s marketing and communications manager, partnered with market research firm Brainjuicer to identify the psychological and emotional influencers driving sharing levels. The result? Put a positive spin on your message, and don’t forget a call to action.

Launch Day: Understanding Software for Program Evaluation

Program evaluation is on our minds lately here at Idealware, and why not? If an organization cannot measure and analyze the effectiveness of its programs, how can it improve them? Today we're thrilled to launch our latest report, Understanding Software for Program Evaluation, a handy reference guide to the types of software that, when brought together, can enable your organization to accurately and confidently collect, measure, and monitor the outcomes and effectiveness of your programs. 

Do you need technology to evaluate programs? No. But software can help you collect, analyze, and even visualize your data for the most accurate results, and in this report we  explore several different types of tools and how they can help your organization. Like all our reports, the guide is free to download. Click here to get started, and then come back and tell us what you think...



Nonprofit or not, it should come as no surprise that organizations are looking to save money. How can you afford the latest technology for your employees on a budget? One solution that many businesses have been flocking to is BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device. While this option can seem mutually beneficial both for budget minded organizations and gadget loving employees, the headaches involved in regulating this process aren’t always worth the rewards.
BYOD doesn’t necessarily refer to just one policy. It is a series of decisions that have to be made regarding employee use of their own smartphones, tablets, and laptops during office hours. Your organization's specific policies will have to be agreed upon, and employees will have to be briefed on the new regulations. In some situations, organizations can offer stipends for device purchase or monthly data plan payment. This strategy can save the employees money since they can also use the device at home, and saves the organization money since they don’t have to purchase computers and phones that live in the office. Naturally, how much money an organization puts toward a device will increase or decrease depending on how imperative the device is to the employee’s daily work.
If your organization uses cloud based software, BYOD can be even more appealing. Without too much tech knowhow, the employee can access to the same software and data all on a device they’re comfortable with just as easily from home, in the office, or on the go. This applies to basic applications like Google Apps and Dropbox, as well as full blown donor management systems, office productivity software, and more.
Having a device that lives in the grey area between work and home life can create some unique challenges for organizations. For example, what happens if the device is lost or stolen outside of the office? Who is held liable for replacement? And what should you do about all that sensitive data? For this reason, it becomes even more important to regularly back up your data and to have a way of wiping your data off the device remotely. Idealware has plenty of resources available on data backup, and a service like Air Watch can provide improved security, offer reports on device usage, and allow administrators to delete data.
There can also be the ever present worry of viruses and malware. While you can (and should!) be running regular antivirus scans on your office computers, you can’t be as certain that your employees are being as careful with their own devices. Make sure you have a system in place to know that your employees aren’t downloading malicious software on your organization’s device. Also, tell your employees to be careful about shared networks such as free Wi-Fi at restaurants and coffee shops, and free wireless printers in hotels. They might be safe enough for checking your Twitter feed, but dealing with sensitive, high level information on an open wireless network can be dangerous.
It may be appealing to your employees to let them choose which kind of device they want. The staff here at Idealware all use Windows based computers in the office, but many of us use Apple computers at home. Along with that, not everyone in your organization will be interested in using their own devices, so it is important to implement some form of consistency so you don’t run into problems with compatibility. For example, if you use a lot of Google applications, Android phones and tablets, and Chromebook laptops, can be a good choice to ensure the maximum ease of access. Keep in mind that since these devices lack optical drives, you cannot install your own software with a CD. If your standard office computers are Apple based, iPhones and iPads are a sensible choice, and Windows 8 phones, tablets, and computers make access across multiple devices easy as well.
Some organizations are trying to get the best of both worlds by exploring dual boot options, or even mobile phone virtualization. With these options, users can have multiple logins for their devices, one for personal use and one for business use. While having separate accounts can help in managing that fleeting home and work life balance, it will take a dedicated IT person on your staff to setup and troubleshoot this service in most cases. Multi booting operating systems can also be helpful for users who need to use a certain OS in the office, but would prefer to use another at home. Remember that while Windows and Linux operating systems can be installed on any computer, OSx cannot legally be installed on any machine unless made by Apple.
What is your organization’s BYOD policy? What personal devices are you splitting your time with? Which ones do you wish you could?

Can Video Games Really Change the World? Lessons From the 2013 Games For Change Festival


The crowd at the 10th Anniversary Celebration and Games for Change Awards

In June, I had the pleasure of attending the 10th Anniversary Games for Change Festival, which brings together game designers, nonprofits, academics, students, and technology companies to promote and create games for social change. This was the first time anyone from Idealware has attended this conference, so I was more-or-less charging blindly forth into uncharted waters. 
So, what treasures did I bring back from this exotic land? Here are a few takeaways:
  • Games have come a long way from Oregon Trail. Many of the presenters talked about the problems inherent in thinking of “educational games”, or “serious games”, and how that mindset leads to lower-quality or half-hearted games, a point elaborated on by the two speakers on the opening night. The first, Ian Bogost from the Georgia Institute of Technology, talked about how the community should instead focus on creating “earnest games”, that use education, social good, or other big ideas as a way to enrich the game experience—not the other way around.
    Robin Hunicke from Funomena echoed this sentiment with her assertion that every game, regardless of subject matter, makes a statement. To her, the problem with the video game industry is that the statement made by the mainstream, best-selling games is usually one of violence or wish-fulfillment, but the growing “indie” community allows a place for elegant, expressive, and emotional games a place.
  • Most nonprofits aren’t ready for games. While there were several examples of low-budget, meaningful games at the festival, many games and developers were still prioritizing conventional models of entertainment, or more expensive development processes. Others were clearly pursuing innovative, but largely impractical and cost-prohibitive technologies, like biometric sensors.
  • There is help for nonprofits. There were multiple firms and companies present that specialize in developing games for organizations, or provide customizable game platforms. For example, every download of the Global Gaming Initiative game Sidekick Cycle contributes to providing bikes to children in Africa. Kognito Interactive, also present at the festival, provides a game platform where players assume the role of doctors, therapists, or family members to practice address mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder. Other firms providing similar platforms include Amplify Learning and Green Door Labs.
  • Mobile is the past. While mobile devices are still the future of service delivery to many nonprofits, many of the game developers at the festival seem to be leaving mobile behind in favor of web or browser-based platforms. These games don’t have the face the restrictions imposed by mobile app marketplaces, like Apple’s App Store. They also don’t have to deal with the fragmentation of the mobile market, where games and apps must be developed separately for Android, iPhone, and other platforms.
  • Games have the potential to make big changes. When done correctly, video games and even board games give players the chance to learn interactively, or even take control of how they learn. One of the speakers, Jesse Schell of Schell Games, spoke about the differences in learning styles—extrinsically motivated students and intrinsically motived students. Intrinsically motivated students seek out knowledge on their own, and may be passionately curious about some subjects, but completely disinterested in others. Games could make an impact in meeting the educational needs of this type of student, who would want to pursue a topic on their own time, outside of a school setting.
    There are also games that try to let players view the world from a different perspective. One game on display at the festival, LIM, uses its gameplay to evoke the experiences of being different in a heteronormative society, while another game, Dys4ia, uses a series of mini-games to guide the player through the difficulties of a person going through gender reassignment.

These are all really big goals, and while the ideas and vision of the gaming community aren’t always in line with the day-to-day realities of most nonprofits, they are certainly laying the strategic groundwork for a technology beyond our current cutting-edge.


Idealware Goes to Washington: NTC14 Voting Open Until July 31

While that grey, chilly period between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day isn’t everyone’s favorite time of year, it is for us at Idealware. NTC14 is coming up faster than a team of flying reindeer, and we couldn’t be more excited. What is NTC14 you ask? Our friends and partners at NTEN host the Nonprofit Technology Conference every spring, and the 2014 conference is shaping up to be even more wonderful than last year’s. Expect three full days of nonprofit technology curriculum, collaboration, and communication, all taking place in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.
This year, we hope to beat the rush and get our voting done early. We’ve come up with a great roundup of sessions that are sure to make any nonprofit staffer’s eyes light up on the morning of March 13. All we need from you is a little moral support. Please take a few minutes to flip through our proposed sessions below, and “vote up” a few that seem interesting. Loved our Infographics Report? Check out Paint by Numbers to Transform Your Data into a Visual Story. Got some good insight from our Funders Guide? Take a look at One Small Step for Funders, One Giant Leap for Grantees.
Don’t forget to vote before the clock strikes midnight on July 31. We always look forward to presenting at this conference, and we can’t wait to see you there.


Engaging Youth in Nonprofits

In this enlightening post, Idealware's summer intern, Rachel, shares her perspective as a 20-year-old college student with a strong interest in social justice and experience trying to organize and engage around related topics.

Last year during my sophomore year of college I had an internship in Baltimore with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which works to end poverty and injustice in the United States. It was my job to educate my peers about the Church’s call for social justice, so I organized a speaker series on my campus for such topics as "Solidarity with Immigrants" and "Dignity of Work."  

From my perspective, I’m not convinced that social media is the sole solution when trying to connect young people with the nonprofit community. I tried to use Facebook to promote my events last year, but it was not very effective. Most of my friends receive Facebook notifications on their phones, including event invitations, so they were receiving the messages. People really seemed to know about the series, but they were not showing up. The only times I saw a large crowd was when professors offered credit to students who attended. It was disappointing but understandable. As a fellow college student, I know that time and energy are limited for us. A lot of my peers told me they wanted to come but had other priorities getting in the way, whether it was writing papers, going to play rehearsal, or dinner with friends. Convincing people to come was much more complex than making sure it was well known.
Sometimes I wonder if the emphasis placed on social media is too high when nonprofits try to reach younger audiences. To me, it’s like nonprofits are saying the solution to engaging youth is to advertise to them. Just as most people ignore ads on TV by muting the audio or getting up for a snack, most youth will ignore social media posts from any organizations. Sure, ads help with public awareness, but are you really going to buy insurance from a gecko? I’m not. My main use of Facebook is to stay in touch with friends who live further away. It helps me stay updated on their lives. I’m not really looking to be baited into supporting corporations. The point is that social media alone is not enough. It is a means, not an end.
What does engagement mean to you? For us, it means tangible action and a voice in the organization. I know that people my age have opinions. They don’t feel like their voices are being heard. Social media is still too impersonal for that voice to be heard. It seems only the very tech savvy people of this generation are being heard on social media by businesses. Not everyone has the time, money, or interest for technology.
So how can we be reached?
I find that petitions via email on mobile devices are well received by youth.
Make it easy for us. If you are going to invest time in emails, make them quick and catchy. We’re most likely to receive everything on our phones. I receive my emails on my phone. While it has saved me tons of time, I actually miss viewing emails on a computer. Emails appear as notifications on my phone. Instead of actually reading my messages, I just want to get rid of the blinking red light on my phone. So I sort through my emails to weed out the junk. As someone involved in social justice, I get countless emails to sign petitions. I simply don’t have the time or patience to read all those emails, despite my passion for justice. If an organization asks for money, I definitely delete the email because I am a poor college student. I am happy to sign petitions, but only if it is quick and easy from my phone.
Furthermore, the issue that the petition targets needs to be very clearly stated. I keep an editing eye out for the issues that matter most to me, and if the email title is not specific or compelling, I don’t usually take time to read any further. I just click to get rid of the notification. But I do sign petitions pretty often. The petitions themselves should be accessible on a phone, so we are more likely to sign them if the webpage is compatible with mobile devices.
So what’s an example of an email with a strong call to action? Here’s one I recently received:
I opened this right when I got it-- I was attracted by the word ‘student.’
As a poor college student, I don’t need any more debt! This was a no brainer. College is expensive enough already. I simply clicked on the orange box and my information was communicated from my email account to the online petition. I didn’t even have to fill out any boxes. One click and I had a voice. 
Signing a petition feels good, but I typically want to be more actively involved with the causes I am passionate about. I want to do something. If active engagement is your goal, my suggestion is to make involvement personal and fun.
Most youth value socialization. They like to do things with friends. If you want to really get students actively engaged with your organization, you need to build relationships with them. I’ve never volunteered because of social media. I volunteer because someone I know tells me about a place. I do weekly service at meal programs because I have built relationships with the lead volunteers and the people we serve. I enjoy community service. It’s fun. To engage anyone in work in a way that is meaningful, they have to gain something from it. Make your events fun and friendly. Invite groups of friends, not just individuals, so youth can be involved with their friends. Youth want to have fun. Don’t we all?

Cheap and Cheerful Video Conferencing

Though Idealware is based in Portland, Maine, I work from Portland, Oregon, which means we do a lot of videoconferencing. LIke many orgs, we struggle with the best setup for the technology. Lauren Haynes, IT Manager for the Ounce of Prevention Fund in Chicago, kindly wrote this guest post for us about the “cheap and cheerful” video conferencing setup her organization threw together to make it easier for staff to participate in online conferencing from anywhere in the office. 

If you had to guess how much it would cost to build an easy-to-use, relatively open video conferencing system, what would you guess? 

What if I told you the whole thing could be built (and loved) for $1,500 - $3,000?

We had a board member that wanted to videoconference in to a meeting. He suggested we purchase an iMac so he could join the meeting via FaceTime. As much as I appreciate board members driving technology usage, we weren’t about to drop $1,300 at a minimum on an iMac for a 21 inch screen. 

So we built this instead: 

Here’s what you need to build a sweet, fairly cheap video conferencing cart:

  1. Cart  - $450
  2. A flat screen television (in our case, a 46 inch tv) - $575
  3. Web Cam - $100 - $200
  4. An HDMI Cable - $25
  5. 4 port USB extender - $10
  6. Wireless Keyboard and Mouse - $60
  7. Surge Protector - $10
  8. Ethernet Cable - $10
  9. Laptop (optional) - $1500

Total Cost: $1,240 - $2,840

Why this rocks:

  • Mobility – this will work in any room assuming a power supply and an Ethernet connection are within reach of our cables (WiFi is fine, but you get better audio and video quality generally if you are plugged in). The footprint is a lot smaller for storage and movement than the Polycoms we have in the office. 
  • Flexibility – the cart can be used as a “projector” or sharing screen even if you aren’t using videoconference, and it’s not tied to any one room or location.
  • Maintainability – Each piece can be replaced interchangeably. You can always buy a new, better webcam when the TV still works. No more buying $700 microphone pods from Polycom. 
  • Open – Skype? Check. Microsoft Lync? Check. Google Hangouts? Check. Facetime? Check (if you plug in a Mac Laptop). Whatever new hipster videoconferencing comes out in three months? Check.


Cables: Make sure your laptop has a port for the HDMI cable, which will enable you to connect the laptop to the TV screen for both video and audio. If it does not, there are various adaptors or other cable types you can use.

Microphones: We tried out a couple of “serious” microphones (lavalier mics, for example) and found the sound quality wasn’t as good as the one built into the $100 USB Webcam, even in some of our larger rooms.

Connections: The Ethernet cable, surge protector, USB extender, and wireless keyboard/mouse are all optional. Our setup has it so you only need to plug two things in to the wall—the surge protector and Ethernet cable. The dedicated computer means we’re not constantly fussing with power cords. The USB extender just makes it a bit easier to get from the web camera to the computer, and allows an open port for the wireless keyboard/mouse if you do have other things plugged in. A few cable ties and everything is kept neatly!

Software: We set up dedicated accounts for the cart for Google, Lync, and Skype, and posted a sign on the cart with login instructions about how to log into the laptop, and login credentials.

Hardware: You don’t NEED to buy a new laptop for this. If people in the office have laptops, they can just plug their own into the cart and go. 

The cart: Get something with a shelf that will hold a laptop. We use Safco Products “Impromptu 46-inch TV stand.”

Webcam: There are essentially two options here. The simple version, which provides decent audio but lower-resolution video, and the more complex camera with a remote that allows you to pan/zoom—which is more like the expensive Polycom systems. The simple version, like this Logitech webcam, costs about $100. The more expensive version, like Logitech’s conference camera, is about $200, but allows you to tilt/zoom pan the camera. In our experience, mounting the web camera on top of the TV allows you to get a wide-angle view of a fairly large room so no one is left out.

The TV: As long as your TV is compatible with the cart mounting system, the size of the TV or the type of the TV really doesn’t matter. 


A Call for Vendors of Online Donation Software

One of Idealware’s very first projects—way back in 2005—was a report on software that helps nonprofits accept online donations from their constituents. An awful lot has changed in the past eight years. That’s why Idealware and Wire Media, a firm that provides branding and marketing strategy to nonprofits and socially responsible businesses, have teamed up to update the report. We are inviting vendors of online donation software to participate in a survey that delves into the details of these products and services.
Survey results will used to create a comprehensive report that helps nonprofits select the best vendor for their needs. The report will include contact information for each organization, along with an analysis of the survey results, and recommendations for nonprofits to help select an appropriate vendor.

If your organization provides online donation software, please take the survey now: 
By completing the survey, vendors will help the entire nonprofit community, as well as gain exposure to the nonprofit market.

All responses will be confidential to Idealware and Wire Media, and we will not share your specific information with any other organization.

If you represent an online donation software organization, please invest 15-20 minutes of your time at: Please forward the link to anyone who might fit the bill.


The survey will close on July 15, 2013, at 11:55 pm PST, so make sure to take it soon!


It's the End of Tumblr As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

It’s a perfect coincidence that one week after we launched our latest report at Idealware, Exploring Cutting Edge Social Media, Yahoo! continued its trend of absorbing startups with a distaste for the letter e (Flickr being the most notable) by purchasing micro-blogging giant Tumblr. The deal was made final today. There is a bit of danger in calling yourself “cutting edge” in a field as dynamic as social media, but it doesn't affect the report dramatically, and more importantly, shouldn't really affect Tumblr, either.
Yahoo! seems to have heard the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and this time, might actually be taking it to heart. With CEO Marissa Mayer posting on her own Tumblr that she promises “not to screw it up,” it would seem that Yahoo! wants to do its best to make dedicated users happy by keeping Tumblr as familiar as possible. In fact, not only will it not be adding a Yahoo! logo to the site, but Tumblr CEO David Karp and his entire team are reportedly staying at the helm for the foreseeable future.
Still, there are a lot of good questions one might ask about the acquisition. Is Tumblr going to stop being cool to young people now that it’s owned by a huge corporation? Is Tumblr going to be littered with annoying ads? Do I have to find a new place to post stories about my cats?
The answer to all these questions is a firmly neutral, "probably not." If Yahoo! makes good on its claim to leave Tumblr as is, there is no reason its users would run away. While young people are always looking for the latest and greatest thing, Yahoo! bought Tumblr in part to attract 18-24 year olds to its services, so it wouldn’t make sense to do something that would alienate them.
As for advertisements, nothing truly new is imminent yet. Big brands have been on Tumblr for a while now. Like any social media outlet, it’s great advertising that only really costs staff time. With that, Yahoo! is looking to add “featured Tumblrs” of sorts--specifically, a dashboard on the homepage that advertises a few paid sponsors’ pages.
Maybe there will be an influx of brands to Tumblr in the near future, but it won’t likely be all that noticeable. Successful brand pages on Tumblr aren’t really full of advertisements. They’re full of content meant to engage with people, make them laugh, get them to ask questions, and remember the brand. For now, big, flashy banner ads and pop-ups don’t seem likely. If they really wanted be the social network apple of my eye, they could offer a “Tumbling for Good” program, similar to the one StumbleUpon employs, that features one outstanding nonprofit Tumblr each month, but I'm not holding my breath for that.
If you read our recent report, Exploring Cutting Edge Social Media, and you want to fully invest your resources into Tumblr, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but perhaps now is not the best time. While I don’t think Yahoo! buying Tumblr will make a huge impact on the site, the safest strategy is to wait and see. If you’re already on Tumblr and thinking of abandoning ship, again, I recommend you wait and see. While social media changes rapidly, it doesn’t happen overnight. Tumblr isn’t suddenly uncool, and Yahoo! isn’t suddenly the hippest place on the internet. Although, the way it is trying to listen to its audience makes me think that it might be one day.
The recent redesign to Flickr is excellent, and the fact that users get an entire terabyte of photo storage for free is pretty remarkable. With Tumblr, Yahoo! is asking potential sponsors to think about advertising that will work for the medium. If a business the size of Yahoo! is really willing to hear ideas about what to do with its latest billion dollar project, I’m impressed, and definitely excited to see what will come out of it.
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