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Are social CRM strategists falling for Tumblr?

Tumblr's role in the typical organization's social CRM strategy is still up for debate.

Businesses have been posting, tweeting and now even pinning their hearts out all over the Web in hopes of getting those coveted customer clicks of approval. But is tumbling more pain than gain?  

Since its 2007 launch, Tumblr, the New York-based "micro-blogging platform," has created over 70 million blog URLs for its users, ranking it among the top twenty most trafficked sites in the U.S., according to Quantcast Corp., a company that provides website traffic and audience composition reports.

Tumblr is pared down to the basics for one-click publishing in a variety of forms: text, photo, quote, chat, link, audio and video. Similar to Pinterest's "re-pinning" process, content is spread easily and rapidly as users "re-blog" other peoples' posts.

Though this trademark simplicity is a huge draw for consumers -- Tumblr has even surpassed blog platform giant WordPress in URL count -- the ability for businesses to cash in on the burgeoning site is less cut and dry.

"The appeal of Tumblr for the consumer market [is] its simplicity," said Zach Hofer-Shall, a customer intelligence analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "But for businesses, that's not what they're looking for. Businesses need functionality, they need security, they need ownership, and all the things that might go with a [more] heavy-handed technology."

Hofer-Shall points to social sites that offer more conversation, from more text-intensive blog platforms to the rapid-fire back and forth of Twitter, as examples of functionality that might be more appealing for companies hoping to promote engaging social CRM strategies.

"Even though it's very social, it's very communicative, [Tumblr is] almost one-directional," Hofer-Shall said. "There's not the same kind of interchange that either Facebook or Twitter or some of the more traditional networks have, and as a result, I don't think brands really know what to do there." 

Some see a role for Tumblr

While companies can't expect Tumblr to provide the same type of back-and-forth with customers that other social staples promote, one industry consultant sees businesses making the most of the site's vibrant demographic.

"[Companies] are using Tumblr because it appeals to a young, hip audience," said Tim Peter, founder of Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a Long Valley, N.J.-based ecommerce and internet marketing consulting firm. "The average age of Tumblr users is 25 years old. These people are very visual. They live their life on the go, very quick, instant gratification-type folks." 

Companies who make use of Tumblr's dynamic visual capabilities are most apt to achieve success, said Peter, who noted the difference between Tumblr and other image-oriented sites like Pinterest or Instagram.

"Where Pinterest is sort of 'let me show you a static image,' Tumblr is more about 'let me tell you a quick little story even though that story might be in the form of an animated .gif, let me share this story with you that I heard.'" 

Because of this picture book-esq structure, Peter sees Tumblr as a domain for brand-conscious companies, such as Coca-Cola and the Standard Hotel, who can cobble together a strong and representative Tumblr persona.

"The Standard is well-known for being very sexy, edgy," he said. "They do a great job on Tumblr with images that reflect that brand very well. A lot of it is about visual, and it's about story-telling and it's definitely about branding."

Although it's possible to find business value in Tumblr, Hofer-Shall said, the brunt of the burden falls on the company itself, as Tumblr lacks many of the tools its counterparts offer. This, Hofer-Shall believes, is a conscious omission. 

Devoid of Facebook and Twitter's ads, brand verifications and data tracking tools, "it may be [that Tumblr execs] don't plan on being a billion-dollar company, they plan on being a billion-person network instead," Hofer-Shall said.   

Tumblr businesses speak out

Some companies are well-suited to this community-orientation, particularly small businesses that lean more heavily on social media sites for exposure.

The Museum of Useful Things, a Boston-based Web store that sells "intuitive, economical and aesthetically pleasing products from unexpected places," relies on Tumblr to humanize its presence.

"Since we 'live' on the web, [Tumblr] gives us a chance to put a face to the Museum," Quin Robertson, who handles the Museum's social media accounts, said in an email interview. "It gives us a chance to interact in a way such that the experience is similar to running a storefront. It is sort of like having a conversation with our customers."

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Although the Museum doesn't have a concrete customer experience management (CEM) strategy, Robertson emphasizes the necessity of being "human" even as she advertises new products on Tumblr, which she calls a "a great platform."

Diana Hardeman, founder of MilkMade Ice Cream, an ice cream of the month membership club that hand delivers its homemade pints throughout the greater New York City area, agreed about Tumblr's connective nature.

"It's a great way to communicate with customers, potential customers," Hardeman said.

MilkMade Ice Cream did, however, have to adapt its Tumblr presence to appeal to the image-oriented crowd. 

"We initially started using it as a blog where we wrote about our daily interactions and what not, and a little bit more personal but realized that most people just loved pictures of ice cream, so we went with that," she said. "For us, the visual aspects of it are definitely the benefit to it."

Does Tumblr have a future in social CRM strategy?

Tumblr's prospects in the social CRM world are still up for debate.

Peter believes Tumblr is "like the world's biggest underground thing. It kind of hasn't broken through to the mainstream yet, and yet it's enormous in terms of the amount of traffic it gets and in terms of the number of people who are using it regularly."

Peter said Tumblr's rising popularity is influencing other sites, like WordPress, which has implemented changes to allow blog following since Tumblr's launch. 

"I think it's going to grow a lot," Peter said. 

Hofer-Shall is not so sure. He sees many businesses using Tumblr simply "because they want to check off that box, too."

"I hope they find differentiated ways to use it, that they see the value in its simplicity," Hofer-Shall said. "But I suspect that I won't see that."

Is Tumblr right for your business's social CRM strategy?

What should companies consider first before diving right in to the Tumblr world?

First and foremost, know your customers and make sure they're actually on Tumblr, Peter said.  Delve a little deeper than demographics, and get to know what your customers are thinking about. 

Hardeman echoes this sentiment, advising companies to "go with the flow and follow the followers."

Don't expect to necessarily quantify Tumblr's fiscal impact on your business, either.  A common critique of Tumblr is its resistance to monetization. Though Peter asserts that well-built brands have "a tangible value," he admits that Tumblr is "not necessarily the best direct monetization channel."

"It's hard to quantify and qualify exactly the impact that Tumblr has had on our business," Robertson explained. "It has definitely worked as a platform to launch new products [or] gauge the interest in potential products. But the actual and specific way that it impacts our direct business is hard to pin down."   

One perk that Tumblr does have over competitors, though, falls under the category of analytics, according to Peter.

"They make it very easy to use Google analytics tools," a prime offering for measuring the effectiveness of a website, he said.

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