Twitter got its ad business off the ground by selling marketers on the premise that its service complements TV, and now it appears that Tumblr is treading a similar path.
The Yahoo-owned blogging platform has commissioned a study by a U.K.-based social-data-intelligence company called Pulsar that says the volume of social-TV activity on Tumblr is actually much greater than on Twitter. That is, when looking at it through an 11-day window that spans from five days before the show airs to five days after.
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 had dwindled to 3% of the peak on-air level 12 hours later. 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.
Twitter still eclipsed Tumblr in terms of unique authors -- 1.5 million compared to 1.4 million -- but not by much.
The dynamics of a platform like Tumblr, overrun with visual memes and animated GIFs, help account for why so much content creation happens after a show has aired.
"[People aren't] coming just to check in," said Lee Brown, Tumblr's global head of brand partnerships. "They're coming to dive deeper into the characters, create their own storylines, put text over static images -- to create content with a much longer shelf life."
Some of the TV-related Tumblr content posted by hard-core fans has real staying power, according to Shankar Gupta, VP-strategy for 360i, while tweets are by their nature fleeting with value rooted in being "real time." GIFs that depict a few seconds of a show can serve to effectively summarize that episode, for example.
"They serve to provide an area of common experience that people rally around," he said.
For a marketer who wants to tap into the social-TV conversation on Tumblr, there are few obvious ways. Tumblr advertisers can only target via parameters of gender and location, so they can't currently show ads to users who have posted content about specific shows, like they could on Twitter.
However, the Yahoo-owned company is demonstrating its intent to work with TV networks to drive revenue. In March, it announced an exclusive partnership with Viacom to deliver "co-branded" content campaigns on Tumblr during this year's upfront season. In the first instance of an activation of that pact, Taco Bell sponsored Tumblr content produced for the "MTV Movie Awards" earlier this month.
The potential financial impact of tie-ups with networks is unclear. Tumblr launched ads in 2012, prior to being acquired, but Yahoo hasn't broken out its revenue. It only launched more visually impactful in-stream ads a year ago.
Also unclear is the extent of user activity on the network. Tumblr doesn't report the "monthly active user" metric that both Facebook and Twitter use. The company reports that there are more than 180 million Tumblr blogs and more than 350 million monthly unique visitors. The latter includes people who are visiting Tumblr pages but don't have an account on the service and thus aren't served ads.
If Tumblr wants to create a business around its social-TV activity, it may have a long road to hoe. Twitter has partnerships with Nielsen and Kantar to provide social TV ratings for example; Tumblr doesn't currently work with either of them, according to Mr. Brown.
"For me, Tumblr sits in this place of really interesting emerging platforms for brands, like Snapchat, which no one's really figured out a way to use regularly," said Rich Guest, president of Tribal Worldwide's U.S. operations. He noted that his agency had observed that Tumblr is a place for passionate TV fans to gather.
"It's still not a regular part of the brand-marketing toolbox," he said.