Never Heard of Imgur? Your Elusive Millennial Male Consumer Has

How Brands Should Behave on Image-Sharing Site Imgur

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By now, most of us have reached the saturation point of industry articles describing which social-media platforms are in and out of vogue. (You're also equally, if not more, weary of seeing the word "millennial" in titles -- my apologies.) I won't preach to the choir by recounting the heavy-hitting platforms, or explaining why this means your brand's digital voice can no longer be one-size-fits all. Instead, I'd like to confess to being one of the (majority of?) people who'd stuck her nose up at the image-hosting site Imgur. By demystifying the platform and its denizens, I aim to persuade you to share my change of heart, and rediscover the site as an underutilized fount of capital and insight for your brand.

Created by a college kid in 2009, and launched on Reddit with zero corporate fanfare or funding, Imgur was initially dismissed as an uncouth goulash of user-generated memes and pictures -- too feral and insular to be receptive to sponsored content. Indeed, several early paid placements stumbled off the block. Most notoriously, Warner Brothers Records' ill-conceived attempt to promote its music by posing as a regular fan, and boosting its posts to the front page. Outraged "Imgurians" immediately outed this deceptive tactic, and torpedoed the account with tens of thousands of "downvotes" overnight.

Imgur's turnaround

Fortunately, Imgur's nimble leadership quickly course-corrected in response to early branded misfires, and the site is now at the vanguard of designing sponsored native content that is not only honest and inoffensive, but even valued by discerning users.

I wouldn't have believed that such a turnaround was possible, until I received an impassioned pitch from one of our art directors, who happens to be in that sweet spot on the Venn diagram of being an Imgurian, a marketer and a millennial male. An avid user of the site from its inception, he observed this evolution from the inside, and convinced me that -- when executed correctly -- there is massive potential for brands to enhance user experience by offering content that is authentically shareable and appreciated.

He observed that the site's users are coming to accept the presence of branded content, and their numbers are booming. No longer an obscure offshoot of Reddit, Imgur has undergone a rapid evolution into a bustling social network. Today, the site boasts more than 150 million active users, and a whopping 900 billion images were viewed there last year alone.

Reaching the elusive male millennial

The platform holds particular value for clients who are reaching out to millennial men. Seventy percent of Imgurians identify as male, and are four times more likely than the average web user to be in the millennial age bracket of 18 to 34. Skeptical of marketing and savvy to ad-blocking technology, this demographic, wielding $200 billion of direct buying power, has been a notoriously elusive target for marketers. Their reticence makes Imgur's latest stats all the more extraordinary: an average engagement time of 25 seconds per sponsored post, and a click-through rate approaching 1% -- exceeding that of standard banner ads.

Unlike some platforms such as Pinterest, which aren't conducive to back-and-forth dialogues, Imgur users are highly interactive, with the vast majority (over 80%) spending four hours per week on the site. They are vigilant and protective of the site's integrity, so, as Warner Brothers learned the hard way, any ham-handed corporate plugging will be zealously condemned.

Here are some other ways brands should behave on Imgur to meet the needs of the community:

1. Many of Imgur's users are self-proclaimed geeks. Develop content and tone that respects and fits seamlessly with this intelligent and inquisitive community.

2. Users have a low tolerance for anything interruptive. That's why brands have to avoid overt sales messages. For example, Ebay earned organic engagement and acceptance with a debut campaign that highlighted quirky and vintage products, offering fun cultural factoids and nostalgia, rather than promotions and explication.

3. If you need help, ask. Imgur's team wants to help other companies connect with their coveted users. Their in-house creative team readily coordinates with brands, and the site's managers are known to personally reply to informal queries and requests.

Imgur's sleeper success is indicative of our industry's future -- one in which the goal of an ad is not merely to circumnavigate ad blockers, but use thoughtful native ads to inspire authentic interaction and enduring loyalty. Even the most skeptical millennial male can warm to marketing messages that eschew aggressive sales tactics in favor of engaging conversation-starters.

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