Platforms grow up. We’ve seen social networks like Facebook and Twitter evolve from being communities for people to connect, share content and consume each other’s content to being media platforms supported by ad dollars and always working to strike a careful balance between meeting financial goals and keeping users happy enough to continue using the service.
Tumblr and Reddit are the latest platforms to start this evolution. Tumblr just launched Sponsored Web Posts that will place up to four ads per day in user content feeds. Reddit is now working with advertisers to integrate their products and services in original video programming. Both platforms have built massive user bases. Now, they’re ready to monetize them.
Still, what makes Reddit and Tumblr special is their organic, “do this our way” mentality that seems counter to what advertising brings to the table. Both argue that they’re working to stay true to their roots and not alienate users. That same argument has been made by Facebook. However, users notice more ads, and they complain about those ads more and more.
That begs the question: can these platforms successfully evolve from being social communities to media platforms?
From Community to Media Platform
BuzzFeed has successfully navigated the monetization waters, but one thing it has that Tumblr and Reddit don’t is the fact that it’s always been a media platform first and a social network second.
The challenge is that community and ads just don’t mix. Users don’t trust them, but platforms need them to have a sustainable model. Facebook, for example, continues to place more ads in front of users, and while it works to appease investors, its user satisfaction score is the lowest among ranked social networks.
Clearly, there are growing pains when a platform starts as a community and tries to turn into a media platform supported by ads.
Can They Do It?
Now, we wait. Can these platforms successfully pull off this evolution, or will users revolt and migrate their time and attention elsewhere? It’s happened before (MySpace), but maybe it won’t happen again. Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr and many other platforms are working to find the balance of media and community. Facebook is well underway in defining its long-term future. Tumblr and Reddit are just getting started.
Marketers should care. Platforms’ success or failure to evolve will determine how these platforms can be leveraged and what users are open to, willing to tolerate and not allow when it comes to balancing community and media.