On 4/20 of this year, Tumblr announced a new feature: Tumblr Blaze, the platform’s version of paying to quick-promote a single post. Initial announcements about Blaze exhibited a magisterial understanding of Tumblr’s core power audience by actively encouraging using the tool for frivolous amusement—even outright shitposting—rather than couching the pitch in the anodyne terms of paid engagement and ROI blah blah blah.
Certain recent developments on Twitter, a competing social microblogging service much in the news lately, compelled me to start lurking on Tumblr again. I was intrigued by Blaze, though not so much by the product itself which is after all not revolutionary. Rather I liked how it was positioned as something fun you could do on Tumblr for a little bit of money. Why not enjoy a little social media dopamine hit, as a treat?
So I posted a question on Tumblr, asking what people thought about Blaze, and then I Blazed that post for $25, which in theory gets you an estimated 7,000 impressions over 24 hours. The post was Blazed from November 28-29, and actually did better than estimated, raking in 10,172 paid impressions (plus an additional 40 “earned” impressions, lol) and 104 engagements of various kinds. That’s a $2.45 CPM on the impressions, which seems high, but this is after all Premium Sponsored Content.
More interesting were the responses I had asked for. In general, Tumblr users were positive about Blaze, applauding its frivolous and chaotic nature, with the occasional caveat.
There were certainly people opposed to Blaze on the principle of not wanting to see promoted content of any kind, and also others who objected on the grounds that Blaze is susceptible to the same problems Tumblr has with moderation versus nazis, terfs, religious evangelism, porn, and other objectionable stuff.
But in the spirit in which Blaze is apparently intended, I decided to test the most common response: that Blaze is best for posting your cat. So I posted a video of my cat Oliver unrolling toilet paper, and Blazed it for $25. Classic!
The best kind of test in online engagement is an A/B test of course. I had already posted this video to my Twitter account, so I Boosted it on Twitter as well, also for $25 over one day. Choosing to spend on “engagement,” Twitter estimated the paid reach would be 520 to 6,800 (you pay for engagement at an arbitraged rate, not impressions as with Blaze). I considered an ambitious A/B/C test by adding Facebook into the mix, but you can only promote posts off a formal Page in Facebook world, and I wasn’t going to bother with that for the purposes of this bit.
The Twitter Boost ended moments after it began, having exhausted its tiny budget in an ejaculatory frenzy of 3,865 paid impressions and 628 engagements. Twitter defines a unit of engagement more generously than Tumblr, including profile views as well as likes (178), retweets (11), and replies (6), which seems to pad their numbers a bit. Tumblr engagements include likes, reblogs, replies, and shares, but that isn’t particularly relevant economically since you’re paying for impressions with Blaze.
Now I’m not sure why the Twitter Boost wasn’t paced out more—one could speculate that Twitter’s overall ad inventory is perhaps rather thin at the moment, with supply outpacing demand. The only meta-engagement was one reply asking “why is this promoted lol.” Good question!
The Tumblr Blazed cat video received 11,804 paid impressions with an additional 1,256 earned over November 29-30. Among its 343 engagements (284 paid, 59 earned) were only a few replies, but it was in the hundred or so reblogs that users expressed their pleasure that this specific content had been Blazed into their dashboard.
So Tumblr Blaze got about 3x the reach and quite a bit more explicit positive engagement than Twitter Boost. People actually thanking you for paying to post in their feed? Oh yeah. That’s the rush I’m looking for.
Now clearly Blaze is not only frivolous to use, it’s likely frivolous from a revenue standpoint for Tumblr versus actual real spending from real advertisers. But in addition to presenting it honestly as such, there’s clearly been thought to how Blaze fits in with their other real products. For example, you can pay a subscription to opt out of all advertising on Tumblr, but having done so, you can opt in to make an exception for Blazed posts. Contrast that user-centric view with the somewhat less considered approach on other social microblogging platforms, especially lately.
Will I spend money on promoted posts on Tumblr or anywhere else? Well, I might Blaze a post about this newsletter, adding another intolerable layer of meta-narrative, but beyond that? Probably not, except on impulse perhaps. But that’s infinitely more probable than me spending money to Boost something on Twitter, for many many reasons, chief among them is Boosting on Twitter feels like throwing money away on something boring and maybe even unpleasant, like getting your oil changed or paying a parking ticket. Blazing on Tumblr is materially pointless, but at least Tumblr understands it’s all about lighting up those pleasure centers, just for a little while.
Cane here from tumblr too, saw the cat video and it was delightful. It is worth pointing out that Tumblr also has a tendency to reblog things for...years if not more than a decade. If we have content we like (videos of cats being criminals, for instance) we will keep reblogging it until the heat death of the universe. We also really, really enjoy meta stuff. So while your Blazed run may be over, the life of these posts probably isnt.
I for one know i went from the last post to the oliver video specifically to watch and reblog it. It was never served to me.
(Another neat feature of Blazed is that it is entirely untargeted. You cannot for any amount of money choose who sees it. Its a roulette of inflicting your stuff on others, which is just so staggeringly different from other sites. It makes it have a very...pvp feel.)
I came here from your blazed follow up post and poked around your site to read more since I liked your investigation of this topic I care about, but then Tumblr mobile crashed and when I reloaded it I wasn't served your blaze again to reblog it lmao