One Tweet, Text or Post Away from a PR Disaster? Hear from former Tumblr VP Marc LaFountain in His Own Words

Rhudy & Co. continues its three-part series featuring former Tumblr Vice President of Support Marc LaFountain. (See Part 1 and Part 2.) Learn how brands, businesses and nonprofits can best use Tumblr and how the social media platform keeps the wildly popular blogging site free.

Q. What corporate, brand-related blogs are really knocking it out of the park?

A. I think that Coca-Cola is doing some amazing stuff, and so are a lot of our fashion-oriented brands — Vogue is a really good current example.

You’ve got USA Today and The Economist, which is one of my favorites, and many others. Adidas has done another amazing blog. If you go through www.Tumblr.com/spotlight you can see a lot of the links to some of the blogs that we think are the best in a lot of different categories.

Marc LaFountainQ. Are you amazed that what you started a couple of years ago has become a who’s who of society, pop culture, brands and politics?

A. I think it was clear to me all the way back in early 2007 that this was a magical platform that people were going to gravitate to. I’m not going to say that I knew back then that it was going to get as big as it has and as prominent as it has, but I always recognized that it was special and innovative and that it was going places. I just felt very privileged and honored to be along for the ride — it’s been an amazing experience.

Q. Are you seeing your corporate clients using more journalists managing their social feeds?

A. Absolutely. I think you are seeing more and more social media managers and social media director types of positions at all kinds of corporations and businesses. Those people are creating content themselves, and they’re going around the organization and finding content and repurposing it into the social media space.

They’re interacting with customers in completely different ways.

For me, it’s part of the promise of what social media is all about. Customers can actually feel like they are having a personal, one-on-one connection with a brand and that brand follows them, likes them, replies to them, reblogs them. That just takes brand engagement to a whole new level.

Q. How do corporate brands represent themselves on Tumblr?

A. I think that everybody who is representing a company, brand or product knows that they are only one blog post away or one tweet away from a PR disaster — that is the situation where we live right now.

I think it makes companies and brands and products more accountable, and that is probably largely a good thing. It can also mean that there can be one person out there that has an emotional reaction to something or an unreasonable reaction to something that can go very viral, very fast.

I think that it really all boils down to authenticity.

I think that if the brand or the company tries to reach out to that person and sincerely listens to their concern or issue and tries to address it in a meaningful way, it shows their larger community they are trying to listen to and address the problem. Most of the community will recognize that and applaud them.

Sample Tumblr dashboard courtesy of Tumblr.

Q. Anything else you’d like share?

A. I think people should realize how incredibly customizable Tumblr is. You can, completely for free, control the HTML and CSS and JavaScript of your blog. You can have your Web designers design a Tumblr blog theme that looks like it’s just another page on your website.

We also allow people to use custom domain names for free. So if you own mydomain.com already and you have a website at mydomain.com you can have a Tumblr blog that is blog.mydomain.com.

Q. So ultimately everything is free for the end user. Where does Tumblr make its money?

The base services of Tumblr are free, but we let people buy premium blog themes. You can spend $9-$49 to buy a theme. Tumblr gets part of that money but the majority goes to a theme designer.

We allow people to do promoted posts, which are designated by an arrow, and it makes the post a little bigger on the dashboard so that people that are following you can see that you really want to call attention to this post. You can pin a post so that anyone that is following you will see your post first at the top of the dashboard. We offer sponsored posts, which are designated by a dollar sign icon.

Q. Are your sponsored posts like banner ads?

A. What I like about sponsored posts is that they are not traditional banner display ads that you see on most of the Web. A brand, or company, or product will first have to create a Tumblr blog. It needs to have a custom theme; they need to be posting original unique wonderful content; they need to be interacting with the community. Then, once they are doing that, they can choose to make one of the specific posts on their blog a sponsored post.

This adds value for everyone. Because if you are going to click on that sponsored post, it’s because you are interested in that content and then you may want to follow that blog. There are a lot of good benefits to everyone in this equation and that is so much better than traditional display advertising.

Jonathan Rhudy is doing better keeping his Tumblr feed updated and is amazed by its explosive growth.