Another: “Alright, I think we can all agree that if we have to have ads on the FP [front page] now… this is the right way to do it. Well done, Ser eBay.”
A thumbs up from the Imgur community isn’t a given.
“They have a low tolerance for anything that’s intrusive or interruptive,” Patrizi said.
For a social media audience used to a certain routine, change can be difficult – and it can lead to rebellion. Digg’s redesign doomed it to irrelevance. More recently, Reddit’s decision to shut down some of its seedier areas – an attempt to clean up before courting advertisers – was met with tremendous backlash.
Despite its ties to Reddit, Imgur is distancing itself, claiming to focus on entertainment while Reddit focuses on discussion. But there’s tremendous overlap in its audiences – consequently they face similar challenges.
For instance, Imgur hasn’t traditionally been an advertising destination because many companies worry about the brand safety of the user-generated content that sustains the site.
These considerations form the crux of Imgur’s 2015 focus: Getting the content right for sponsored posts.
Part of the issue is a lack of familiarity. Brands don’t have constant, organic presences on Imgur the way they might on Pinterest or Instagram. So it’s not as if they have a lot of followers who will automatically see branded content – which made it hard to justify content creation on Imgur.
But that distribution quirk also works in Imgur’s favor. Advertisers have to pay to play, since there’s no other way (like influencer marketing) to reach Imgurians.
Imgur charges advertisers on a CPM basis, with guaranteed distribution, though it will experiment with other models. Across all sponsored posts, interaction time averages 25 seconds. Click-through rates can approach 1%, Patrizi said, exceeding engagement with standard banner ads.
Building the ad tech to power distribution of sponsored posts didn’t require too much legwork, he said. It uses Adzerk, the same tech Reddit uses, as its ad server. Since the Imgur audience is a fairly homogenous one, it doesn’t plan to add targeting.
But it will eventually branch out to mobile web and mobile app, which accounts for half of Imgur’s traffic. The sponsored posts target only desktop viewers at this time.
Next year, Imgur plans to take the training wheels off its sponsored posts if the content continues to hit with its users, and expand using some of the $40 million it raised last April from Andreessen Horowitz “to start exploring this native advertising approach,” Patrizi said.
Imgur plans to hire more salespeople to pursue advertisers and open offices in major markets like New York City. This year, it’s limiting itself to a dozen advertisers and sticking to its home base in San Francisco. It employs just two people in sales, with other ad ops employees dedicated to Imgur’s programmatic display ad business.
Imgur hopes to capitalize on advertisers’ struggles with millennial males who are resistant to display advertising.
“This audience is one of the hardest to reach, and they show up sporadically,” Patrizi said. “Imgur gives them the target they can’t find anywhere else, and marketers can find them at scale.”