Branding Lessons from Tumblr’s Terms of Service

A few days ago, Tumblr updated its Terms of Service, Privacy Policy, and Community Guidelines. The staff announced the changes in a blog post and then linked to GitHub where users could read the edits themselves.

We’ve seen Facebook update its Privacy Policy to much controversy and lawsuits, and we’ve seen Instagram backpedal and remove certain clauses, but this is one of the few instances when updated legal documents were well received.

Here is everything they did right with the launch and distribution of its new policies.

Communicate with Your Audience in a Way They Understand

But don’t talk down to them.

Tumblr caters to a younger demographic. In fact, anyone older than 21 is considered a “tumblr senior citizen.” If the average Internet user doesn’t have the patience to read the Terms of Service, what makes you think some high school punk will?

Tumblr wanted to make sure users actually stuck around to read through the boring stuff, which is why they used colloquial language and made jokes along the way. Readers were rewarded for continuing to read.

Tumblr1We’ve seen brands try this before with limited success. The problem is that the copywriter’s “conversational” tone is received as “condescending” by the audience. This is commonly seen in ads for complex events like paying taxes, buying cars, or financing homes, but can be found in easier tasks like buying a toothbrush or eating yogurt.

Tumblr succeeded because it included blurbs in each section that summarized the legal jargon. The concepts were complex, but the staff made them easier to understand.

Tumblr2

Small Opportunities Can Turn Into Big Wins

Updating Terms of Service hardly screams “PR goldmine,” to marketers. Usually the legal department or the FTC has mandated changes, and most sites will push out a blog or press release as a courtesy announcement.

Tumblr grabbed the bull by the horns and turned something boring into a marketing opportunity. Their new Privacy Policy and Community Standards are getting news coverage across tech, marketing and general news channels, while users are making the Terms of Service go viral on other social networks.

Users are uploading screenshots of the privacy policy onto Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Tumblr is seeing a boost of organic, word of mouth advertising right on their competition’s pages.

Keep an eye out for the small opportunities in your day-to-day tasks. Something that’s mundane could be recreated into a marketing home-run.

You Can’t Afford to Go Off-Brand

Tumblr has an incredibly consistent brand. Their blog posts are casual updates that anyone can understand, their staff regularly interacts with users and most changes are made with the reaction of the user in mind.

When Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo, everyone thought it would go off-brand and start to look like its parent company. That hasn’t happened yet.

When Tumblr started introducing ads and sponsored posts into its feed, users feared the site would start to look like Facebook or even MySpace. So far, we’re in the clear.

Tumblr3Branding is more than using the same fonts and colors or creating ads that match your mission statement. You need to eat, sleep, and breathe your brand. Every aspect, from which companies buy ads to the copy of your privacy policy, needs to work with the rest of your branding.

Build Awesomeness and Attention Will Follow

Everyone tries to go viral, and if they miss they try to be topical, but the secret sauce that propels both of these goals is quality.

Tumblr put in the extra effort to create awesome guidelines in order to please its user-base. The viral coverage and promotions that follow are mostly side effects. This wasn’t a forced attempt to go viral or a publicity stunt, it was good content presented as a gift to users.

Tumblr4Create something awesome, and the praise and publicity will follow. It’s not worth the effort to constantly try and chase the media.

On the whole, Internet users hate Terms of Service. It’s the annoying box that they check whenever they sign up for something. Tumblr proved to be a shining case study of marketing, branding, and audience understanding with its updated policies. Learn from them.

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