You may not have heard of Imgur or even know how to say it. (For your information, it's pronounced image-er.) But, with more than 150 million monthly active users who view more than 60 billion images on its platform each month, the photo uploading service says its platform and Imgurian community is exactly the audience that brands want.
Imgur later this summer plans to roll out Promoted Posts, its take on native advertising or brand-created content. Working hand in hand with marketers, it will impart its knowledge on viral images and memes to help companies create customized items for its platform.
"I don't think display advertising is the future of advertising," Imgur CEO Alan Schaaf said.
Schaaf created Imgur in 2009 to solve a simple yet annoying problem for users of social news website Reddit who wanted to upload images quickly. Over the years, Imgur's users started turning it into an online community. People began writing comments below each photo and replying using each others' usernames, prompting the picture-based service to add direct messaging and other interactive features. Content began branching out from humorous images and online jokes to educational content showing how a child's voice could break a glass to a support group, including backing a fellow Imgurian whose daughter was undergoing surgery.
"That's when things started to change for us a lot," Schaaf said. "There's definitely a more to us than memes and cats. People are sharing their visual stories on the platform in a really authentic way."
In April 2014, Andreessen Horowitz gave Imgur $40 million during its first round of funding, which valued the company at about $200 million according to the Los Angeles Times.
However, the company has always been supported by advertising, with brands attracted to its dedicated 85 percent male millennial user base. While Facebook, Instagram or Twitter may have more users, 82 percent of Imgurians spend upward of three hours weekly on Imgur, and 17 percent spend more than 10 hours a week on the platform. In December 2014, it reported that users spend an average of 10 minutes per session on its website.
But, Schaff said that while it used to rely on digital display ads, it now is searching for a way to create native advertising opportunities. Not only does this help brand messages resonate more, he said it creates a better user experience. Instead of a user having to glance past a banner ad on a page, branded posts will be woven in throughout the site's content, with appearance frequency changing based on user activity and tastes. During its tests, its promoted posts were viewed an average of 25 seconds, just shy of the TV ad viewing standard of 30 seconds.
"This is definitely the future of monetization at Imgur," Schaaf said.