At the start of the social revolution, things were so simple. There was Facebook, there was Twitter and, well, that was about it. If a brand was on at least one of those platforms they were ‘social’ and ready to let those precious likes and retweets flood in. Then things changed. Google created its own platform, Google+, and made its use a key part of its Search architecture. MySpace made a surprise attempt to bring sexy (or at least mediocre social networking) back under the stewardship of Justin Timberlake. Pinterest landed on the scene in a burst of excitement and frantic ‘pinning’. And Instagram was bought by Facebook and became a force to be reckoned with – or, rather, share what you had for lunch on.
One of the most intriguing platforms to emerge out of the social boom is Tumblr. The site has quickly become one of the most popular social networks on the net, but little is known about it and many brands stay away out of ignorance - only 31 of the top 100 global brands have an account (all of them are on Facebook and Twitter). Looking at the stats, it’s hard to understand why.
In a survey from GlobalWebIndex in December 2013, 34 million people said they contribute to or use Tumblr on a monthly basis.
As of July 2014, the site had generated 83.1 billion posts from 196.8 million blogs.
Engagement is high. Bounce rate is 45.20% and users visit 6.36 pages per visit, spending around six minutes and thirty seconds on the site on average.
That’s great, but who am I talking to?
Like its close cousin Reddit, which I covered in depth in the piece Amplifying Content Through Reddit, Tumblr is most popular in the US, with 32.6% of visits coming from the States. Only 4.4% of visits come from the UK and that goes some distance to explaining why brands stay away. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, its global reach is somewhat stunted, so if you’re aiming at a primarily non-US demographic, you might not think it particularly frugal to invest resource in a platform that only a fraction of your target audience is going to see.
There’s little arguing with that, but just because you can’t speak directly to your target audience doesn’t mean you can’t create a healthy relationship with them indirectly by building your brand reputation. Tumblr is the (self-proclaimed) Home of the Creators. It’s one of the most original and creative social networks on the internet, with users publishing memes, GIFs, images and videos through it, many of which accrue a huge number of notes (likes or reblogs) and subsequently go viral. If you’ve seen a GIF on Buzzfeed, the chances are it probably started its life deep in the depths of Tumblr.
Ok, tell me how…
There’s no magic formula for hitting the jackpot on Tumblr. This is the new Wild West, where rules (and logic) simply don’t apply. A GIF from a TV show can gain over 150,000 notes, a picture of a gold watch can gain over 260,000 notes, and a picture of a cat can inspire over 190,000 notes. Even something as bland as a picture of some flowers can attract over 85,000 notes. These are all visual posts, but on a site like Tumblr, where so much of the fundamental design of the site is image-led, the fact that visuals do better than text goes without saying. There’s very little else to connect these posts, or other popular posts across the site, so what guiding principle can be used to instruct a Tumblr strategy?
The key to all social networks is to deliver something new or unexpected, but that’s doubly true of Tumblr. That Kim Kardashin GIF may not be unique in itself, but it can be applied cleverly by other users – added to a post as a punchline, to emphasise an emotion, or to make a point. The same can be said for this wildly popular GIF of an unexpected skateboard stunt. This is more impressive in its own right than the Kardashian GIF, and that leads to some of its success, but the re-use and re-application of that GIF in new and unexpected ways also contributed to its near 400,000 notes. This, for want of a better term, is ‘creative recycling’ and is it’s the lifeblood of Tumblr.
If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry, because your show of creativity doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. If the success of the gold watch and flowers pictures show anything, it’s that something so small as a well-taken photo of an attractive item can go viral. Look, for example, at this picture of a totally normal box of doughnuts, which has gained over 170,000 notes. There’s nothing remarkable about the doughnuts, but the quality of the image, the way the colours of the doughnuts seem to pop off the screen, strikes a chord with people. This is ‘food porn’ at its best, and it’s eaten up (sorry…) across the internet as a whole and Tumblr specifically.
How does this work in practice?
Like any social network, success on Tumblr is not immediate. You have to work at it; indeed, as paid advertising is limited in comparison with the options available on Facebook and Twitter, you might need to work harder on Tumblr than you would elsewhere. There are no easy wins here; you need to consider a long-term strategy that puts imagery and creativity at the forefront, and makes use of the area that Tumblr excels at: tagging.
All blogs, whether Wordpress or Blogger, make use of tags. They help the blog owner order their posts and make those posts easier to sort through for the reader. On Tumblr, however, they’re not just an effective means to organise posts, but a vital way to amplify them. Tumblr tags are no different to hashtags on Twitter, allowing users to group posts together under a single topic. Whereas hashtags tend to be reactive and fleeting, appearing and disappearing with equal haste, Tumblr tags offer a service something more akin to a search engine.
Search for a word on Tumblr, and you’ll be inundated with a seemingly endless list of results, no different than if you’d put the same search into Google. Your search can be very broad or very specific, either way it’s likely to bring up a vast number of posts and many different kinds of posts: text posts, images, videos, GIFs. Anything and everything. Tumblr isn’t just a blog and it’s not just a social network, it’s a tremendously powerful content discovery network where the most creative and unique content (rather than the most well-backed – Facebook – or most retweeted – Twitter) succeeds.
Let’s look at a couple of examples. Say you want to look at some pictures of animals. Tumblr has a tag for that. Let’s say you’re looking for something really specific and want to see posts about dogs. Well, it’s got a busy tag for that too. How about a certain breed? Let’s say you particularly like Chihuahuas. Well, here’s the Chihuahua tag. Not a fan of Chis? How about Dachshunds? Or Labradors? Or Pugs? Pretty much every breed is covered and covered in depth. You can (and probably will) get lost in all the content you find.
So, how about something more saleable: food. Let’s start with a very broad search: ‘food’. Simple, loads and loads and loads of posts about food. How about we go more specific. I’m looking for something nice to make for my lunch and want inspiration. So, I search for ‘lunch food’ and get another truck-full of posts. Great, but I want something that’s easy to make; I want a sandwich. What’s Tumblr got for me? Plenty. Oh, but I’m vegan, so that’s a bit too specific, right? Wrong. In fact, there’s a whole blog dedicated to Vegan Sandwiches. Wow, that’s cool, but I’ve suddenly decided I’m not vegan at all and have a terrible craving for bacon. How much does Tumblr have? Lots and lots, my friend.
The depth of content is limitless, as is the opportunity for brands, you’ve just got to do some research, consider your strengths and plan ahead.
That’s what I did when I set up my Tumblr blog, From Director Steven Spielberg, in November 2011. The site is a sort of ‘online archive’ about Spielberg and his films, and there’s a lot of content on there – well over 2,000 posts. As Spielberg has made nearly 30 films, and as the content covers everything from reviews and interviews to behind the scenes pictures and posters, there had to be a simple way for the user to sift through this content and easily find what they wanted. Moreover, as I have no budget behind the site and am entirely reliant on generating buzz organically, I needed a platform where the social element was already baked in.
I’ve used Wordpress and Blogger on previous blogs, and neither fit these requirements. After some research into Tumblr, it seemed an obvious choice. Easy to use, highly social, incredible tagging system – a no-brainer really, so I set up and slowly began working out what found success and what didn’t. As expected, images and videos (posters and behind the scenes images from around the web) did very well, so it became clear that my initial plan of focusing mostly on written content wouldn’t work. I had to find a happy balance between the two instead, so I began curating content as well as writing original pieces.
The next learning was about the subject of the content. Which era of Spielberg’s career was most popular? Which film struck the right notes with Tumblr’s demographic? I assumed the early classics would find most favour: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and the Indiana Jones series. That turned out to be true. Those are perennially popular films, and they accrued plenty of notes whenever I posted about them. However, they weren’t the most popular film.
Instead, it was Jurassic Park that was the real winner. What I’d neglected to understand is the slightly younger demographic on Tumblr. Jurassic Park was released in 1993 and so is 21 years old now. The core demographic of Tumblr is late teens and early 20s, so it makes sense that the kids who grew up watching tramping T-Rexes and rampaging Raptors are sharing and engaging in posts that revolve around the film. I therefore increased my capacity of Jurassic Park posts.
Most importantly, I learned how to get the most out of tags. When searching for Indiana Jones posts, do people search ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Indy’, or the specific name of the film they’re looking for? If they’re searching for the specific name, do they search for ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ or simply ‘Last Crusade’? Experimenting with tags and analysing the results allowed me to appeal to more people and subsequently gain more shares and engagements. It’s not the most exciting of tasks, but it really generates results.
Without paid media, From Director Steven Spielberg has gained over 1,000 followers, attracted 27,000 hits this year (20,000 of which are unique), and been featured on the Huffington Post and Yahoo, as well as key film blogs /Film and The AV Club amongst others. Were the site not set up on Tumblr, I doubt it would have achieved such success.
Best in Class
For the release of its 2014 film Maleficent, Disney set up a Tumblr blog called Evil is the New Black. The blog is sleek and modern and is heavily reliant on videos and images. In terms of content, Disney provided clips from the film, but was not reliant on it. Instead, it leveraged the iconic status of its star, Angelina Jolie, to appeal to its core demographic (young teenage girls) by adding fashion content. This allowed Maleficent to be more than just a film; it was a statement. Watching it meant you were embracing all the cool things the blog covered.
Coke has embraced Tumblr in a big way, positioning its blog as ‘where happiness lives online’. In line with the Maleficent blog, Coke's site is dominated by visuals, with GIFs and pictures being prominent. Its posts are split into distinct categories: #LOL (funny images), #MOVE (GIFs), #QUOTE (inspirational quotes), and #DIY (user-generated content). The blog emphasises creative and reactive content, and while the vast majority of posts include a Coke bottle, the blog still feels lightly branded. That’s because rather than repeatedly forcing the product, Coke instead makes it secondary to the core brand value of happiness.
American food brand Whole Foods Market took a slightly different tack with Tumblr, creating not just a blog, but an entire online magazine. Dark Rye emphasises its core values of coolness and creativity by almost entirely stripping itself of branding, and focusing instead on “the pioneers of unconventional ideas” in an attempt to “explore the outer edges of the creative life”. The blog is very visual, but features an above-average level of written content, helping emphasise its magazine feel. By keeping branding to a minimum and associating itself with pioneers, Whole Foods Market has been able to position itself comfortably in the creative community and achieve its goal of creating “a mixtape of their secrets”.
Embrace the community. Tumblr content isn’t just about putting your posts out there and expecting them to be well-received. It’s about being an active part in the wider community. Your posts should take up around 80-90% of your output, but you should also reblog. It makes you look generous, respectful and, most importantly, a part of the group.
Be creative. There’s so much content on Tumblr that it’s easy to repeat things. Find your niche and work out a creative way into it. Give people something new to share, and keep an eye out for the creativity of others to position yourself not only as someone creative, but as a curator of creativity.
Be visual. Written content is vital to any successful digital strategy, but on Tumblr, it’s pictorial content that makes the biggest impression. Use GIFS, photos, and videos to show off your products and, again, don’t be afraid to get creative with it.
Use tags effectively. Trial and error is key here. Search through popular tags and try using them in your own posts. If they don’t work, drop them and try something else. Give careful consideration to tags, and you could find yourself striking upon a busy tag that fits your brand perfectly, and which can amplify your content more effectively than paid media can.
Be patient. Tumblr blogs can be built in a day, but successful ones can’t be. It takes time to create a good Tumblr presence, and it can be a very slow and frustrating process. Don’t rush in. Don’t push things too hard. Take your time to devise a smart, long-term strategy and bit by bit, bloggers will find you, engage with you, and ultimately buy your product.
Dancey celebration time? Yeah. Dancey celebration time!
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