Should You Be Using Tumblr?

Note: This article was previously published at 

Occasionally, clients will ask us if they should be on Tumblr. They hear from articles like this that Tumblr, a micro-blogging platform, is one of the fastest-growing social communities online. Naturally, they wonder if they should be involved. What we usually tell them: “It depends.”

As with any social network, whether or not the activity is worth your time depends on some key elements:

  • Is there an active and interested community that would be likely to share (“re-blog”) your posts?
  • Are you willing to keep your updates brief? Tumblr is a space known for brevity; “long reads” are not as popular.
  • How visual are you? Most Tumblr blogs (commonly known as “Tumblrs”) are image-based.
  • Do you have a curatorial instinct? Most Tumblrs stick to a theme, then collect and share images and ephemera related to that theme.
  • Are you willing to promote others? This last one is important. Tumblr is about sharing and commenting on items of interest from around the web. If you do nothing but talk about yourself or your product, you probably won’t gain traction as quickly. You need to be willing to follow other people and share their posts at least part of the time.

For most of our clients, Tumblr is not a natural first choice. In order to make an impact, you need to update regularly, but more importantly, you have to have that curatorial instinct.

Whereas long-form blogging is often journalistic or diaristic in tone–the presentation of ideas by a single site owner–Tumblr is about finding and exchanging content in a niche; not just your own content, but also the content of others. To keep a Tumblr lively and engaging, you need to be a regular consumer of web content, and you should also be generous about sharing that content with others.

For example, I (Kristen) for a time maintained a Tumblr about urban community gardening. In addition to sharing images from and progress updates about my own growing garden, I re-blogged (shared) images from other gardeners on Tumblr: photos of gardens, inspirational images, upcoming events, and so on.

So, should you Tumblr? If your answers to the following are “yes,” you may want to try.

  • Are there people currently publishing Tumblr content in your niche? (Using the same keywords on their posts that you would?)
  • Is your niche easy to define or explain in one short sentence? (E.g., “Urban community gardening and sustainability.”)
  • Do you have images of your own that you want to share? (And is it OK with you if they get shared widely on others’ websites?)
  • Are you willing to share other peoples’ images and writing?
  • Can you be brief?
  • Do you have about one hour per week free to find, follow, and read through other peoples’ Tumblr updates in search of something to re-blog?

Give some thought to these questions. Consider, also, the upsides to using Tumblr:

  • Tumblr is easy to update, even from an app on your phone.
  • If you’re publishing regularly in a niche that has a built-in audience, you will get followers and re-blogs, almost without trying.
  • You can send your Tumblr updates to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • The new pay-per-update system will allow you to promote important posts, such as product and book launches or local events, for just $1.
  • The commenting system is weak, which means there won’t be much, if anything, for you to moderate or respond to.

While the lack of a strong commenting system may be a negative for those looking to monetize their blogs or brag about their numbers, it can be a real bonus to people who are too busy to read and respond to feedback. If you’re already active on Facebook or Twitter and you send your Tumblr updates there, your comments and conversations will probably happen where you’re already spending time. This integration can be a huge plus.

We’re big proponents of our clients investing the bulk of their online time in a single activity. If you’re already very active on another social network or site, Tumblr can be a nice adjunct: easy to learn, easy to use, and easily integrated with other social media. Just remember that you get out of it what you put into it, which is true of all social sites. The more you use it, the better your results will be.

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