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Tumblr, Explained

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Terry Dohertyby Terry Doherty —
SEE ALSO: How to Get Started as an Author on Tumblr


  • A short-form blog platform where users post multimedia content, mostly images.
  • A website where you post content, follow other users, and show their posts on your dashboard (like  a newsfeed in Twitter or Facebook).
  • A visual network for sharing content in a slideshow like presentation format.

Verbs: tumble

Users: bloggers, Tumblrs

Launched: February 2007

The Benefits

TumblrOne of the things that has made Tumblr so popular is its suitability for mobile devices. Whether your small screen is Apple- or Android-driven, Tumblr is not just easy to use, but displays well on someone else’s device, too.

Tumblr blogs (also called “tumblogs”) are very easy to set up and are completely customizable. In fact, on Tumblr, you can customize everything – for free! From little things like font and background colors, to big things like Tumblr username and themes. I can’t say it better than this:

“There’s no stopping a network that makes it easy-as-pie to start a blog and share content, without necessarily having to add new content yourself. This also positions Tumblr as a prime network for brands with good, strong content to hit their stride and spread their love to peeps they previously might not have had intimate access to.” – Lucy Hitz, Simply Measured blog (June 2014)

Tumblr specializes in the visual. Other platforms support photoblogging, but Tumblr’s core style is more about the visual and less about text. You won’t find the kind of narrative text that you see on a “traditional” blog. Instead, you’re likely to see photos, music, videos, and images with text in them.

tumblr dash

As you can see from this image, you can add links, upload photos, videos, text, and even a quote – and you don’t have to think about it. I love that I can create original images / slides with a tool like canva.com, then upload that image as a blog post.

It is hard to classify Tumblr as purely a blog platform. It is also a way of curating content that interests you or, on a business level, reflects your brand. You can add (aka upload) content to your Tumblog from anywhere – your desktop, phone, email, you get the picture (pun intended).  As you can see in the dashboard, you can also chat with fellow Tumblrs.

The most intangible – but valuable – benefit of being a Tumblr is that content stays visible and is shared for much longer than Twitter, Facebook, or other platforms that rely on timelines. In one analysis of Tumblr, 84% of content is shared 120 days after it was originally posted.

If you haven’t checked it out already, be sure to read Rainy Schermerhorn’s article How to Get Started as an Author on Tumblr. Not only does she explain the platform, but she has some great examples of how authors use it.

The Limitations

As you might expect from such a mobile-centric tool, the user demographic skews young: 61% of Tumblrs are in the 13-19 age group. One of Rainy’s authors is Neil Gaiman! That doesn’t mean that Tumblr isn’t used by different age groups – there are more than 113 million new posts a day – but you will want to analyze the demographics in the context of your target audience.

If visual marketing isn’t central to your marketing strategy Tumblr is probably not the right platform for you. More than 50% of posts are photos. Which leads me to what could be the biggest issue with Tumblr: copyright.

Tumblr ReblogOne of the the things that makes Tumblr popular is the ability to “reblog” what you see. With a simple click I now have your stuff on my tumblog. Essentially I am copying someone else’s work, conceivably, without the permission of the copyright holder.

If I post a picture of my dog that I took, then anyone on Tumblr can reblog it. Why? Because under Tumblr’s terms of service, when I post something on Tumblr I give Tumblr and Tumblr subscribers the right to copy and distribute my posts.

BUT! Let’s say I reblog something that is already “copied” from somewhere else. I don’t have permission … and the person who originally uploaded it to Tumblr might not either. That means we are both infringing on the creator’s copyright.

With Tumblr, users are limited to 250 posts and no more than 5 minutes of video each day. For most of us that is pretty generous. However, it would be very easy for a publisher who is sharing or re-sharing your authors’ contents to use up that 250 very quickly.

The Goals

Tumblr for marketing is best if you are trying to directly reach a young audience. It could be a very effective way to engage teens and young adults with authors of books that target those audiences.

Because it is as much about community as sharing, you can go beyond uploading a bookcover to sharing information tied to the themes of the book. Is your book about dealing with a teen whose dad is in the military? Then maybe you’ll want posts that are links to resources for helping military families, or projects kids can do.

As a company that, likely, publishes books across multiple audiences and genres, Tumblr offers an opportunity to connect with your audience early in their reading careers … in a way that shows them you want to have a long-term, meaningful relationship.

Fun Facts
  • As of October 2014, there are more than 205.9 million blogs on Tumblr.
  • According to January 2014 data, Tumblr has more than 113 million NEW posts every day.
  • Yahoo!Inc. purchased Tumblr in May 2013 for $1.1 billion.

Reading Worth Your Time

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Terry DohertyAbout the Author: Terry Doherty is a voracious reader with a keen analytical eye and a lifelong passion for writing. Combine a passion for reading and kids, a natural affinity for analysis, and a love of solving puzzles, and you’ve got Terry. Before becoming a Mom in late 2001, she spent nearly 20 years as a research analyst, supervisor, mentor, trainer, and analytical program manager with the federal government. She has drawn on her acclaimed expertise as a national security analyst in her roles as senior editor and publishing director for an independent house; and mentor for both her consulting business & flourishing literacy nonprofit.

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