Tumblr: The Easiest Way to Go Viral

Ma’ayan Plaut is the social media coordinator at Oberlin College. She maintains Oberlin’s web presences in many places and encourages writing on the Oberlin blogs and for the Oberlin Stories Project.

Tumblr is a pretty hard topic to discuss, because while it is a very simple platform in concept, it has more uses than I’d like to admit to. In short, it’s microblogging on a slightly more advanced and segmented level than Twitter, with few limits to what you can do.

I first ran across Tumblr last year, but didn’t begin to explore it until I realized my new job included a task that involved “updating and maintaining Oberlin’s Tumblr.” (Not to be confused with the Oberlin blogs.)

It took me about five seconds to create my personal Tumblr—a place for me to showcase my freelance photography work, ongoing photography projects and photographs that I had recently taken. It took me about five hours to get up a mass of content up (even on a ridiculously slow Internet connection) and about five days to get a handful of followers. In the past year, my followers have grown to 135.

Oberlin’s Tumblr is a place to share content of other Oberlin organizations that use their Tumblrs as a primary or secondary website, re-blog content that speaks of Oberlin and share original content that is also reposted on many of our other social media platforms.

Why Tumblr?

  • It’s the easiest way to blog. You choose the type of content you wish to post— text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio or video—and with a title and an upload of a file or an input of some text, you can post.
  • It’s foolproof to personalize even if you don’t know HTML/CSS. There are hundreds of free themes and new ones are created all the time. Even the simplest themes allow for basic personalization of fonts, colors and links. If you’re code-savvy (or have savvy folks around), you can always make it look exactly the way you want.
  • You can submit via email. If you’re interested in using Tumblr for a group blog, or wish to update from a mobile device (independent of Tumblr apps), you can format an email to mirror Tumblr’s required fields. If you are also interested in having a group blog or a contribution-based blog, that email address allows you to easily share the account.
  • It’s easy to cross-post. Like many social media platforms, Tumblr allows you to send posts to Twitter and Facebook instantaneously.
  • Content can go viral very quickly. If your content is good and thought-provoking (or witty and cute, who really knows why things go viral?), reposting is inevitable. Unlike the friend-based networks of Facebook, and to some extent Twitter, Tumblr users are connected by their similar interests rather than their proximity or offline friendships. Back in 2006, Ben Jones, vice president of communications at Oberlin (and my boss), wrote a final blog post to the incoming MIT class of 2010. Someone ran across it recently, posted it on Tumblr, and over two days, it got about 2,100 notes (a combination of reblogs and likes). As of this post, the link has more than 3,500 notes. WOW!
  • Tumblr is one of the easiest ways to set up a website without needing your own server space. Tumblr is a quick and dirty fix for something that needs to get online quickly and have a permanent home. You can customize the domain with just a few clicks.
  • Analytics! They are easy. Just paste a Google analytics code or any other tracking code into the HMTL.

Downsides to Tumblr:

  • While its servers are getting more reliable, the TumblBeasts will occasionally roam. A few months ago, Tumblr was down constantly. Now, I’ve only had server errors a handful of times in the past three months.
  • You can only interact (like or repost) with the blog if your viewer also has a Tumblr. But, Tumblr’s user base is growing, with close to 20 million blogs at this juncture.
  • It is hard to filter out posts that come across your dashboard. If you want to follow students or alumni, any and everything they post will flood your dashboard—from quotes to writing to animated gifs to the ubiquitous “reblog if you think so-and-so is sexy” (think of it as Y2K chain mail). Sifting through can be very time-consuming. Using tracked tags is the most efficient, but so many things can slip under the radar, even with the tags.

Many of the student bloggers who applied this past year to write for the Oberlin blogs submitted a Tumblr blog as their primary blog and I only expect the numbers to increase this year, as Tumblr continues to gain users, especially young ones. Tumblr encourages sharing things you care about, which might beg the idea that users are just reposting content they didn’t create rather than nourishing creative and original thought, but just the act of identifying and researching the topics they care about (and getting that out there, however informally), is enticing an entirely new generation of students to approach the Internet in a completely new manner.

Do you use Tumblr, either personally or professionally? What have your experiences been?

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