It’s kind of a big deal.  Such a big deal, in fact, that even the White House has one, and the President of the United States has done a Q&A on one.  What am I talking about?  I’m talking about Tumblr, the microblogging platform that quite literally causes and feeds a frenzy of conversations––many of them controversial.  And with over 81 million new posts going up every day, spread across more than 243 million individual blogs, the potential heft of any given piece of content is massive––particularly since Tumblr’s graphic-driven interface makes “reblogging” the posts of others so incredibly easy.

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So how does Tumblr work?  As with its distant cousins, Facebook and Twitter, Tumblr is a hybrid blogging and social networking platform.  Its structure is fourfold in that it allows users to:

  1. Post new content, which will then appear on both their blog and in the “feed” of any other user who “follows” that blog;
  2. View the blogs and “reblogs” of others, in a single streamlined and constantly updated feed;
  3. Share or “reblog” the posts of others, all of which will appear––with attribution––in their feeds; and
  4. Discover new content by searching Tumblr’s general database, using hashtags, keyword searches, and a variety of other built-in exploratory features.

In many ways, Tumblr’s user interface feels a great deal like Twitter’s––which we discussed in detail last week––in large part because in both cases the interface places great structural emphasis on the content of each tweet or post.  Facebook, which we’ll discuss more in weeks to come, is structured to emphasize the relationships between users themselves; this isn’t to say that Tumblr and Twitter don’t allow for personal connection, or that Facebook doesn’t allow for the production of content, but there is a subtle shift in the warp and weft of each platform which determines what gets seen and what slips under the radar.

On Tumblr, who you are is less important than what you post, and the “best” posts hit a sweet spot in respect to visual appeal, cultural relevance, timeliness, tone, and length.  (Don’t worry, I’ll expand on these five points in a moment.)  You can easily see which posts are successful; they’re the ones with the most “likes” or “reblogs,” both of which are tabulated as “notes.”  For self-published and indie authors looking for a bit of exposure, there’s nothing so handy as a website that is, quite literally, designed to take content viral.

Debunking the Great Tumblr Myth: “Notes are the most important thing.”

I’m not going to lie––notes are important.  But they’re not the only important indicator of success on Tumblr, and they’re not even an accurate indicator of a piece of content’s popularity.  Because likes and reblogs are conflated together into the note count, it’s impossible to winnow out how many people flat out “liked” a given post, and how many are commenting on it.  As you may know from other websites, comments on any given social media platform where anonymity is guaranteed (Tumblr users do not have to divulge their names or personal information to set up accounts) can range from fans going wild over their favorite things to people being downright mean.  Most of Tumblr’s many millions of users prefer to reblog content they like rather than content they dislike, but some use the “reblog” feature to elaborate upon, rebut, or otherwise respond to the posts of others.  This type of feedback can provide other benefits to you as an author, but it cannot be equated directly to “Yes!  My stab at self-promotion is a raging success!”  No, notes are not the most important thing.  Engagement is.

So how do you get the average Tumblr user to stop scrolling through the hundreds or thousands of blog posts and reblogs in their feed to look at your excerpt, or your book cover, or your “behind-the-scenes” video?

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Make sure it looks good.  Visual appeal cannot be over-trumped as the leading reason why a pair of eyes will fasten onto your post.  Many of Tumblr’s most canny users won’t even bother posting any text at all if it isn’t accompanied by a pleasing graphic or photograph of some kind.  In fact, most Tumblr users will lead with the picture, rather than slipping it in as an afterthought.  Since Tumblr is a medium of fast consumption leading to speedy sharing, the image should be something that is easily comprehended after just a quick glance, so as to keep the reader’s eye moving, roving further into the text that follows.  It’s also a good thought to break up dense text posts with a .GIF file or two––the “reaction .GIF” is a Tumblr specialty, and not one to be underestimated. (There’s nothing like a perfectly on-point .GIF to inject a text post with a dose of humor and personality!)

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2. Keep it relevant.  This should go without saying, but a wise friend once pointed out to me that my own (private) blog was a confusing mish-mash of my interests (which are many) and my own material (which is quite specific in focus).  As an indie author looking to create a cohesive, effective methodology in dealing with social media, it’s a good idea to specialize.  That is to say, you should keep your posts––both of original content and any reblogged material that might catch your eye––focused on you, your book, and the authorial process.  If you become enamored of all of the different features that Tumblr has to offer, and if you enjoy reading an eclectic mix of posts by others, that’s wonderful!  … Just make sure that you create a separate blog for your author-related activities so that you don’t accidentally inundate your followers with Shia LaBeouf memes.

3. Timeliness is key.  Tumblr is the home of revolutions.  More than half of Tumblr’s active users report being under 25 years of age, and the platform’s format encourages the Millennials’ activist leanings.  The Occupy Wall Street crowd?  It may have found a second home on Twitter, but its native land is Tumblr.  Ever heard of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag?  Or #WeNeedDiverseBooks?  One of teenage designer and activist Kyemah McEntyre’s handmade creations walked the red carpet at the BET Awards because of Tumblr.  Petitions have been signed, flags taken down, flags proudly shaken, politicians heckled, and, quite possibly, laws passed on the momentum generated by Tumblr’s dedicated, active, and socially-engaged user base.  They’re politically and economically diverse, and as feverishly clannish as any other group of Millennials, and if you can make them care about your work, you’ll never want for support.  All of this to say, it’s best to keep an ear to the ground.  If you’re willing to use Tumblr as a tool, you should “follow” as many other users as you need to in order to stay in touch with current trends, topics, and ongoing conversations.  If you know what’s spurring interest, you can reframe your own posts to touch on these hot-button issues, and generate more interest in your work.

4. Watch your tone.  I’m kind of holding forth here in this post, which I’d stress can be either the most effective approach, ever to Tumblr, or the most annoying thing, ever.  There are four main speeds when it comes to tone on Tumblr: ranting, reflecting, ridiculous self-posturing, and photo essaying.  Rants are passionate (and sometimes, though rarely, lengthy) attacks on the various injustices of life, whether humorous or serious in nature.  Reflective posts usually consist of brief narrative bursts, retelling past events or unwinding the implications of some thought experiment (Harry Potter and other fictional worlds inspire many of these, I find).  A Tumblr user might dip a toe into ridiculous self-posturing when looking to inspire a good laugh or let off some steam, and often these posts are spoken in the coded language of memes.  Some users eschew text altogether and simply post photo essays of their adventures; many hikers, climbers, boulderers, runners, and artists of all disciplines use Tumblr as a sort of interactive portfolio or photo album.  One of the many quirky realities of Tumblr is that a post which uses only one of these tones is more likely to go viral than another post that tries to use more than one tone.  Tumblr users are looking for easily digestible, bite-sized pieces of life.

5. Keep it readable by keeping it brief.  As with my last point, length is best viewed through a lens of digestibility.  The world of Tumblr moves fast, and sometimes sideways, and content has to be focused, brief, and either hilarious or achingly accurate in order to collect notes.  The most successful Tumblr bloggers post nuggets that are quick to read or view, and they post regularly.  I find that instead of encouraging simplicity and generalization, Tumblr users’ love of brevity actually encourages complexity and specialization.  The more direct the statement, the more likely someone else is to respond––and for a single sentence to provoke a snowball effect of comments and reblogs.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Most Tumblr users either upload text or photographs, but Tumblr actually allows for several other types of posts: videos, quotes, links, and chats.  As an author, you should most definitely take advantage of the “quotes” feature to introduce your followers to your voice, characters, and above all––your book!

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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