Experimenting with Tumblr, and should your magazine be on it?

November 10, 2011

I’m sure I’m not alone in my tendency to get a little obsessive with new toys. A few years ago, when Twitter was still fresh and shiny and I was web editor at Best Health, it wasn’t unusual for me to stay late and spend hours browsing and scrolling (this was before Twitter had decent search abilities) looking for Canadian women with the right interests to follow – and, hopefully, to follow us back.

Lately, my obsession is Tumblr. You may have heard of Tumblr as that thing the kids are into – and you’d be right, as it’s definitely packed with teenagers. But I’m not really an early adopter when it comes to technology – more like a mid adopter – and I’m convinced now that Tumblr is going to hit the mainstream. So convinced that when I decided to finally start a blog oriented around my freelance writing topics (shameless self-promotion: A Health Writer’s Notebook focuses on health, fitness, nutrition and travel with some beauty and food thrown in, and lots of pretty pictures), something I’d been planning on for months, I settled on Tumblr as the platform to use.

So what makes Tumblr different from everything else? For one thing, it’s ridiculously easy to use – it puts the Facebook “like” button to shame for its one-click-ability. Think of Tumblr as a hybrid of Twitter (you follow people, they follow you back, but it doesn’t have to be reciprocal like Facebook; reblogs are a major component of the culture) and a blog (reverse chronological posts with dates, you can post at will, it’s out-of-the-box easy to use with preset templates).

Other than the reblog, perhaps the most important feature is the Tumblr button you can add to your browser’s menu bar – click it while visiting any web page (though this can be blocked) and it will give you an option to share that link with your followers; or a photo from the page; or, if you highlight certain text, a quote. You can also easily post video, audio, a chat transcript or just plain text; the beauty of all of this is that Tumblr automatically preserves the original link in your post so that credit is given where it’s due and people can follow a post back to its original source. (Of course, this depends on users not deleting that information, but the good intention is there.)

The question remains: I’m busy enough with everything else – why should I be on Tumblr? And perhaps you shouldn’t – very few Canadian magazines are. (I’ve come up with three so far – En Route, Flare and Worn – but I’m compiling a list, so if you know of more, please let me know.) But know that a number of US magazines believe Tumblr is driving subscriptions, and Tumblr’s pageviews and signups have been growing this year at a ferocious rate – as of the end of September, they’d surpassed 30 million blogs and Tumblr now competes with WordPress on monthly visits. My recollection is that Twitter’s true move to the mainstream was Christmas 2008 – when people had a bit of extra free time to play around – and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens with Tumblr this year.

There are downsides, of course. For one, Tumblr currently hosts all its blogs – unlike WordPress, you can’t install it on your own server. This makes perfect sense for a community platform, but for a media brand it means giving up a certain amount of control. Tumblr isn’t as customizable as other blogging platforms, though it’s getting there, and there are some excellent themes available for under $50 (though many are free, the quality isn’t as good and they don’t stand out as much.) And Tumblr currently doesn’t offer a way to export posts (though I’ve heard of third-party widgets that will do it for you), so what happens on Tumblr stays on Tumblr.

That said, especially for brands with sharable, bite-sized content available for use – think great photos, news snippets, quotes and recipes – Tumblr’s a great place to be. It’s easy to use and it’s fun. At the very least, I recommend signing up for your brand name, if you can still get it, even if you don’t plan to use it right away.

These articles have more information on Tumblr:

Tumblr tips – Jaclyn Schiff
Tumblr is the next great social network – Steve Rubel
What media companies should learn from Tumblr’s success – GigaOM
Journalists, take another look at Tumblr – Teaching Online Journalism
3 ways publishers can use Tumblr – eMedia Vitals

Are you using Tumblr, or have you played with it? Any thoughts?

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