Guardian tumblr
An increasing number of Tumblrs are being created by news outlets. Publishers are spending time on the platform to engage with the members behind the 68 million blogs and channelling their efforts to post items that are in tune with the interests of the Tumblr community.

We have already collected examples of how 12 news outlets are innovating on the Tumblr, which is a mix between a social network and blogging platform.

Now Luke Lewis, editor of NME.com; James Dean, online opinion editor, The Times, who is behind the title's opinion Tumblr; Stephen Abbott, executive producer, Guardian.co.uk; Alexis Mainland, social media editor, New York Times and Mark Coatney, media outreach director, Tumblr share their tips with social media managers and journalists thinking of using the platform or already posting.

1. Know your niche and narrow your offering

Before starting a Tumblr, consider offering a segment of what you do rather than trying to create a Tumblr that is a summary of your whole news site.

You should take one vertical, one sliver of what you do, and make that your TumblrLuke Lewis, NME.com
"Tumblr is all about the niche," Luke Lewis editor of NME.com says. "Some very successful Tumblrs are ones that occupy an incredibly narrow niche. One of the things I have learnt is that by trying to make our Tumblr a mix of everything, it's not the right way to go about it.

"I think it is all about focusing in and finessing. The Times is a good example where they have just taken one element of what they do. That's the right approach really rather than trying to make it a one-stop-shop or a summary of the best of your site.

"You should take one vertical, one sliver of what you do, and make that your Tumblr."

2. Understand that the Tumblr community is 'cool'

One thing music title NME has learnt is that the Tumblr community "is a little bit cooler than our Facebook community".

"If we post something quite mainstream, like Lady Gaga or something, it goes down very badly, but if you post something quite hipsterey, quite cool, like Crystal Castles, our Tumblr audience, which is much smaller than our Facebook audience, goes nuts for that slightly more niche stuff."

3. Understand the community and target common interests

"There are certain things that people aren't interested in on Tumblr, and there are certain things that they are," James Dean, online opinion editor, The Times says.

"It's a good idea if you are spending the time to put things up there to make sure that what you do is very much relevant to the people who are following you and the wider Tumblr community."

4. Be topical


The Guardian is one of seven official Tumblr blogs associated with the Olympics. Creating a topical Tumblr taps into what other users are talking about. When we checked with Ilyas Frenkel from Tumblr's communications team on Friday (10 August), 873,535 Tumblr posts had been tagged "Olympics".

5. Think visually

"Photos and image-driven things are particularly resonant on Tumblr," Coatney says. "The photo-type of post is by far the most used, re-blogged and circulated type of post, so the more you can think visually, the better chance there is of your content being distributed across the network."

And visually does not just mean photographs. "One of the things that does especially well for news organisations is delivering information in infographic or graphical form," Coatney adds.

The photo-type of post is by far the most used, re-blogged and circulated type of post, so the more you can think visually, the better chance there is of your content being distributed across the networkMark Coatney, Tumblr
"The Economist is great with this, they always have their charts that they use on their Tumblr page. Canadian newspaper the National Post is another one that is fantastic at this where they tell their stories in a mostly visual form. And why that works especially well on Tumblr is that it's something that catches you eye, it's something that's usually beautiful and it also expresses lots of information in a really small area."

Alexis Mainland from the New York Times urges news outlets to think of the visual potential of a subject before creating a Tumblr on that topic.

"When brainstorming on what the Tumblr concept should be or what kind of resources you might need to create a compelling Tumblr, it's definitely worth thinking top of mind about what, if any, visuals you plan to be tumblring," she told Journalism.co.uk by phone.

This was a challenge for the New York Times when thinking about its latest Tumblr, The Agenda, which is on the subject of the US elections and not a particularly visual topic. This is a departure from two earlier Tumblrs, the outlet's fashion Tumblr T Magazine and its photo archive the Lively Morgue, which are "entirely driven by visuals".

6. Understand the power of creativity

And when thinking visually, think creatively, urges Lewis. The NME has found playlists (such as this one of the music from the Olympic Opening Ceremony) work well, as does "anything that has a playful and creative feel".

"Tumblr is much more creative than Facebook," Lewis says. "Facebook is quite limiting, it doesn't allow you to post animated GIFs [such as these news cats], whereas one of the reasons Tumblr appeals to young people is that it enables them to express themselves."

Stephen Abbott, executive producer at Guardian.co.uk agrees. "With 84 per cent of all posts on the platform being photos and the flexibility of their templates, Tumblr is fast becoming the best place for young creatives to express themselves and share their ideas in visual ways."

7. Summarise stories in a quote

One of the post types featured on Tumblr is a quote. Coatney from Tumblr says posting a quote or short summary of a story is a good way of grabbing attention.

"If you want to bring people back into your regular site, take a 300-word excerpt from a story, the one telling quote, or the nut paragraph as it draws people."

Dean from The Times agrees. He advises Tumblr bloggers to "be very concise, be very snappy, and make sure it is interesting".

8. Consider audio

Tumblr allows users to upload audio or post links from Spotify and SoundCloud. This is something NME has found works for the music title, and allows music fans to stream from within Tumblr (see tip 12 on how Tumblr users do not like to leave Tumblr).

9. Go for quality not quantity

Avoid the urge to provide a constant stream of content for the sake of it, advises Dean. "With Tumblr if you post one extremely good or interesting thing it's better than posting 100 not particularly great things."

10. Remember there are two ways of viewing Tumblr posts

Dean from The Times says it is essential to keep in mind that there are two different ways that people look at Tumblr. "Think about how the public page displays and how it will appear in the Tumblr user's stream of chronological news within the Tumblr dashboard.

"We have the joint goal of hoping that people who aren't Tumblr members or bloggers will look at it and also we make sure our Tumblr followers have a stream of things to look at.

Times Tumblr dashboard
The dashboard view

Times Tumblr quote (narrow)
The public page

According to Coatney, of the 16 billion page views on Tumblr in June, at least 10 billion took place inside the dashboard, where people are more engaged and stay on the site longer.

"Tumblr users are going to be your best advocates," Coatney says. "They are going to be the people who are going to re-blog your stuff and take it to people who don't even follow you, who don't even know who you are necessarily.

"When you are creating your Tumblr blog think about what is going to motivate somebody who is following you to like what you have done and say to themselves 'I love it so much I want to put it on my Tumblr and show it and share it with all my followers'. The more you think that way, the better traction you'll get, the more attention you'll get on Tumblr."

11. Know that small is beautiful

Although NME's Tumblr community is smaller than its Facebook or Twitter following, it is hugely valuable.

"The most interesting thing is although it's a smaller audience and the referral traffic we get back from it is quite minimal, they are more engaged and you'll notice that people who come to the site via Tumblr view more pages than people who come to the site via any other source of traffic."

12. Learn that people do not like to leave Tumblr

Something unique about the Tumblr community is they don't really like to leave TumblrLuke Lewis, NME
Something unique about the Tumblr community is they don't really like to leave Tumblr," Lewis from NME warns. "If you post something that is just a link back to your site, it doesn't tend to do very well; if you can post a Spotify playlist that can be streamed there within Tumblr, that will go down very well and so it's sort of a community to itself.

"It's not like Twitter where what works really well is just sending out a great link that everyone wants to click on and share with their friends, with Tumblr people don't want to leave Tumblr."

13. Post other people's content

One of the most popular things shared by NME on Tumblr was not content produced by the music title, it was "a funny review of the Chris Brown album". NME posted a picture of the review and has received 252 notes, or comments.

"It went viral and people loved to share it. It wasn't our content, it wasn't linking back to our site. It seems things that work on Tumblr are not necessarily things that drive a lot of traffic to you, so it's a question of whether you want to delight that audience on Tumblr for its own sake, but actually the traffic benefits are quite minimal."

14. Re-blog readers' posts

Coatney says "good conversationalists" should re-blog. "It's about being a participant in this conversation about the news."

"Rather than thinking of it as 'I'm producing content and people are consuming it', consider it an ongoing peer-to-peer conversation."

And members of the community respond well to being re-blogged by a news outlet, as Coatney found when at Newsweek. He joined Tumblr two years ago after launching and running the Newsweek Tumblr in 2008, the year after Tumblr launched.

He noticed that if he re-blogged "something from a random person" on the Newsweek Tumblr, because it may interest Newsweek readers, "that person would often screenshot that notification saying 'Newsweek re-blogged your post' and they would post that to their Tumblr blog".

He said the Tumblr member considered it as that "Newsweek has approved of what I have done and validated what I've done".

15. Explain why you are Tumbling

Mainland from the New York Times suggests "being open about why you are using Tumblr and what it's for".

"I think it's important for Tumblrs to explain their purpose of being. I think that there are a lot of Tumblrs out there that are so cool and sticky and you want to spend time with them but when you take a minute to try to find out a little more about it, including who is behind this Tumblr, what is the purpose of the Tumblr, how frequently it will be updated, there is little or no information.

"On our New York Times Tumblrs we have been really clear to write 'about essays', explaining what we are going to be doing, what the mission is, and those are published on the Tumblr."

You can see an example of this on the title's Lively Morgue Tumblr.

Also, spending time thinking of what frequently asked questions might be has saved the social media team time in the long run.

"When we launch new social media projects I am very used to getting a barrage of questions from people about why were doing it, what we are doing, what does it mean for the Times, what's the point of it? And when we launched the Lively Morgue it got this incredible response. People loved it but I noticed that everyone seemed satisfied, they didn't have questions about why we were doing it or how many photos we have because we had put all of that information in the 'about' page."

16. Use Tumblr to crowdsource

"We are starting to see publishers, particularly magazine publishers, use Tumblr as an audience research tool," according to Coatney. For example, GQ magazine has started to crowdsource to get feedback on potential cover stories for the magazine.

"GQ has a two or three month lead-in time for their covers and they are always planning several months down the road. One of the things they always worry about is if they put somebody on the cover, they want to make sure that the person is 'culturally relevant' three months down the road.

"So what they are starting to do with Tumblr is test up-and-coming interesting people that they might want to talk about. The NBA basketball player Derrick Rose was on their cover a couple of months ago and that was in part because a month before that they had started to post about several different NBA players to gauge which one got the most re-blogs, reaction and buzz.

"Another front cover they tested on Tumblr first was of actress Mila Kunis. It became their best-selling cover last year.

"GQ's theory is that the Tumblr audience is one of earlier adopters, people who are really super-high consumers of media, people who are keenly aware of what is new and fresh. Their thesis is that things that you see emerging on Tumblr become much more mainstream in the months ahead."

17. Use Tumblr to add long-tail

With Tumblr you can find things that are six months old suddenly get a whole other life because one person re-blogged itAlexis Mainland, New York Times
Like other social networks, Tumblr can breathe new life into old online content, according to Mainland.

"Tumblr has one of the longest tails of any social network that I've ever experienced, except perhaps Reddit. With Reddit, New York Times articles that were published years ago end up receiving a deluge of traffic from Reddit because an interesting Redditer has found a link that is pertinent to whatever is going on in today's news and has shared an old article and suddenly we'll see traffic coming to that old article.

"With Tumblr you can find things that are six months old suddenly get a whole other life because one person re-blogged it. I think that's one of the most interesting things about Tumblr, it's sort of this very large, cyclical conversation."

18. Consider timing posts

Coatney encourages social media managers to "remember that you can use the Tumblr cue to produce a bunch of content and have it in the system and then publish it on a schedule".

"This is particularly good for sites that are doing a calendar of events." However, don't just light a fire and walk away, he adds. "It is crucial to pay attention to how people react to your stuff as that will teach you what is most resonant on the network."

19. Don't over-think it

Do not spend too much time planning your Tumblr, Coatney advises. "You are just stepping in and you want to see the value of it.

"You don't have to over-think it. Tumblr is free so it's not something you have to spend a lot of time stressing over the look and feel. You obviously can, it's a complete blank slate like any other web page."

The Economist opted for action, according to Coatney. "I talked to them on a Monday and by Tuesday they were up and running with their Tumblr blog.

"They went to the Tumblr theme garden, which is where all the Tumblr designers sell or give away themes that they have written for Tumblr, and they found a $10 theme and put their logo on it."

20. Don't worry about follower numbers

"The thing about Tumblr that really interests me is that it doesn't matter about your follower count, in fact it's quite hard to even find out your follower count on Tumblr, its just not part of that ecosystem," Lewis says.

"It's much more democratic, it's all about sharing great content, it's much more social in that respect. On Twitter you have celebrities and news outlets competing and the follower count is extremely visible and it's an important thing. On Tumblr it's really not part of the mix, no one cares how many followers you've got."

According to Coatney, Tumblr does not publish follower count "as we always felt it wasn't a healthy number to focus on".

"From our perspective the most important number is really the number of re-blogs that your post gets, because that's an indication that someone likes it, and is spreading it out to their network.

"It's much better to have 100 re-blogs of your post than to have 10,000 followers if they are not re-blogging and actively promoting and engaging your stuff rather than just absorbing it."

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