Best Practices: Tumblr

To preface this blog post on best practices on Tumblr, I’d like to direct you dear readers to these additional blog posts I have written about Tumblr at Oberlin here on the webteam blog and on the CASE Social Media blog (there are two posts: one from May 2011 and the other from February 2012) to familiarize yourself with the basics of Tumblr and my approaches to our official college page.

If you’re thinking of beginning a Tumblr for a student organization, an office, or a department, please get in touch with me via email or leave me a comment below. I think this platform has a lot of value at Oberlin and I would love to talk to you more about the goals you hope to reach by using Tumblr.

I leave you with the following excerpt if you don’t have time read the above links right now (but I encourage you to do so before starting a Tumblr on your own):

Why is Tumblr where it’s at? It’s an informal place for people to share the things that they like or that they care about. It’s not a blogging site for lots of original content (though I do encourage new bloggers to consider using their platform because it’s nearly foolproof and super fast to set up… think Blogging for Dummies), but it’s better to be putting your own things up there first before someone else posts it without proper attribution.

What’s a Tumblr?

Tumblr is a microblog that allows you to share text, photos, quotes, links, chats, audio, and video. You can post original content of interest to you or that ties into the theme or goals of your blog. You can also find content of interest by searching through Tumblr’s tags, which you can then “like” (indicated with a little heart), and “reblog it” (which allows you to repost that content to your Tumblr blog with credit back to the original source — with additional conversation or commentary when you repost). As content “Tumbles” around the web, it accumulates likes, reblogs, and conversations.

Why should I use Tumblr?

Because it’s the easiest way to blog! But really: if you’re trying to reach younger folks (prospective students, current students, recent alums) or if you’re doing something creative (making things, looking for inspiration, or procrastinating), Tumblr is a great blogging platform for you.

Tumblr is also a quick way to host a website if you’re hoping to create something quickly for a student organization or an initiative that doesn’t require but might benefit from student interaction.

Why shouldn’t I use Tumblr?

First of all, you shouldn’t use Tumblr unless you plan to commit to updating it semi-regularly (actually, that’s the case with all social media, but that’s for another blog post). Blogs left unattended for a period of time makes my soul sad and your audience less interested in visiting your Tumblr.

If you’re planning on interacting with users not on Tumblr, it might not be the most ideal platform for you. You can’t like or comment on Tumblr unless you’re a user, and though you can plug-in a comment box via Discus, it’s less of a platform for conversation if you’re not communicating with Tumblr users.

What should I post to Tumblr?

While you can post seven different kinds of content to Tumblr, there are specific things that Tumble better. If someone chooses to follow you on Tumblr, you’ll show up on their dashboard, which is a scrolling list of everything posted by everyone they follow. How do you get their attention?

  • Interesting visual content. Specifically pictures and videos. When scrolling through a Tumblr dashboard, images are more likely to catch someone’s attention first rather than large blocks of writing.

  • Quotes. This works particularly well if you wish to share links or longer forms of content. A quote gives you the ability to see what is important about the post, and if it’s attention getting, you have the option to continue reading. Consider it a teaser for your product.

  • If you’re planning on posting writing, consider short, punchy content instead of traditional full-blown blog posts. If you want to incorporate text more heavily, consider adding a photo at the top to catch folks attention on their dashboard.

What should I do to make my Tumblr awesome?

  • Choose a theme. I do recommend a simple and clean route so your content shines. The Theme Garden is full of cool designs, most which involve some level of personalization. If you have some coding skills, you can always customize your theme to another level.

  • Upload a user pic. No one wants to connect with a faceless profile. If you dropped by to visit a friend and all their lights were off, would you consider knocking on the door to see if they were home? A user pic is a quick way to indicate that you’re around and habitating your blog.

  • Utilize tags. Tags are the main (and as far as I can tell) the only way Tumblr searches all of its content hosted on their site. Tags allow people outside of your blog to find their way back to you and for you to internally find all the content tagged with a particular tag on your own blog. Tags should range from the general (the name of your department/office/organization and of course, Oberlin and Oberlin College) to the specific (the kind of content you’re posting and the kind of communities that would find it interesting).

  • Consider enabling the ask box. The ask box is a way for Tumblr users to get in touch with you directly. You can choose to answer publicly or privately when you receive an ask in your message box. If you enable anonymous asks, non-Tumblr users will be able to get in touch with you, too.

  • Ask questions. If you end a post with a question mark, you’ll be given the option to “allow people to answer” while you’re creating the post. Like a reblog or a like, the responses will be stored with the post forever, but it’s a much cleaner and targeted interface.

How do I find people to follow on Tumblr?

The easiest way to find people to follow on Tumblr is to use tracked tags — essentially Tumblr’s internal search. If someone is talking about something relevant to you regularly, it might be valuable to follow them. Keep in mind, though, that when you choose to follow someone, you’ll be following all their content, not just the content relevant to you.

Particularly if your organization or department is a part of a national movement or cause, it might be valuable to find and connect with similar Tumblr blogs. For example, the Bonner Center is a service and community engagement organization on Oberlin’s campus, but they connect to other national service organizations to contribue to the broader conversation. Your Tumblr is a place to share things that are relevant to your community, but make sure don’t stray far from your original goals.

If you’d like to connect with other official Oberlin presences on Tumblr, we’ve got a page for that! I’ve compiled a list of official presences on Tumblr so far and I’m working on compiling a list of student organizations on Tumblr, too, but it’s harder to discover those. Let me know in our ask box or in the comments of this blog post if you manage an Oberlin affiliated Tumblr I haven’t found yet.

How do I get people to follow my Tumblr?

  • Listen. What’s your audience talking about? Can you contribue something to the conversation? Don’t hesitate to like or reblog something. Add commentary if you’d like.

  • Tag. Do I sound like a broken record yet? Just do it. Tags are what make Tumblr a vibrant platform.

  • Have other social media presences or a website? Consider advertising that you’re on Tumblr.

  • Connect your Tumblr to your other social media places. I say this with a huge caveat: I do NOT recommend connecting your Tumblr to Facebook. Posts from Tumblr get buried on Facebook and imports the content in strange ways. I would tentatively encourage connecting your Tumblr to your Twitter account, with this warning: Twitter will definitely truncate your posts when they send to Twitter UNLESS you modify the text that is sent to Twitter with a link. To assure that exactly what you want to post to Twitter comes straight from Tumblr, click on “edit” next to the “Send to Twitter” box when you’re creating a post and compose your tweet that will accompany the link to the Tumblr URL there.

As I mentioned above, I highly encourage getting in touch with me if you’re planning on exploring Tumblr. There are lots of tips and tricks I can offer to make your Tumblr experience excellent depending on what you’re planning to do. And I like to talk and promote excellent usages of Tumblr, so it’s win-win for all of us involved.

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YAY! Ma’ayan, I’ve only gotten totally addicted to Tumblr within the last week or so, and it’s totally due to keeping a photo blog for your Exco, not because of maintaining the BCSL Tumblr….hopefully this will make me a more diligent BCSL Tumblr mother, though.

Thanks for the list of official Oberlin Tumblrs! I have a question for you—is there a way to make posts with the tags that you track appear in your dashboard, or do you have to click on the tag every time you want to check up on it?

Anna Brown

Great question, Anna. As of now, the only way to see tags is to either click on them in the posts in your dashboard or you can save a tag as a tracked tag in your dashboard. After you search for a particular tag, a little grey word that says “track” will pop up by the searched tag and by clicking that, you can follow it forever from your dashboard, but it’s not a part of your stream.

I found that became more interested in using Oberlin’s Tumblr by using my own Tumblr more. You’ll be a proud Tumbling mommy soon! I’m glad you’re exploring!

Ma’ayan Plaut