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How media organizations can create a successful Tumblr, according to Tumblr's media evangelist

How media organizations can create a successful Tumblr, according to Tumblr's media evangelist

Tumblr has been steadily gaining prominence in the world of social media platforms. The site has grown significantly since David Karp founded it in 2007, current boasting almost 15 million blogs. With a reported 45,000 members signing up a day, it's certainly gaining popularity.

Its price tag (free!) and large user base have attracted the attention of media organizations: 160 already use the site. Many popular news sites, such as The New York Times and Huffington Post, launched Tumblr blogs in the middle of last year.

Newsweek's Tumblr, started by Mark Coatney who was senior editor at the time, was among the first media Tumblrs. "I saw it as an opportunity to talk to our audience in a new way," he said to the New York Times. Tumblr decided to hire him in August of last year to help media organizations use the site to its fullest potential.

The Editors Weblog spoke to Coatney about how media organizations could create a successful Tumblr.


One of Tumblr's greatest assets is that it's extremely easy to use. Sites can be created very quickly. In fact, it's so easy that some organizations have made more than one site. It also is a sharing tool, so media organizations can quickly distribute things they do.

Each post has a "note" attached to it, wherein users can see just how far-reaching each post is. The note contains the number of times the post has been reblogged, liked, and what comments have been added to it.

Tumblr was never intended to be something complicated. As Coatney put it, "Tumblr shouldn't be this whole project that you have to think about for months and months... Tumblr should be an easy, valuable thing, and not something that's another chore for [media organizations]. It should be fun and easy to do."

More than just a newsfeed

Tumblr allows for more dialogue than a Twitter account, one of the reasons so many organizations have begun to embrace it. News organizations should shy away from merely posting links to articles, which negates this dialogue.

Segments from the organization's website can be taken, excerpted, and focused towards the Tumblr audience. Several media organizations have already begun trying new things to increase their contact with their audience.

Some publications, like GQ, use a single voice model where the publication has one person lead readers through it in a usually comical way. Others use a reporter's notebook model. CNN Money Tech has 6 or 7 reporters from the newsroom posting stories in a running commentary, giving a look into the newsroom and what stories they think are important. ProPublica simply posts quotes from politicians. The Washington Post recently launched its Tumblr which has been developed to look like its own website.

"I'm seeing a lot of people trying to stretch the platform a little bit and I think that will be really interesting," said Coatney.

Write shorter posts

Many of the posts on Tumblr are pictures or simpler quotes. Long articles will generally be overlooked, so it's important to stick to the platform's style. That's not to say that news organizations can't post long articles. Coatney recommended taking interesting quotes from an and linking back to it. Videos should also have very brief descriptions attached to them. Simplicity is key.

Interact with your audience

To truly succeed, organizations should refrain from just posting their own material and not being an active presence on the site. "Be a conversationalist, not just a broadcaster. Don't just be pushing your stuff out all the time. Show other stuff or respond to other people's stuff. I think that is where you get the most value," advised Coatney.

One aspect of Tumblr is the "follow" option, where any one with a site can "follow" someone else with a site. The other user is immediately informed as to who is following them. Unlike Twitter, the number of followers is not displayed for everyone else to see. Organizations have the options to follow the people who are following them. While they don't have to follow everyone, it is a good way to keep people interested.

"The core key of Tumblr is how you interact with your audience, your followers, and I always encourage people- to the extent that they can- to reblog other people, not just media organizations, but to actually follow your readers," said Coatney. He also stressed the importance of reblogging things from followers. "That's a really powerful validation: I like what they do and they like what I do. That's a better way to connect with your audience."

Along with being flattered when they're reblogged, users also enjoy it when media organization directly answer their questions. Tumblr has an option for users to ask each other questions- which can then be answered directly on the site.

Tag to Get Noticed

Recently redesigned for easier access, tagging is a way to gain interest and readership. Tags like "news" and "tsunami" connect to a page with other posts tagged the same way. Tsunami coverage in particular has been getting many hits recently, with pictures of the event popping up all over Tumblr.

Tumblr has also begun to use curators for particular topics. Curators are generally experts in the field. These curators decide if a post is newsworthy and can tag it. News organizations are invited to be a curatos, helping them gain more exposure on the site. This also provides users with something of value.

Tumblr's exposure

Coatney wasn't able to give a contemporary account as to how Tumblr audiences are affecting other websites, but he was able to give stats from when he was an editor at Newsweek.

8 months ago (when Tumblr only had 5 million blogs- 3 times fewer than it does now), Newsweek received 1,500-2,000 referrals from Tumblr a day. While this only accounted for 1-2% of traffic at the time, the quality of the referrer was much higher, Coatney. Whereas referrers from sites like Google would average 2-3 pages a visit, Tumblr referrers averaged 6 pages.

"You're having someone who's really interested, really committed to your site, and not just someone who's browsing around. One value to news organizations is that it helps you to cultivate core readership," he added.

What's next?

One of Tumblr's plans for the future involves localization. The localization would allow for both media organizations to connect to the possible readership in their area, but also for users to find local papers. The site would give suggestions based on geographic location to both parties.

Having already started with New York Fashion Week, Tumblr would also like to organize events that make meetings between users and companies possible. For Fashion Week, Tumblr took its top fashion bloggers and introduced them to companies and fashion magazines. It was in hope that the users and companies could find common ground, and also so that the companies could figure out their audience and get a better connection. This first test was seen as a success, and Tumblr is already seeking ways to integrate this model into a news organization opportunity.

Now that around 55 percent of Tumblr users are outside the US, Tumblr is also striving to find a way to connect with media organizations in other countries. Coatney stated that this will probably be a new focus.

Coatney said, "Tumblr is only as interesting as the stuff on there, so fundamentally I want to do things that allow news media to do what they do but on Tumblr in a very easy way."

Sources: The New York Times, Tumblr



Meghan Hartsell


2011-03-21 16:32

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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