Note: This post was first published in 2013. Tumblr has changed, but the principles outlined in this post are still useful if you’re looking to launch successful content and promote it through social channels. For help with earning traffic from organic search please see our SEO pages.
Tumblr is my favourite social network. I joined it fairly early on (mid-2008) because I wanted a blog, but didn’t have much to say. I’ve been having fun there ever since.
I now run a few Tumblrs, for various personal and client projects. Last year, for the first time, I managed to make it onto the Tumblr Radar, which for a keen user/Tumblr fanboy was a special day.
The Tumblr Radar is Tumblr’s internal way of showcasing Trending posts – usually images, and showing them in every logged-in user’s Dashboard. If you want to reach a portion of the owners of the 105,000,000 blogs using the site, the Radar is the place to be.
Tumblog owners publish 900 posts per second, collectively. That’s 77,760,000 new posts every day. The marketer in me reacts to that statistic with “woah that’s a lot of noise”.
How is it possible to stand out amongst such a huge amount of content? What’s the formula for going viral on Tumblr?
The answer is good advice for Social Media Marketing: there is no clear answer. You have to test.
You can wait for serendipity, but you can’t guarantee it. The best thing I could have done was maximise my chances of success, and leverage the audience I already had.
So I followed something of a “best practice” plan, which worked. This is what I did…
Focus On A Niche
I had a few things going for me here. My niche was:
– Images, not video or animate GIFs, were the media of choice. This is fortunate, because image posts do well – on Tumblr, “doing well” means gaining traction through sharing and engagement.
– The Tumblr focused on the key aspect of a seasonal event, which means it only has one chance to be successful each year, and that it won’t be successful for very long during that period. It has to be as successful as it can, during the time it can be successful. Tricky, isn’t it?
I’ll break it down. Consistency here means:
I was trying to grow a following whilst also getting return visits. The lack of Tumblr Analytics wasn’t a problem, because you don’t miss what you never had, so I used Google Analytics to find traffic sources. I wasn’t getting much referral traffic from anywhere outsite of the Tumblr network, where reblogs from others led to a steady stream of traffic. I was ranking well in Google for head terms along the lines of “niche keyword tumblr”. There was a low chance of ranking for phrases without the keyword Tumblr in without adding pages of text content and some serious link building – but that wasn’t an objective, I had something of an audience and wanted to increase it.
Publishing at appropriate times
Most of my audience was US-based, so I found the times of day that the site had the most US visits in Google Analytics, and set up the Tumblr Schedule to automatically publish queued posts during that time.
Because of the seasonal aspect of the content, I planned to increase the number of posts leading up to the day of the event, which helped build momentum. The aim was that I’d be able to ride the wave of interest in the event itself with lots of incoming submissions for content that would be published in the days following the event.
Publishing similar content
I’ve tried to publish fewer than ten Text posts on the site, to minimal response. It seems that most of my audience only hammer the Like and Reblog buttons on image posts.
Engage With Your Audience
When Tumblr first appeared, one of the slogans they used was “the easiest way to blog”. It’s also one of the simplest places to engage with your followers.
Likes & Reblogs
Tumblr was built with mass-sharing in mind. A key feature of the Dashboard is the little heart button (for Likes), but perhaps more importantly, the Reblog button. Reblogs not only allow people to share your content on their own sites, but they also generate a dofollow link back to the source of the post.
Ask Your Audience
As I mentioned above, people didn’t respond to Text posts, but the option is there – Simply add a question mark to any post you write and Tumblr inserts a little “Let people answer this” checkbox.
User-generated Content: Submissions
Tumblr gives you a built-in form to accept submissions, from which you can easily tag, edit and publish a post. I enabled this feature as a navigation button on my site, but also included a Call-to-action in text form to encourage submissions further.
I’d drip feed these posts to be pubished as per my scheduled times.
User-generated Content: Reblogs
A simple way I tried to grow my following was to reblog them. My niche was full of user-generated content that people posted on their own sites, so a simple Saved Search for the appropriate keywords gave me access to quickly reblog others, which they were notified of. This is a great little way of ego-baiting people to check out your site, follow you, like or reblog your content and submit something else for you to feature.
The Tumblr Radar Effect & Traffic Sources
I knew there was a lot of traffic to the site, because I had Google Analytics Real-Time Report open. Unfortunately Tumblr still don’t offer any Analytics data for a site’s performance on the Dashboard, which is where a large amount of an audience will see a post.
Here’s the Google Analytics screenshot:
If you’ve had success with Social before you’ll be used to seeing this kind of spike in traffic. The site went from 1,000 visits per day to over 20,000 on the day of being on Tumblr Radar.
Obviously, Tumblr was the main source of traffic during that period.
The post was featured on the Radar for around 12 hours.
These are the ‘Notes’ for the post that was featured on the Radar. A ‘note’ is either a Like or a Reblog:
Before the post was featured on the Radar, the site had around 1,000 followers. It’s currently up to around 12,000.
Careful How You “Monetise”
I tested a few different ways to try and earn from the site. It’s a little tricky because there really isn’t much commercial intent in visits to the site. It’s a good place to find inspiration for the creatively-inclined to come up with their own ideas to create something that would otherwise be purchased, but few people came looking for a product.
I linked to search results pages on Amazon, but got very few clicks and no sales.
I have a friend with a related ecommerce website, so allowed him to put a banner ad near the top of each page. Whilst there was some traffic, it didn’t generate any direct sales.
Google Adsense did generate some earnings, which was nice, if a little surprising. I got a little cheque that paid for a couple of presents for people, so it was a nice bonus.
Importantly – none of my efforts to earn from the site seemed to hinder its performance. I didn’t annoy the audience with pop-up ads, and didn’t over-do Adsense placement. The affiliate links and banners didn’t get much click-through, but those things are easily ignored when there are nice images to reblog.
Lessons Learned: Further Thoughts & Business Cases For Tumblr
What else should I have done to increase the audience size of the blog?
I’m keen on integration, especially with content-based marketing. That said, I hadn’t setup a Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest page for this website.
Using the pinterest.com/source/yourdomain feature, there seems to be a lot of pins from images hosted on the site. The post that went viral has been pinned 984 times, which seems okay as the Pin button was only added to the site after the event.
I’ve started to cross-post content on other social networks, so hope to build on the following I have this year.
Paid Promotion & Outreach to related sites
Some coverage for on Buzzfeed would go down nicely this year, but paid promotion of a post would probably have resulted in increased exposure of the website. A few paid stumbles, for example, would probably have delivered a constant stream of organic traffic following the initial paid push.
The best way to generate business from an existing Tumblr site, as far as I can see, is to partner with appropriate businesses. I’d welcome the chance to do that with this website, and the opportunity to run a Tumblr with a brand or business with solid content, community and revenue goals in mind.
Major brands have been using Tumblr for a couple of years now. Those that do it successfully create content for the Tumblr audience specifically. There are solid ‘branding’ reasons to engage with Tumblr communities, but also great opportunities for:
Content Marketing and Promotion – If your target audience is using Tumblr, then you should get involved with them. Your content could spread – not necessarily quickly and “virally”, but steadily over time.
Search Engine Optimisation – There are a number of SEO benefits for Tumblr (I’ll write another post on this), including Online Reputation Management and link acquisition.
Integration – One reason Tumblr is successful is because it bridges the gap between blogs (which usually feature longer, more permanent content) and more-instant social media (the lifespan of a Tweet can be very short). It’s a relatively simple effort to cross-post content on Tumblr and other media.
Best Practice is what helped my site get added to the Tumblr Radar. Bizarrely, I’ve come across a few abandoned/deleted Tumblrs from brands – one in particular is from a supposedly forward-thinking brand (think top five social media success stories for major brands of the past five years), which was very odd to see.
Am I planning to hit the Tumblr Radar again?