In the ever-changing world of social media, Facebook and Twitter are still the undisputed leaders. And while Google+, LinkedIn, MySpace and relative newcomer Pinterest all have their place, one platform is not-so-quietly making a notable surge.
According to the digital marketing firm comScore, Tumblr is one of the fastest-growing, consumer-oriented Internet sites over the past two years. Its audience has grown from 4.2 million visitors in July 2010 to more than 26.9 million in July 2012. As of July 30, Tumblr is home to 66.5 million blogs, which total more than 70 million daily posts with monthly page views of more than 17 billion.
In essence, Tumblr is a multimedia-focused blogging platform that marries the social networking of Facebook with the simplicity of Twitter and the full-featured aspects of Blogger or WordPress. But do we really need another social media technology?
Teenagers and college-age users seem to think so. In August 2011, comScore reported that half of Tumblr’s visitor base is under the age of 25. History shows that these users tend to be early adopters of new technologies. Thus, predictions are that Tumblr will be the next household name of social media.
SocialMediaToday.com adds that “music lovers congregate on Tumblr, eager to share the next best thing, archive minutiae or celebrate their collective good taste.”
But there’s an even more compelling reason for artists and music industry entities to have blogs on Tumblr. The real reason is in the exceptional and often unique features this service already provides.
More Than Just Your Average Blog
When you sign up for an account on Tumblr, you’ll notice quickly that most of the blogs it includes — they’re often referred to as tumblelogs — differ from their text-based, editorial-style counterparts on other blogging platforms. Most posts tend to be short, and many tumbleloggers favor photos, videos and audio over long diatribes of words.
But in reality, anything goes. A tumblelog is yours to personalize any way that you see fit. And Tumblr gives you seven different post types to work with: text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio and video. Each post type brings up a different screen, making it super easy to post.
Want to post a long text editorial? The text post will let you type to your heart’s content. Want to post a photo? You’ll be prompted to choose a file and enter a caption. Posting a link instead? You’ll be asked to enter a URL, a title and a description. Of course, some fields are optional, so to post a link you could also enter a URL and click “Create Post.” That’s it. You’re done. You won’t have to format a page or embed any HTML code. Everything is handled by Tumblr; simply fill in the fields you’re prompted for and hit Enter.
There’s even an option to either email or text in your posts. If you’re away from your computer, you can take a photo with your smartphone, email it to your blog’s custom email address andvoila! You’ve updated your blog.
Imagine how easy is for artists to keep fans updated with all of their activities on the road. Just a few minutes after taking a picture with the DJ who just hosted you on a morning radio interview, that photo can be up for everyone to see.
A particularly cool feature is the option to call in an audio post. Just dial an 866 number designated by Tumblr and leave a message. A few seconds later, that message appears as an audio post on your blog. Artists can call in from their bus right after the show. Better yet, they can phone in a message from onstage and let their audience be a part of it!
The Queue and Scheduling features might be perfectly suited to a record label, publicist and fan club president in charge of an artist’s tumblelog. Queue lets you stagger posts over a period of hours or days; it’s an easy way to keep your blog active and consistent. You can also schedule posts to publish at specific dates and times in the future: If you always post a quote on Monday mornings, for instance, you can enter several quotes ahead of time and schedule them to post on subsequent Monday mornings.
Beyond Social Networking
By itself, a tumblelog is just a big virtual scrapbook or archive. But when you add an element of social interaction, it becomes a virtual community where people get to know and trust you — the person as well as the artist. This trust turns listeners into loyal fans. And that community is what social networking is all about.
As with Twitter, you can “follow” other tumblelogs. When you do, their posts will show up on your Dashboard (similar to your Twitter stream). When you find a tumblelog that you like, you can “like” it by clicking on the heart icon or you can reblog it to your own tumblelog, just like re-tweeting on Twitter or sharing on Facebook. You can even syndicate your tumblelog posts to show up on your Facebook and Twitter profiles.
But Tumblr ups the ante with three features that promote direct and active engagement.
The first involves directly asking your followers a question. By simply ending a post with a question mark, you’ll be given the option to “Let People Answer This.” If you check this box, a response field and an Answer button will appear on the post, and followers will be able to give direct feedback. This could be a great way to ask for opinions or run a contest.
The second feature is just the opposite. It allows your followers to ask you a question. By checking the “Let people ask questions” box under your Blog Settings, a link or button (depending on your theme) will appear on your tumblelog. The default is “Ask Me Anything,” but you can customize this message too. When someone clicks on this button, they’ll see a screen in which they can type a question and click “Ask.” Their question will show up in your Messages inbox. It’s up to you whether you answer these directly or publicly publish the answer on your tumblelog.
The third feature, “Submissions,” allows fans to submit posts to their favorite artist’s tumblelog. By checking the box beside “Let People Submit Posts” in our Blog Settings, a link or button will appear on your tumblelog. By default it says “Submit,” but you can change it to say whatever you want. Followers click on that button to submit posts to you. You can choose which types of posts to allow as well as enter submission guidelines. All submissions will be delivered to your Messages Inbox, where you can review them and decide whether to publish them.
One way to get your audience involved and to use this feature would be to ask fans to submit photos and/or videos of your concerts. Or have them submit photos and/or stories of themselves, from which you can select a “fan of the week.”
Tumblr has apps for iPhone and Android. There’s also a “Bookmarklet” that you can place on your Bookmarks Bar to help you share things you find on the Web. You can customize the look of your blog with themes, pages and even custom CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). You can add a custom URL, have multiple blogs and even set up group blogs. And it’s all for free, with no ads, banners or logos.
Room for Improvement
In case you were wondering, not everything is perfect on Tumblr.
Searching for other tumblelogs is clunky at best. If you search for the tag “Country Music,” you’ll get a bunch of fans posting photos and commentaries on their favorite artists, but it will take a long time to sift through them to find an actual artist with a tumblelog. Even if you search for a particular artist, you’ll still have to wade through other people talking about the artist before you find their actual official tumblelog. Basically, you have to know the email address or URL of the one you’re looking for.
Because some tumblelogs are chock-full of photos and videos, they can be s-l-o-w to load. Themes that show lots of photos and videos at the same time can be particularly hazardous. Be careful when choosing how to display your posts if you plan to use a lot of images.
The Help documentation is also lacking quite a bit. As Tumblr continues to change and grow, some features can be hard to find. For example, the call-in audio feature mentioned earlier used to be found under the heading “Goodies.” That menu item no longer exists; it’s now found by going to “About” and then to “Tips.” By the time you’re reading this, that might have changed too.
Growing pains are inevitable. But all in all, Tumblr is feature-rich with few drawbacks and plenty of promise as a means to broaden and strengthen your fan base.