Uses for Tumblr #2 – not just another social media site

Tumblr has yet to become quite as commercialised as some of the other social media platforms. About the only overly commercial posts I ever seen on Tumblr (all since Yahoo took over, boo hiss) have been for horror movies. But that’s not to say that Tumblr can’t be used for digital promotion.

But treating Tumblr like any other social media site won’t do – this is not the place to just post your latest news with a link or a picture of your new product. A Tumblr campaign should be subtle. Customised. Proof that you understand what people use Tumblr for.

That being said about the most well known successful Tumblr campaign to date is anything but.


Obama’s 2012 campaign ‘won’ TumblrLaura Olin, named as Obama‘s Tumblr czar by Mother Jones, led a team of 4 on a Tumblr campaign that led to President Obama’s posts acquiring an average of 70,000 notes (likes and reblogs) while a Romney’s published content was stuck around 400 notes.

The Obama election page hasn’t been updated in over a year, but it remains a clean, clear design – mostly focused on posting original content, but it’s obvious the tone was carefully considered as to what would best appeal to its audience. It’s a shame it wasn’t continued – Tumblr is a natural home for left wing politics – the Wendy Davis filibuster was everywhere – and surely even a sitting president wouldn’t want to lose that insight about the electorate…

Given all the subtitled animated gifs all over Tumblr, using the site to promote a TV show seems like a natural fit.


The official Doctor Who Tumblr has embraced fan culture, posting new content (complete with spoiler tags) and reblogging suitable fan content – be it fanart, cosplay, episode gifs or even stuffed toys. It was active all the way through the Day of the Doctor and the Time of the Doctor big events in 2013, and was quick to post up pictures of the Capaldi reveal.

It’s not clear if official Doctor Who is run by the BBC or its American affiliate BBC America – the branding on the site would suggest the later, and if so, that’s a shame. Doctor Who is such a quintessentially British thing. It should have a British Tumblr.

NBC’s Hannibal has a official Tumblr too – though given the subject matter this one is less child friendly (not that children should ever be on Tumblr).


An official trailer tops their Tumblr homepage above reblogs of a lot of episode gifs, but using their official page and not viewing through the standard Tumblr dashboard does make things harder to view – it’s not the most user friendly of experiences even if it is visually striking.

So the key to Tumblr is to do more than just blog – you have to reblog.

And you really cannot be precious about your brand. If Doctor Who or Hannibal refused to reblog any gifs because there is no way the users could have posted them unless they had also *cough* acquired *cough* the episodes online, then the audience would turn on them instantly.

Because these are not just your shows, production companies, these are the fan’s shows. And Tumblr is where fans hang out.

Brands on Tumblr have to have a sense of humour – hence reblogs of Cosplay and animated gifs without any screaming about copyright.

Of course, then you have the brands that take that to an extreme…

Denny's Tumblr

Where they post things like this:

Denny's pancakes gif

Pancakes! They’re just as useful as they are delicious! Follow along as we improve your every day problems with some handy lifehacks flaphacks. Flaphack #1: Got a wobbly table? Throw some flapjacks under that thing, baby! Boom! Problem solved!

Original post

I’ve never eaten at Denny’s. I don’t think there is one in the UK and back when I was in the US (those many moons ago) it wasn’t really somewhere I had a yen to explore.

But damn if Denny’s Tumblr doesn’t make me want to go there.

Bravo Denny’s, Bravo.

And I suppose I should, as the publication of online news is officially how I make my bread, say something about how news brands use Tumblr.

In a word, badly.

The Guardian and the Atlantic both use Tumblr the same way – large pic, link to content.

Guardian tumblr

The Atlantic tumblrIn essence they mostly use Tumblr they same way most news organisations use Twitter or Facebook – as a content syndication service. Image, link, done.

They may have many followers (but the count for that is hidden so it’s hard to know how successful they are) but they aren’t engaging. They aren’t being part of the site.

It’s a great way for them to show off how great their picture desks are, but that’s about it.

Currently only one of my (very professionally oriented) news brands is has a Tumblr account. We set it up in order to serve as a home for social news, but it just ended up being a channel that sent traffic away from our main editorial site. Not a lot of traffic, it’s true, but I don’t see Tumblr as being something that my brands, who don’t generate gifs of attractive men in suits with cannibalism habits or have the powerful and photogenic man in the world to boost their reblogs, can really find a solid use for. Our audience may already be using the site, but in the same way you don’t want to friend your boss on Facebook, an average user who values their anonymity is unlikely to follow a professional magazine on Tumblr.

That being said if my job was the online promotion of any genre television series or pancake related food stuff I would be all over that sh*t.

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