GET ANIMATED on TUMBLR
Launched: February 2007 As of June 2013, 132 million monthly unique users 60 million new posts every day The Tumblr blog was originally on WordPress; it didn’t move to Tumblr until May 2008. For every new feature Tumblr introduces, an old one is removed. Ranks number one in average number of minutes per visit (Facebook ranks third) Bought for $1.1 billion by Yahoo on May 19, 2013 Tumblr isn’t for everyone. It skews young, appealing largely to eighteen- to thirtyfour-year-olds with a slight tilt toward women. In addition, it skews extremely artsy, providing an exhibition space for photographers, musicians, and graphic designers. If Twitter is hip-hop, Tumblr is indie rock. And yet, though Tumblr doesn’t have the scale of Pinterest or Instagram, you should be there.
I have a soft spot for this platform, and even invested in it in 2009. I became a huge fan during the early days of my career, both because it was so easy to use and because its minimalist format invited less text-heavy, more visually oriented posts. In fact, Tumblr’s young founder, twenty-six-year-old David Karp, created Tumblr because though he wanted to blog, he found the “big empty text box” of traditional blogging platforms too daunting. His problem was the same as mine: He had tons of ideas to share, but he hated to write. Tumblr’s obstsalat (German for “fruit salad”) format became a perfect platform for the random bits and pieces of content that started getting tossed around as users scrolled through the site. Most people continue to think of Tumblr as a mere blogging platform, but in the few short years since its launch in 2007, it has become much more. In January 2012, it debuted a newly streamlined dashboard that suggested an attempt to Twitterfy itself and embrace its evolution as a full-fledged social media site. And in a Forbes interview that same month, Karp referred to it as a “media network.” So what is it? It’s all of those things, but to get the most out of it, brands should approach it as a brandable, unique, micro-content exhibition space and sparring ring. WHY IT’S BRANDABLE Tumblr can’t be beat as a branding platform. When selecting a background for your home page, you can choose from a series of Tumblr-designed “themes.” If you wish, you can tweak those to your liking. But you can also create a completely custom look, one that perfectly reflects your brand and continues the story you’re telling through your content. Color, format, font, logo placement, art—you can be as creative as you want. Unlike on Facebook, where you are locked into a definite Facebook “look,” or even Twitter, where despite some profile page customization options, users are limited to seeing an endless slot-machine blur of plain text, Tumblr gives you complete artistic control. It represents the perfect opportunity for brands to experiment with new creative storytelling forms. WHY IT’S UNIQUE Unlike Facebook and Twitter, which guide social connections through who you know—the social graph—Tumblr was the original interest graph platform, meaning connections are made based on what people are interested in. Produce the right eye candy for your audience, and they will find you. And on Tumblr, there is a particularly tasty bit of candy at your disposal that you can’t post on any other social network: the animated GIF. The acronym stands for Graphics Interchange Format, which does little to explain what the heck they are. But you’ve seen them. They’re so popular that the Oxford English Dictionary chose GIF as its 2012 U.S. word of the year. If you’re old enough to remember Ally McBeal, you’ll remember that dancing baby that showed up everywhere for a while. That was one of the early animated GIF memes. Today, you might see someone post a looping three-second moving image of Oprah strutting through her audience, or an otherwise still shot of a landscape with trees that blow in the wind. That’s an animated GIF . People have also adopted them as live-action emoticons, using animated GIFs of celebrities with their jaws dropping open, for example, to express surprise and shock. Animated GIFs are becoming a whole new cultural movement and vehicle for self-expression, and the best place to find them is on Tumblr. People are creating amazing art with the form,
transforming ordinary images into magical mini-worlds. A picture of a fish is beautiful; a picture of a fish whose mouth is open and closing is surprising, funny, dramatic, and kinetic. You can use an animated GIF for your Twitter profile picture, but in general, aside from Google+, there is no social media site that allows you to take advantage of this gorgeous, powerful storytelling format the way Tumblr does. Does it matter that much, especially when the scale of viewers is so much less here than on other image-heavy sites like Pinterest and Instagram? An unscientific comparison of still images to animated GIFs on Tumblr often reveals that people are driven to engage with moving pictures far more than they are with static ones. Many times, a gorgeous photo will get three times fewer hearts, or likes, than the relatively dull image right next to it, simply because the dull image is also an animated GIF . Animated GIFs are still so new that they offer an element of surprise and wonder. What’s a marketer’s job if not to treat your customers to surprise and wonder? WHY IT’S A TERRIFIC SPARRING RING Tumblr has always been more of a publishing platform than a consumption platform, but people do consume there, just at an incredibly rapid rate. That’s why it’s perfect for mobile: because users can just scroll and scroll and scroll and feed themselves with an endless stream of beautiful, even haunting images. The jabbing possibilities should be obvious. Tell your story and create brand impressions through amazing art that highlights what makes your brand special. Tumblr is arty, and so is its audience. This isn’t crafty, scrapbooking Middle America; this is urban loft, bike-riding, ironic eyewear America. Study the platform, figure out what people are looking for, and give it to them in the platform’s native tongue, preferably in GIF form. That’s your surest way of getting people to slow their speed-scroll down to a crawl, and maybe even stop to vote their approval by liking it with the little heart button or commenting with a note. Don’t be afraid to deejay other people’s content by adding your own copy and posting it to your blog, either. The easy shareability of content makes community building a cinch here. Make sure to add plenty of detailed tags to make it easy for people looking for content like yours to find. While Tumblr is overwhelmingly a platform ripe for jabs, right hooks are possible. Just keep them very, very quiet. Every now and then, add a link to the bottom of your content that directs users to your Web page or retail site. If your content is as good as it should be, people will be thrilled to see that they can purchase your cool product or service. In addition, as with all platforms, keep an eye out for future opportunities to convert the sale. Even if you don’t feel like Tumblr is an optimal site for you, it’s better to get there early and get comfortable so that by the time your competitors recognize that they’ve been missing out on an opportunity, you’ve cornered the market. I believe all of these tips will remain relevant even though as I was putting the finishing touches on this chapter, Yahoo bought the company for $1.1 billion. My opinion may be a little skewed since I am fortunate enough to be an investor in Tumblr, but I don’t think this purchase will result in a lot of changes to the platform. Yahoo will probably take a hands-off approach and simply let David Karp’s genius run unfettered. It’s likely that we will see a little more aggressive advertising on the platform, but if Yahoo has any sense, it will navigate this acquisition in the same way as Facebook did when it bought Instagram—it will leave it alone.
COLOR COMMENTARY LIFE: Successfully Bridging Generations
We’ve talked about how one of the biggest advantages to Tumblr is that it provides a native platform for the animated GIF , and that it’s a habitat for young, hip artists and progressive companies. Yet one of the best pieces of Tumblr content represented in this book is neither an animated GIF , nor the brainchild of a particularly progressive brand. It’s a sixty-year-old black-and-white photograph first published in a magazine whose name lives on only on the Web (with the exception of the occasional special magazine you’ll find by the checkout register at the grocery store). And it’s freaking awesome. Here are all the reasons why. It scores high on the cool spectrum: Tumblr demands coolness. Is there anyone cooler than Marlon Brando? Even people who have no interest in the brand’s history as a pioneer in photojournalism will be captivated by this image, and curious to know more about the company that posted it. It rides the pop culture zeitgeist: By posting this picture on Brando’s birthday, when the actor was already bound to be part of the global conversation, Life gave it a much better chance of being noticed by consumers and other publications than if they had posted it on any other random day. The content is a rarity: In releasing this previously unpublished photo from its archives, Life built its street cred as a purveyor of exclusive and elusive content, which is exactly what the Tumblr audience wants. The word-of-mouth potential is huge because consumers will share the content just so they can be the first among their friends to say they spotted it. Life’s execution of this content was spot-on, and continuing in this vein should help this old-school brand build some recognition and give it access to the younger generation.
PAUL SCHEER: Storytelling in Place of Self-Promotion
You’ve seen Paul Scheer before, you just didn’t know it. He’s the B-list—actually, that may be generous—he’s the solid C-list comedian with the Grand Canyon–sized gap in his teeth who has appeared in everything from the police procedural parody NTSF:SD.SUV on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim to 30 Rock to Yo Gabba Gabba, and currently costars in the fantasy football comedy The League on FX. Obsessed with AMC’s drama Breaking Bad, Sheer created a Tumblr blog to spread the word about the show to his fans and make sure they start watching. In doing so, of course, he also gave the general public a reason to start watching him. And they should, because he’s brilliant. Smart use of native content: Scheer takes advantage of the only platform that gives him access to the medium that most overindexes with social media users, the animated GIF, going so far as to herald it as the next ascendant art form. “If Leonardo da Vinci painted the Sistine Chapel today, he would do it with GIFs.” (I know, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel. But he would use GIFs, too.) Takes advantage of pop culture: Breaking Bad is hugely popular with its fans, so rather than try to compete for their attention, Scheer simply used the Tumblr platform to make himself part of a conversation that was already happening. Promotes the brand rather than sells the brand: Rather than doing obvious self-promotion, Scheer uses the blog to storytell about himself and build a community for other people who appreciate his general brand of wackiness. Aside from Breaking Bad fans, the blog is going to spur anyone with a taste for psychedelic rainbows and flying Pop Tarts to turn to his friends and tell them to watch. Their interest in Scheer’s work and their attraction to him as a personality will probably follow him long beyond the Breaking Bad finale.
With this Tumblr campaign, Scheer is on his way to joining a class of A-list performers like Betty White and Louis C.K., whose savvy use of pop culture and technology helped them build their star power and propel their careers to new popular heights.
SMIRNOFF: Doing It All Wrong
Oh my God, why did you even bother, Smirnoff? This post shows that the brand has no clue how the Tumblr platform works. Inane text: You tell fans, “Need drink ideas? Check out @SmirnoffUS on Twitter.” Why should they? What have you offered in this post that would make any liquor connoisseur believe that Smirnoff has anything interesting to say? No link: If the goal were to encourage Tumblr fans to start following Smirnoff on Twitter, wouldn’t it have made sense to add a link taking them there? Consumers have the attention spans of mosquitoes—you have to do as much of the work for them as you can. Boring photo: It’s bad to use a still photo on a platform where you have the option of posting exciting, attention-getting animated GIFs. But Smirnoff could have redeemed itself had its creative team at least done something artistic with the photo, like Absolut did back in the 1990s. What value could they possibly bring to their consumers with a stock photo of a Smirnoff bottle? Even simply making the bottle move from side to side would have been more interesting than this.
FRESH AIR: Knows Its Audience
For a staid media company, NPR has shown surprising and admirable savvy as it has successfully rebranded itself from a radio broadcaster to a disseminator of information and entertainment across all digital platforms. Its arts and culture talk show Fresh Air shows a similarly astute sensibility with this example of perfect Tumblr micro-content: Native art: The only drawback of animated GIFs is that they don’t translate well to the book page, so only by going directly to Fresh Air’s Tumblr blog will you be able to experience the full effect of the repeated loop of this scene from the Merchant-Ivory film A Room with a View, in which George, played by Julian Sands, passionately kisses Lucy, played by Helena Bonham Carter, looking sweet and innocent in her pre–Bellatrix Lestrange days. But it’s totally worth going to the site to see Fresh Air’s perfect execution in their blog post commemorating the passing of screenplay writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. On-brand text: Normally, this much text on Tumblr would be a turnoff, but this content was created for the NPR audience, and the NPR audience is made up of avid readers. It would have been out of character not to explain why the blog had previously ignored Jhabvala’s death. In addition, the text is so personal and so Fresh Air you really get a sense of the human beings behind the blog.
ANGRY BIRDS: Playing Toward Emotional Investment The Tumblr blog where this art appears was nominated for a 2012 Webby award. Rovio, the parent company that created a cultural touchstone with the video game Angry Birds, created the art. Angry Birds then combined it with another cultural touchstone, Star Wars, to create the mega-successful Angry Birds Star Wars. There are many reasons why the site is so popular, but there is one detail that warrants special attention, because it shows that the company really gets Tumblr:
They invited the community in. You’d expect the quality of any art put out by Rovio to be of the highest caliber. But if you look at the banner on the left side of the image, you’ll see that Rovio didn’t create this art at all. A fan made it. And Rovio has taken pains to make sure that everyone knows it. That’s an incredibly smart move on the company’s part. The Tumblr family is a deeply committed community, and Rovio wisely realized that if it invited followers to participate in the blog, and not just follow it, they would transfer much of their demo’s emotional investment to the blog. It’s an excellent way to build community and drive brand awareness.
LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON:
Fanning the Flames of Greatness
Jimmy Fallon’s Tumblelog, packed with reblogged material from fans creating animated GIFs with clips from his show, provides an excellent example of how to storytell on Tumblr. Post after post, we’re entertained by the lunatic facial expressions and funny lines of his guests and fellow comedians like Amy Poehler and Retta Sirleaf. With this particular piece of micro-content, Fallon uses two animated GIFs as a gateway drug to the hard stuff, piquing our attention so that we’re compelled to click on the link that takes us to YouTube, where we can watch the interview with Adam Scott in its entirety. This content succeeds on every level: Makes use of content originally posted by a fan? Check. Acknowledges said fan so that other Tumblr users can find her? Check. Animated GIF? Check. Word-of-mouth-worthy? Any Tumblr follower who just turned forty or knows someone who’s about to could share this content, and gauging by the more than two thousand notes it earned, measuring how many times this GIF was liked or reblogged, it looks like they did.
AMAZON MP3: Throwing a Straight-Up Ask
I love this right hook mostly for the mere fact that it exists. It may bear the Amazon name, but the Amazon MP3 store does not have the brand awareness of its juggernaut parent company, placing it much closer in rank to an ordinary retail store. I get a lot of questions about how retailers should play on social, and this is a great example. It’s interesting to note how much black-and-white images overindex on Tumblr. Obviously the Amazon MP3 store is working with promotional materials for Justin Timberlake’s album, so maybe this choice was just lucky. Regardless, the team knew well enough to take advantage of a striking, dramatic image. The copy is crisp and on voice for the audience and for the album: Just two words—“affordable luxury”—make us feel like we’re getting a premium product for a bargain. The link takes us straight to the product and store—no hunting around necessary. And finally, right there in the copy, the price—$7.99 through Monday. Nothing coy, nothing bashful. This is not a half-pregnant ask. This micro-content encapsulates the message of this entire book: If you jab properly beforehand—through bringing your customers value in the form of a chuckle, or infotainment, or breaking news—you can say “Buy now!” and “Buy this!” without sounding like a carnival barker. Strong jabs buy you permission to throw unabashed right hooks.
WWF: Undermining Its Own Great Resources There is a very small part of me that takes pleasure in critiquing this piece by the World Wildlife Fund. It’s a little retribution for all the pain I suffered after the WWF forced the World Wrestling Federation, which also went by WWF , to change its name to World Wrestling Entertainment. World Wildlife Fund has some gorgeous photographs on its blog. This picture of a man with a small child in his lap is one of them. Unfortunately, WWF has done nothing to make it memorable. There is nothing boring or dry about the issues championed by the WWF , and yet their Tumblr blog is about as inspiring as an empty sandbox. There is no story to grab our attention, no reason why we should stop to find out who is depicted in the photo, and no clear call to action. Dry, boring text: “Just uploaded one new photo on Flickr.” And??? Then, when we click to Flickr to see the photo, we’re confronted with such dull copy it feels like it was cut and pasted from a database. There is no storytelling going on
here. Weak call to action: It’s not until we click on the link to WWF’s Flickr account that we learn that this is a picture of a community leader in Borneo and his fiveyear-old son. It informs us that this community is engaged in something called the Kutai Barat project, which “helps communities along the River Mahakam secure land tenure rights and livelihood skills.” Then, the only additional link takes you back to the WWF home page, not to a page dedicated to the Kutai Barat project.
WWF has access to all the resources it needs to tell some of the most compelling stories on Tumblr, but here it missed the mark, and badly.
DENNY’S: Showing Some Delicious Moves This is just one example of the tremendous work Denny’s is doing on Tumblr.
Great GIF: They are pros with animated GIFs. In this post, a fork repeatedly scoops up a soft heap of steaming hot pancake dripping with syrup. Great link: Above, if you can tear your eyes off the GIF, you’ll see four huge
links to the company’s Twitter feed, Facebook page, Tumblr archives, and corporate website. You can’t miss them. Great text: The text plays off the popular YC song “Racks,” demonstrating that this brand, traditionally popular with families and retirees, knows how to talk to Millennials, too. So much so, in fact, that a blogger who goes by the name Synecdoche, a New York–based writer with a large Tumblr following, felt compelled to reblog this post to all of her followers. For a corporate brand to get praise from an anticorporate personality like her is like getting welcomed to the in crowd. It’s the kind of word of mouth that has major impact on your business, the kind that can drive a car full of hungry rap-loving Tumblr users to pull into a Denny’s parking lot.
TARGET: Hitting a Bull’s-Eye To see a pitch-perfect example of native storytelling and a strong right hook, take a look at this page on Target’s aptly named Tumblr blog, On the Dot. It shows a dress. Specifically, a skater dress with a keyhole back. And in 3.7 seconds a flashing animated GIF allows us to see every version of it—black with studded collar detail, black and white stripes, bright floral, turquoise with white polka dots—while at the same time demonstrating the swishiness of the skirt. The piece has a clean look: The animated GIF of the dress stands out against lots of white space and a bare minimum of elegant black script. Direct call to action: Immediately below the GIF, three links (the polka dot dress is in-store only) let you pick the dress you want and take you straight to the Target website so you can buy it. The tags are perfect, too.
Somebody at Target knows exactly what he or she is doing.
GQ: Showing Mad Smart Tumblr Skills To celebrate Mad Men’s sixth-season premiere, GQ announced “Happy Mad Men Day!” on Tumblr, accompanying the post with a photograph of many of the show’s characters indulging in yet another cocktail hour. Here’s why it scored more than two thousand notes:
They paid attention to pop culture: Millions of people were waiting with bated breath for the return of their favorite midcentury ad execs. GQ was smart to capitalize on their enthusiasm for the show. Smart links: Not only is there a link below the photo, but the photo itself links to a meaty article, “The GQ Guide to Mad Men,” which GQ published a year earlier on the eve of the show’s fifth season, serving to remind followers where they can go to get more in-depth Mad Men coverage. Appropriate tagging: Tagging is an extremely important part of Tumblr culture, and here GQ made smart use of it, including keywords like “Television,” “John Slattery,” “Jon Hamm,” “Don Draper,” and “Mad Men.”
Questions to Ask About Your Tumblr Content
Did I customize my theme in a way that properly reflects my brand?
Did I make a cool animated GIF?
Did I make a cool animated GIF?
Did I make a cool animated GIF?