Taking on Tumblr.

The fastest growing social network can be an outstanding platform for brands that understand how to use it. A (very) rough guide to Tumblr marketing.
Matthew Klein
January 28, 2015 - 6 min. read

Tumblr isn’t the newest network on the social scene. It was launched in 2007, and was originally meant to be basically a stripped down, shorter form alternative to the blogging platforms that were so prominent in the early aughts, like Blogger and WordPress.

As it’s a blogging platform, Tumblr tends towards the personal, with users creating and curating often-idiosyncratic content on their own Tumblrs, and reblogging and liking content from other blogs that they follow.

Yahoo acquired the network in 2013 for the sum of $1.1 billion. Since then, they’ve only seen it grow larger. Marissa Mayer said late last year that the platform’s audience had reached 420 million users, and that the number of registered blogs had reached 206 million. This represented a 33% uptick in users since the acquisition.

Since the Yahoo takeover, Tumblr has been doing more to court brands on the network. They’ve recently launched new ad products, and they’re testing buy buttons on posts, currently available only to a few partners. They’ve also just announced a program called Creatrs, a sort of talent agency to connect artists who are on Tumblr with brands that are interested in using their work.

Out of all the social networks, Tumblr sees some of the best content from brands and some of the strongest results for them. Here’s a guide to what brands can do on it, who’s using it well, and how they get it right.

How’s it work?

First, for a quick refresher, here’s an outline of how Tumblr marketing works. It’s free to create a Tumblr, whether personal or branded. You can do a lot in terms of customizing the look of a Tumblr, and it’s possible to apply for a custom domain name. You can create, post and tag content—photos (including GIFs), videos, audio, text and quotes. People can follow you and engage by liking and reblogging your posts (and you can do the same for other Tumblrs).

Creating sponsored posts on Tumblr are a major step up from simply creating a branded Tumblr. The network reached the 300 advertiser mark in 2014, and though they don’t release price info, campaigns are definitely not cheap. Sponsored posts appear to web and mobile users on their dashboards, their feed of Tumblr content. Placement on other properties on the Yahoo network is also available. Analytics are available for Tumblrs through partners, with the better options being paid.

Much less commonly, brands have also paid to be the period in the Tumblr logo across the platform for a day for an undisclosed sum, as Starbucks did here, in what’s known as the sponsored dot program.

Tumblr Marketing

Plenty of potential

There are plenty of reasons why brands are itching to move to Tumblr beyond just the 420 million users.

At the end of Q3 2014, the average time spent by users had gone up to 28 minutes a session, from 22. Around 70% of Tumblr users are under 35, a highly coveted demographic for advertisers.

Advertisers’ forays into the network have seen a lot of success so far. The average sponsored post on Tumblr gets 10,000 engagements in the form of likes and reblogs, a number that absolutely dwarfs what advertisers could get on other networks. (The comparison is not entirely fair, considering the smaller size and higher price of Tumblr’s ad initiatives, but still.)

According to research from Union Metrics, an official Tumblr analytics partner, engagement numbers even for brands that don’t necessarily sponsor content are really high. The average Tumblr in their sample received engagements from 23,000 separate people over the course of a month, or 880 engagements per post.  

And, unlike on other networks, engagement doesn’t drop as quickly as it peaks. Good content can generate significant engagement for a long time after it’s posted, with people liking and reblogging consistently over the course of a month or so. Similarly, data from research carried out by Francesco D’Orazio and Jess Owens for research consultancy FACE, using Pulsar, shows that mentions of TV shows decrease much more slowly on Tumblr than on Twitter. 


The content that goes viral on Tumblr goes very viral, especially when taking into account the network’s size relative to Facebook.

All this adds up to make Tumblr an environment with a lot of opportunity for brands, and many are doing some great work. Still, there are some particulars that brands should take into account if they’re planning on taking the plunge into Tumblr marketing.

A world unto itself

Tumblr, at least on the users’ end, has often been referred to as a rabbit hole. If you haven’t been down it, it can be somewhat hard to describe.

Tumblr is highly customizable, its users tend to form tightly knit communities, and the network is not about to require them to use their real names anytime soon, all of which have a tendency to make the average Tumblr post more, perhaps, offbeat than those you might find on Facebook.

Images are the core of Tumblr, whether in the form of pictures, GIFs or videos, and creativity is highly prized. Even if memes are for the most part still born deep in the heart of Reddit or 4chan, Tumblr is where their form is refined and they explode into the consciousness of the internet at large. Reaction GIFs are a medium in themselves, and their spiritual home is on Tumblr. A lot of Tumblr celebrates the weird and the highly creative, and that’s a big part of why its users are so loyal.

Tumblr also took a look at the most viral blogs on the network for 2014, and most of them are gems. One of the most popular was @drunkfurniture, photos of sad furniture captioned to make the furniture sound drunk. 


Drunk Furniture is a good representation of the network’s pull for its core users. Obviously there’s a huge range of content on Tumblr, and not everything needs to be out there to succeed, but the brands that are doing well on the network are the ones that are aware of the ethos and the community of Tumblr when creating content.  

Brands that stand out

Because of the control you have over your Tumblr, it’s great channel for brand building; a number of companies are doing an outstanding job of engaging with content on the network.

General Electric is not the first brand you might think of as poised to do well on a social network that skews teen heavy. But on Tumblr as on other social networks, The General produces unexpected, consistently awesome content, much of it visually striking. (Like for example this art deco cover to a book GE printed in 1930).


Because Tumblr allows you to customize almost everything, you have the potential to create more immersive experiences than you would on say, Facebook.

Some luxury/aspirational brands have taken advantage of this to do interesting work. Burberry’s still-excellent Art of the Trench Tumblr features high quality photos of people wearing trench coats from street style photographers, blurring the line between user and brand generated content.


And Apple, an aspirational brand if there ever was one, made their first and only real foray into social media (they do use Linkedin for recruiting, and have a Youtube channel with no comments) with a Tumblr for the iPhone 5c.

All about the outlook

Succeeding on Tumblr can be a matter of approaching it with the right mindset. Any network comes with its own set of considerations, but on Tumblr, keeping them in mind is perhaps more critical to success.

Tumblr is an amazing channel for brands that take content seriously. Because there are no real ad products, and you should be looking more to build loyalty, create a community, and increase exposure than to drive sales directly through Tumblr.

Tumblr in general places a premium on creating stuff that people love (not just like). The brands that can manage that for their fans on Tumblr are the ones that reap the network’s rewards.

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