3 ways to use Tumblr to promote content and grow your audience

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Tumblr can play an important role in a publisher’s content strategy. Don’t think of Tumblr as a traditional blog, however – it’s more like a super-sized Twitter, which means it’s a great platform for publishing short bursts of content, but without Twitter’s length or presentation restraints.

Tumblr’s popularity is increasing quickly. Nielsen’s Q3 Social Media Report states that Tumblr’s unique U.S. audience tripled between May 2010 and May 2011, and its 11.8 million monthly uniques make it the eighth largest social network and blog site in the U.S. The company recently raised $85 million in financing.

What’s driving Tumblr’s success? The platform fills a gap between Twitter and a full-fledged blog. It is particularly suited for visual content. And its personality tends to be a bit looser than most publishers’ websites. Here’s how Mark Coatney, former Newsweek editor and current Media Evangelist for Tumblr, described the platform in a Q&A with CNNMoney.com:

“What Tumblr wants to be is the most interesting party you've ever been at. That party could have a political discussion in the kitchen or people doing keg stands in the living room, but it's all about that whole range of human expression. I don't think we want to limit ourselves and say we're primarily a news delivery platform because one of the things I've enjoyed most about Tumblr is that there's no one right way to use it.”

Which explains the broad variety of Tumblr implementations by publishers. While the look-and-feel of these sites is all over the map, publishers have three main options for populating their Tumblr blogs.

Repackaging content

Most publishers with Tumblr blogs are excerpting existing articles, photos and other digital content. Much like Twitter accounts or Facebook pages, Tumblr is a good platform for promoting your content and driving readers back to your website – without a heavy investment in new content creation.

Time’s Lightbox blog, for example, features visuals from the magazine’s photo editors – a natural extension for a publisher that has invested heavily in photojournalism. The Lightbox Tumblr links back to the website’s more extensive Lightbox offering.

  

Similarly, Vogue’s Tumblr highlights the magazine’s extensive fashion photography – with links back to the original Web spreads. The New Yorker takes a similar approach, featuring photos and its iconic cartoons in posts.

  

NBC News’s Tumblr blog highlights some of its quirkier Web content and uses heavy doses of video and photos in its posts.

  

Tumblr also is a way for publishers to tease premium content. The Daily, for example uses its Tumblr blog to highlight content from its paid iPad app.

Tumblr is not just for consumer publishers. Inc. magazine, for example has a Tumblr blog that it uses to promote its long website articles.

  

Finally, Tumblr is a great outlet for publishers with deep archives. Newsweek just launched Newsweek Archivist, a Tumblr that highlights past covers and archived articles.

  

Curating content

Tumblr makes it easy to curate content through a “re-blogging” feature – similar to Twitter’s re-tweet button – which creates a copy of any post on your own blog, to which you can then add comments. Reblogged posts automatically provide attribution to the original poster.

For example, ProPublica’s Tumblr, called Officials Say the Darndest Things, offers a collection of quotes from politicians, many of which are curated.

  

The Huffington Post – the king of curation – applies those principles to Tumblr as well, often in the form of pullquotes.

  

Posting original content

If you have the resources, a Tumblr blog offers a platform for expanding your coverage with content that doesn’t make it into full web or print articles, or topics that are tangential to your core print or Web publishing mission.

Not many publishers are making this investment. GQ is one; it mixes original posts in with excerpts from its longer features.

  

Time is another; one of its two Tumblr blogs provides an insider’s view of the publication, with insights into how the sausage is made each week, often accompanied by photos. “You're already well-informed about the news,” the blog states. “Now be well-informed about TIME.”

  

Bonus benefit: Profanity!

As I mentioned earlier, Tumblr’s tone leans toward fast and loose. Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly both featured the F-bomb prominently in Tumblr posts this week. Have fun with that!

  

Regardless of the format you follow – or the expletives you choose to re-blog – Tumblr is worth experimenting with as a way to engage and expand your audience. 

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