“I personally think 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.”
He calls news organizations very important to Tumblr’s growth and promises the company will come up with some way to help users make money on their platform, which has eluded them so far.
“The more we can do to figure out how to help people make money of Tumblr, the better,” Coatney says.
Monetizing the platform and helping users measure the impact of their blogs are two key challenges for Tumblr, which just raised $85 million in funding. Tumblr plans to add an analytics dashboard to help users keep track of their stats, Coatney said at an online journalism conference in September. He wouldn’t go into detail on a timeframe, however, saying only that he hopes it will be within a year.
Even without those tools, Tumblr is immensely popular, apparently reaching 13 billion pageviews per month. The interesting question is where these pageviews come from.
However, much of the Tumblr interaction happens in the dashboard, a feed of content posted by the bloggers you follow. It’s similar to a Twitter feed, only with longer and more visual pieces. When you’re logged in, you can pass along, like and sometimes comment on posts all from that dashboard. In one pageview, you see dozens of pieces of content before having to jump to the next page.
So for a lot of interaction, users don’t leave their own feed, which makes the numbers even more impressive – so much so that Gawker as well as some TechCrunch commenters wondered whether those stats are based mostly on porn.
Coatney pointed in exactly the opposite direction during the journalism conference, saying that many people visit Tumblr sites like a regular blog, which would indicate that many pageviews come from outside visitors, not logged-in users.
Either way, Tumblr seems eager to keep the drinking and make-out sessions at the proverbial party from drowning out more respectable discussions. To that end, Coatney and Phoebe Connelly of Yahoo! News shared some tips for news organizations looking to expand on Tumblr.
1. Post interesting content
Photos do well on Tumblr, but it’s not always the visual stuff that gets a lot of feedback. Tumblr users reward original, unique content, the two said.
Look for the nuggets in a story that can start a conversation or spark interest. That may be a quote, a statistic or a photo. Long written posts don’t do so well, Connelly said, but breaking news get a lot of traction. (An example is Shortformblog)
2. Post early
While traffic peaks at noon, the posts that get the most attention during the day are often made early in the day. (You can use the queue function to schedule posts).
3. Tag your posts
Tumblr’s search function is based on keywords, not people, so the only way to discover new users and content is through tags. A number of tags are featured on the Tumblr site – remember those and use them in your content so that others can find what you’ve posted.
You can also discover people to follow through the Spotlight page, but only for the topics covered there. After analytics, a proper search function is probably my biggest wish for Tumblr to improve its platform, because without anyone to follow, there’s no way for users to tap into the social aspect of the Tumblr experience.
4. Show personality
Because its audience skews younger, Tumblr blogs can show a quirkier side of a journalist or news organization (have you seen mine?). Give a behind-the-scenes look (as NPR Fresh Air does) or an employee’s own views (as Coatney did while he worked at Newsweek prior to joining Tumblr). Don’t fear the comment section, either: Because comments are most often added through reblogs, they end up on the user’s own site, too. That means they’re not as mean as elsewhere on the Internet.
5. Use Tumblr for special projects
Because it’s so easy to use and lightweight, Tumblr can offer a great base for a side project, especially if it involves user submissions and lots of multimedia content. The Guardian used a Tumblr blog that they presented beautifully on their main site for their coverage of the SXSW conference; Jessica Stahl of Voice of America used Tumblr to collect responses from around the world surrounding the 9/11 anniversary. Our team also used a Tumblr site to organize the spontaneous session Coatney and Connelly spoke at.
For more tips, take a look at tweets from the Tumblr session. Michael Janairo’s collection is embedded below, and NABJ also did a good roundup including many additional links.