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3 Tips for Successful Content Marketing on Tumblr

tumblr fan art
My Little Pony fan art on Tumblr

By now, you’ve probably heard all about Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr and what this might mean for branded content marketing. Naturally, the internet company’s prime objective is to monetize the popular blogging and social networking platform, and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has discussed plans to keep advertising “tasteful and seamless.”

Regardless of what happens to the newly acquired platform from an advertising and financial standpoint, Tumblr will surely place a priority on retaining its viability as a content channel through which brands can tell a story and connect with consumers. That’s what Tumblr’s all about: It’s a place to showcase content, and a place to share it. It’s a virtual display case for creative types, and an ever-expanding catalogue of visual art. Tumblr’s users know good photos, animated GIFs, and blog posts when they see them, and won’t hesitate to broadcast your content far and wide — if you can master the platform to ensure your branded work is what they’re looking for.

Here are three pointers for producing successful content marketing efforts on Tumblr:

1. Choose your format wisely

Back in February, during New York’s Social Media Week, Tumblr hosted a master class on using its platform to tell brand stories (you can watch it in its entirety here). According to Tumblr’s Brand Strategist, Alexis Kaplan, photos are the most popular content on the site, followed by animated GIFs, text, and video. She also hinted that Tumblr expects audio to be big this year.

This is information that content marketers can use to their advantage. If you have a choice between promoting a branded photo and a video, you might consider posting the photo to Tumblr and using the video somewhere else. Another option is to recycle content you already have into something that’s more likely to resonate with Tumblr users, such as compiling a few frames from a video to create an original animated GIF. Consider which content formats your Tumblr followers are most likely to engage with and share. Remember, the content they seek out on this platform isn’t necessarily the same stuff you’re using on Facebook or YouTube.

2. Follow your fans, and share their content

Following your consumers is an important courtesy that shows your brand is listening and appreciates what they have to say. Yet, many brands shy away from this practice, for various reasons. For example, on a site like Twitter, where counts are posted for all to see, it can look a little suspicious when follower and following numbers are neck and neck. Some might see this and question the brand’s value and credibility, thinking it may have garnered an audience entirely through follow-backs instead of through the quality and value of its Twitter content.

On Tumblr, the issue of whether or not to follow back isn’t of much concern because Tumblr’s default setting doesn’t display following counts (though there are some themes and widgets that allow you to publicize them). This means brands can — and should — follow back without having to worry about public perceptions about its numbers. It’s a good way to get to know your followers, as well as to expose yourself to their content, which might be something you can use as part of your overarching content strategy. Allowing consumers to freely create drawings, GIFs, and other re-imaginings of your products on Tumblr can help foster a sense of community, and it also provides an outlet for them to publicly voice their passion for your brand (the same kind of positive impact that comes from reblogging customers’ posts on other platforms).

One brand that’s experiencing Tumblr success by leveraging fan content is the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” It maintains an open call for creations on its Tumblr page, and the quality of the submissions it receives is simply stunning. Entries represent content that the marketers behind “Game of Thrones” can promote through its other social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter. To further engage its followers, the brand also runs contests that solicit more specific formats, like a Season 3 poster design, and offers the chance to win prize packs.

game of thrones-tumblr

3. Make content that incites an emotional response 

The beauty of working with a visually stimulating platform like Tumblr is that it’s sometimes easier to incite an emotional response with photography and video than with words. Visual content is memorable, and thus it has a high potential to spread virally.

According to a “Journal of Marketing Research” article, called What Makes Online Content Viral?, content that invokes a “high-arousal emotion” like awe or amusement is more likely to be shared than one that simply makes users feel content (sadness-inducing content, though it counts as high-arousal, is better left untouched). The report also notes that users are less likely to blog about “useful,” commentary-driven content than they are about emotional stories.

One way to employ high-arousal emotions is to tap into your customer’s inner child. For its part, Disney invited a handful of photographers to visit its theme parks and document their experiences. They weren’t given much direction beyond shooting “what they’d like to see captured,” and some of the photographers used nothing more than an iPhone or an iPad to capture their images. The results became The Looking Glass Tumblr, which I’d be willing to bet elicits fond childhood memories in just about anyone who’s ever been to a Disney Park.


The General Mills Tumblr, meanwhile, showcases some amazing DIY arts and crafts projects that were created from cereal boxes (and, in some cases, the cereal itself). With the help of photo-based instructions, this successful content marketing approach served to bring out the kid in this kid-friendly brand’s followers.

If your brand’s personality doesn’t lend itself to whimsy, you can also try something more dramatic. For example, the Adidas Football Tumblr is divided into albums of photos that are heavy on victory-related imagery. The brand’s page even comes with its own heart-thumping audio soundtrack.


The months to come will bring changes to Tumblr advertising, but what isn’t likely to change is the vital role Tumblr can play in your brand’s successful content marketing strategy. Use it wisely, use it often, and use it well.

Learn more ways to take strategic advantage of the latest trends in content marketing by attending Content Marketing World 2013.