A Conversation with Tumblr: How To Build a Strong, Connected Community

Erica Santiago
Erica Santiago

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In 2007, the world was introduced to Tumblr, a blogging site where users could post almost anything from fashion inspo to personal writing to GIFS, art, and more. 

Two people talk about Tumblr

Since then, countless other social media websites have risen and fallen, but Tumblr is still going strong after over 15 years. 

So, what’s the key to Tumblr's longevity? The answer is community.

Tumblr has the unique position of being a platform where various fandoms can gather virtually and discuss topics both new and old. 

According to Forbes, 66% of companies say their community impacts customer retention. Furthermore, 90% of social media marketers say building an active online community is critical to success.

So, how do you build a community around your own brand? Fortunately, I spoke to Tumblr Chief Marketing Officer Matthew Ryan to get some tips.

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How to Foster Community Around Your Brand

As I said, community is the backbone of Tumblr's longevity as a social media platform, so it’s no surprise Ryan was able to drop excellent gems of advice.

Know What Makes Your Brand Special

Anyone familiar with Tumblr will tell you there are few online platforms like it. Over the years, Tumblr has become a haven for fans of different aspects of pop culture, such as comics, anime, film, and television.

Ryan says the team behind Tumblr doesn't shy away from the site’s association with fandoms and enthusiasts.

"We lean toward two brand tenets," he explains. "The first one is fandom; we're a great place for fans to really go deep into their particular fandom of choice."

The CMO says other platforms are places where fans may go to give live reactions to their favorite series, but Tumblr is where fandoms live long after a series wraps.

"A lot of places like X serve as real-time destinations where you might go if the movie just premiered or the season finale just dropped, but that kind of long-tail fandom is where Tumblr thrives," he says.

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Ryan says this is partly due to Tumblr‘s unique position as a social media platform that isn’t heavily driven by algorithms. Moreover, Ryan says the site is a "blank" platform that allows users to post any media type they want.

"Our users have the ability to create or produce their art and their stories around characters and plots they find compelling," he explains. "Fandom is a big source of our creativity and life on the platform."

Tumblr‘s versatility brings us to Tumblr’s second tenet.

"The other brand tenet is being a great place for art and artists," Ryan says. "We are a blank platform and one of the only platforms that still allows all media types and has done so since the inception of Tumblr … That gives artists, especially, a ton of freedom."

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So, a helpful tip for building community around your brand is to lean into what makes it unique, whether it's your audience, the type of services and products you provide, or something else.

Pay Attention to Your Audience

"We genuinely try to listen to what they need, what they want, what they're doing on the platform and deliver back the right kind of services and content they're asking for," Ryan explains.

Ryan recalls a recent event in which a Tumblr user claimed "anything" can trend on the platform. The user then put two random words together in a post and encouraged other users to make the phrase go viral on Tumblr.

The random words were "mole" and "interest," and, sure enough, "mole interest" became a Tumblr trending topic.

"'Mole interest' became a meme and trended at number one," he says. "We wrote a feature on it the next day on our Today Tab. It got a whole life of its own."

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As Ryan said before, Tumblr is also a popular space for artists, so it's no surprise the platform started a trend that appeals to the creative side of its consumers.

"We did a campaign last year called Build-A-Beast, where we gave people weekly prompts around Halloween of a monster they could create," he recalls. "It was written prompts, and users could respond with art matching the prompt."

Sure enough, the trend took off, and artists eagerly shared their creations all October long.

To stay on top of the interests of Tumblr users, Ryan says the platform has an editorial team and staff dedicated to writing content wrap-ups and implementing social listening to stay in the know of user trends and hot topics.

Consider a similar approach for your own brand and craft a team that is dedicated to tracking and reporting topics and discussions happening within your brand's community.

"Then you can see where trends are going," Ryan advises.

Leverage Segmentation

Another key to building and maintaining a community around your brand is segmentation, according to Ryan. And that's where HubSpot comes in.

"We use HubSpot to deliver a lot of content to lapsed users," he explains. "We use a lot of heavy segmentation as far as tracking what lapsed users used to do on the platform, what they're interested in, and the signals they've given us."

Ryan says that information is then used to deliver hyper-relevant messaging to those users to revive their interest in Tumblr.

"So, we find people are interested in past memes that are similar and have a slightly animal tone to them," he says, "we'll send 'mole interest' to those users, and, hopefully, they'll reactivate and be interested in the platform again."

Be Transparent

Trust is crucial to community-building and to maintaining consumers. In fact, 80% of consumers consider trust a deciding factor in their buying decisions. One way to build trust is to be transparent.

Ryan says Staff.Tumblr is a major blog every user follows by default, and it's where the platform communicates any changes coming to the site.

Other blogs used to keep Tumblr consumers informed is Changes.Tumblr and WIP.Tumblr (WIP meaning “Work in Progress”).

"All of these dedicated blogs talk about a lot of the work that we're doing and publishing," Ryan says. "My advice is to be as transparent as you can and listen to every metric that's coming back to your team."

In short, if you want to build a thriving, long-lasting community of consumers around your brand, keep in tune with who your consumers are and what they care about.

You also need to lean into the unique strengths and features of your brand, product, or service.

Finally, you must be transparent and build trust with your consumers by keeping them in the loop of any major changes and being open to feedback.

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