Tumblr: the microblogging giant

For a quick snapshot of using Tumblr for branding, check out my presentation.

The dashboard view on a user’s Tumblr account

A history of Tumblr

Tumblr was founded in February 2007 by current CEO, David Karp. However, the stripped down, simple blogging format offered by Tumblr isn’t the first of its kind.

A snapshot of Anarchaia, Neukirche’s blog and the first tumble blog.

In March 2005, Chris Neukirche, a German high school student who spent a sizable amount of time talking about Ruby on Rails, a fledgling open-sources programming platform, sought to look for a new blogging platform. Neukirche had a longer form blog on a content management system like WordPress, but wanted something for shorter form blogging. The coding wiz then created tumblelogs, a combination of tumble and web-logging. It was incredibly simple with a modest archive system. Similar to early Tumblr, it also had a simply white column where content was housed. The content featured was largely short-form. Users were not allowed to have editorial content longer than a paragraph. Neukirche’s first blog, anarchaia, was simply a compilation of pull quotes, links to articles, and random images.

The site later attracted attention from Marcel Molina, who was a Ruby on the Rails consultant. Molina was also frustrated by longer form blogs like WordPress and sought to improve upon Neukirche’s idea. Then came Projectionist. It was a colorful, column free, well-organized tumble log.

Over the next two years, Facebook and Twitter were born but never filled the need for a simple blogging platform. In February 2007, Karp emailed Molina. Karp was inspired by Projectionist and used it to create Tumblr with friend, Marco Arment.

Tumblr built on the effective design of Projectionist and the simple blogging style of anarchaia. Tumblr also helped bring tumbleblogs into national prominence. Users could now register for their own Tumblr URL, customize their blog, and easily share videos, text and GIFs.


Adding a directory – When Tumblr first launched, users were creating thousands upon thousands of blogs. Karp and his team couldn’t keep up with all the new blogs and often times had no idea about a large portion of the content created on their own site. This inspired the team to add a directory to aid discovery. To brand’s benefit, this also means that it is easier for users to find them.

Adding an RSS feed feature – Tumblr already had a dashboard area that gave users a feed of their own content. However, Karp realized that Tumblr didn’t have an RSS feed type feature that allowed users to easily see content from blogs they follow and for users to find new blogs to follow. Consequently, Karp decided to expand the role of the dashboard to also incorporate blogs users are following. This is great for brands because that means all of the content they create shows up on their followers’ feeds.

Adding one-way relationship capabilities – The next area of growth for Tumblr was inspired by Twitter. Introducing a follow opinion inspired by Twitter allowed users to “hit a follow button and all of a sudden suck content from someone else’s account” without having a two-way relationships with everyone they follow. This particularly transformed Tumblr and was very influential for aspiring creatives looking for inspiration. Consequently, brands can also be followed without having to follow their followers in return.

Adding a reblogging feature – Tumblr’s features gave way to reblogging. There was a lot of content being shared on Tumblr, and a lot of it was not from an outside source! It was native content created on Tumblr. By adding a reblog feature, users could now simply and quickly reshare the post. This made it easier for content creators to spread their creations and for user to become content curators. Brands can explore using this to reblog their consumers’ content or even reblogging content that aligns with their blog identity.

Bought by Yahoo – In 2013, Tumblr was bought by Yahoo in a risky 1.1 billion dollar deal. Recently it has been considered a flop for both Tumblr and Yahoo. Yahoo replaced the Tumblr ad team with its own. This along with other moves by the Yahoo CEO, which Tumblr staff deemed questionable, led to mass departures from the Tumblr staff. Yahoo hoped the acquisition of a web platform would high levels of traffic would help Yahoo financially. That hasn’t been the case, and Tumblr CEO recently hinted the deal wasn’t worth it.

Tumblr’s target audience and user numbers

Tumblr is most popular among young millenials between the ages of 25-34. Tumblr is perfect for individuals or organizations looking to engage in short-form blogging. Tumblr is also a great option for individuals or organizations that want to curate information, videos, photos, or any other digital content. Also useful for people looking for inspiration. Can curate content from other users around a certain topic, photography for example.

Statistic: Annual Tumblr user growth in the United States from 2014 to 2020 | Statista
A projection of Tumblr user numbers through 2020 based on trends from 2014-2015.

Tumblr currently boasts 336.7 million blogs. However, Tumblr’s user number growth is plateauing. It is expected that 2016 was the last time Tumblr would see user numbers grow by the double digits.

Nevertheless, Tumblr still houses many millenial bloggers. Brands looking to target the millenial population, should consider expanding into Tumblr if it makes sense for their brand.

Features of Tumblr

Tumblr is a microblogging platform that places a large emphasis on a raw real time feed that can be easily shared. Users can share content like text, images, html code, music, videos and more with just a few clicks.

Tumblr is also famous for its reblogging feature. It has huge implications for both regular users of the platform as well as content creators. Regular users can step into the role of content curators. Likewise, content creators can spread their content far and wide without much effort. On average, Tumblr posts are reblogged 9 times, which means content creators can get their content on about 10 blogs.

From a branding perspective, this also means that a single brand’s content has the potential to spread far and wide without extra advertising dollars.

Users can also easily create their own custom domain and custom design.

How it works

Setup your blog – To begin tumbling, users simply need a designated email address, password, default image, and user name. (If users are unsatisfied with their original user name, they can always change it!)

It is best if brand’s use a name that reflects its company name or brand identity. For example, IKEA’s page is simply IKEA, but Sephora’s page is called “The Glossy” to reflect that it is a makeup company.

Create or curate content – Other users on Tumblr will then get access to the brand’s dashboard. Brands can create their own content to connect with their consumers. Likewise, brands can curate content created by their consumers that feature their products. They can also explore curating content that is related to their brand identity. For example, a brand like Adidas, might curate content about workouts and energizing recipes.

Customize – Brands will have access to a host of free themes they can use to make their blogs more their own. They can also pay for themes. Once installed, they can also easily access the theme’s html and update it to better suit their unique preferences. Brands can also change the font, colors, background images, and number of pages on their blogs in order to make the aesthetics of their blog align more with the visual identity across their marketing.

Dashboard – The dashboard contains all of the content any individual users create as well as a feed of the content created by users they are following. At the top of the dashboard, users are able to switch between a view of just their content, just other users content, or a mix of both.

Millions of post can be created on any given day and this can become overwhelming the more people a given user is following.  On each individual post, Tumblr has a heart users can click. By clicking on the heart, users can curate their favorite posts all in one area without having to sift through the millions of posts that show up on their dashboard.

Explore – To help users sift through the wealth of content shared on Tumblr, Tumblr uses tags in an explore area that can help users hone in on content related to specific topics, such as humor, design, photography, or meal planning. Tumblr also has a showcase area that highlights great blogs related to that particular tag. Brands should consistently use tags in a way that makes their content easier to find.

Connect with others – Users can import their contacts from their Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail account to find their friends on Tumblr. They can also use a message function to have private conversations with other Tumblr users. Brands may want to explore using this private conversation option as an extension of their customer service lines.

Mobile friendliness – Tumblr has a mobile app that works on Android and iOS systems. The dashboard is a little more minimal than the web version, but users can still access and share the same content. That means that this may be a good vehicle for brands to have consistent interaction with their consumers.

Integrating with other social channels – Brands can sync their Tumblr account to their Facebook and Twitter. To do this on the web, users must go to the account tab and select settings. Then, they must click on the blog name that they want to link to Facebook and Twitter in the right hand column. Next, they will be taken to a page with a button to link to Facebook and a button to link to Twitter.

To link the accounts through the mobile app, users must tap the account tab, then select the icon next to their username, and choose “linked accounts.”

If brands want to link their Tumblr account to their brands Facebook page, they should keep in mind that due to Facebook’s algorithms some of their posts may not be displayed on news feeds.

Effective Tumblr Blogs

Sephora – Sephora’s blog is called “The Glossy” in a brilliant ode to the company being a makeup company. The company shares brilliant images of its products and also shares tips and recommendations.

IKEA- IKEA’s blog was well customized to match the brand’s visual identity. IKEA effectively uses the blog to highlight the every day uses of IKEA products through gorgeous images, videos, and gifs.

An image featured on the IKEA Tumblr.

NASA – NASA’s Tumblr is filled with interesting images and gifts related to space exploration as well short text entries to highlight new discoveries or fun facts.

Taylor Swift – Taylor’s blog, highlights a lot of her own content. You can see links to her music videos and her latest songs on her blog, but you also see a lot of curated content created by her fans. Taylor also seems to share content she finds fun and interesting.

An example of fan-created content shared on Taylor’s Tumblr

Kraft – Although the blog itself does not look very customized and loses out on branding potential in that way, Kraft has created great content filled with recipes one can create using their products.

2 Kinds of people – This blog juxtaposes illustrations to show the two kinds of people in the world.

One of the juxtaposition images used to show two kinds of people.

Kylie Jenner – This blog, while belonging to a celebrity, is a great example of a typical blog having a blend of self-created content and curating a lot of content that the user finds inspiring or cool.


The Atlas of Beauty – This blog was created by Mihaela Noroc, who has travel to over 60 countries documenting the beautiful diversity among humans. This is a wonderful photography blog.


Blog Management. Tumblr. Retrieved from https://www.tumblr.com/docs/en/blog_management#fbconnect

Erickson, C. (2012, June 3). The beginner’s guide to Tumblr. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/06/03/the-beginners-guide-to-tumblr/#AjIjjEk_eEqi

Fernando III, A. (2013, May 23). The real origins of Tumblr. Daily Dot. Retrieved from

Fiegerman, S. (2016, June 15). How Yahoo derailed Tumblr. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2016/06/15/how-yahoo-derailed-tumblr/

Leddin, T. (2015, April 20). Three brands raking in the leads with Tumblr. Retrieved from https://theamericangenius.com/social-media/three-brands-raking-in-the-leads-with-tumblr/

Reuters. (2016, March 1). Yahoo hints $1 billion Tumblr acquisition was mostly wasted money. Fortune. http://fortune.com/2016/02/29/yahoo-hints-that-1-billion-tumblr-acquisition-was-mostly-wasted-money/

Schwabel, D. (Interviewer) & Karp, D. (Interviewee). (2013, January 2). David Karp on Tumblr’s growth, monetization and future plans [Interview transcript). Retrieved from Forbes web site: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/01/02/david-karp-on-tumblrs-growth-monetization-mentors-and-future-plans/2/#5dd89c7f2a6e


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