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Tell Me About Tumblr

tumblrTumblr is a microblogging social media platform created in 2006.  Recently acquired by Yahoo! for 1.1 billion, it hosts over 201.3 million blogs.

The brain of the internet, aka Wikipedia, reports sharing has increased by 1299.5% since 2011.  Further, “The service is most popular with the teen and college-aged user segments with half of Tumblr’s visitor base being under the age of 25.” Read more here.

Educators: Are you paying attention to Tumblr? 

If you are scared of Snapchat, Yik Yak or other open and sometimes raw platforms, you may want to steer clear.  Tumblr user polices are much more lenient.

It has received criticism for countless grounds of copyright violations as well as topics of self-harm and suicide, and a host of adult content (porn).

In other words, if you go looking for troubling content you are going to find it.  You could argue the same with a quick Google search.

Who is on Tumblr?

Mashable argues that Tumblr isn’t just a website, but a lifestyle.  A means of self-expression, many times through humor, deep references and uncovering information  Read more here.

Even Obama got into Tumblr this year through a Tumblr chat.  One of the highlights includes his answer to “Where do yourself in ten years?”  He posted, “I know what I’ll do right after the next president’s inaugurated.  I’ll be on a beach somewhere … drinking out of a coconut.”  Read more about this story (here).

Taylor Swift recently joined Tumblr and became her own fangirl.  As the article reports, “Once you dive into the Tumblr vortex, it’s hard to get out—and Taylor Swift is no exception to the rule.”  She began secret sessions, posting questions and listening sessions for fans.  Learn more about her usage (here).

A student at Cupertino College was recently featured on how she has become“Tumblr-Famous” through her Unhistorical blog.  John Hopkins University Sophomore Kathryne Cu has over 150,000 followers, read more about her (here).

My very first blogging platform was on Tumblr.  I still have the account found at, where I mostly post pictures, things that inspire me and from time to time some fan-girling.   For Epic Rap Battle Fans, you’ll find a hint below.

I’ve always enjoyed Tumblr because it is more of a playful platform, with abilities to customize your backgrounds and create visuals.  I also like how I can push everything right to it, including from this WordPress blog, Instagram and Pinterest.

Josie on Tumblr

But does Higher Education belong on Tumblr?

College Students on Tumblr

As part of my dissertation (read more here) I am following 40 student leaders online through Facebook and Instagram.  While Tumblr is not one of the social media sites I am analyzing, in our focus groups this platform came up on its own every single session.

While usage varies, these college student leaders have opinions about Tumblr.  I’d like to share a few quotes from then, just to give you a flavor of their thoughts.

Pay particular attention to quotes/words I have italicized.

They LOVE it

“I think for me my Tumblr is actually like more of me than any of my other social media even Instagram”

“So I really like Tumblr but it can be tricky when people you know in real life follow you.”

Photo credit from I A M SO HAPPY Tumblr

“I think it’s really cool because Tumblr just gives everyone a platform to share what they like and they don’t necessarily have to show who they are.  It’s just like, like I would say it’s like a board where you can just put things you like on there.”

“And since Tumblr is international everyone uses it then it becomes easier for artists to share what they’re creating because it’s not easily for an artist to get noticed by a studio or anything.  But then if you’re on Tumblr you can get thousands of followers going looking at your art, your music, anything like that.  And that just gives like people who create more opportunity to show off their work.”

Use heavy in high school, but not in college

“I know I’ve use Tumblr before but it’s not a social media source for me anymore.  But you don’t necessarily have to associate your identity with the Tumblr page itself.  It kind of gives you more freedom to express what you want, what you’re feeling and just that you associate with your current life.”

 “I think I used to use Tumblr when I was in high school to like get cheesy quotes off of and that was pretty much it.”

“I guess I can say I’m a recovering Tumblr addict.  Sophomore year.  That’s all I did always ever.  If you saw me like around like with my phone it was probably on Tumblr.  Studying, take a break, go on Tumblr.”

“On Tumblr if I follow like news pages or certain artists or bands and stuff like that, so, was my way of knowing what was going on in like the artsy world.  And I also like taking pictures so I would post pictures there.  But I decided it was just taking up too much of my time and then I deleted it.”

What did you see in the italics highlights? 

Tumblr is mostly sought out to be private and many times anonymous.  One participant said he wouldn’t want his family to know about his Tumblr account.  Another noted that Tumblr is raw, all emotions present and posts that wouldn’t make sense or possibly not be seen as appropriate on other social media sites.

The most telling to me was the very first statement from a senior female Resident Assistant:

“I think for me my Tumblr is actually like more of me than any of my other social media even Instagram”

Findings like these will be featured in my dissertation, making connections to identity development, self-presentation and digital usage.

**Keep in mind that compared to my entire sample, only 11 participants use Tumblr consistently.  Another 7 log on monthly, but 22 have never been on the site. 

So this brings back to question: does higher education need to be present on Tumblr?

Do You Tumble?

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 2.12.39 PMDo you have a personal Tumblr?  Is it a professional blog, portfolio or a personal source for entertainment and inspiration?  Mabye like me, a little bit of both.  Or maybe it’s like reality TV shows; guilty pleasures we get sucked into like Taylor Swift recent episode on Tumblr.  Further, is your Tumblr associated with your name (Identity) or is it private (anonymous)?  You will notice on mine it is called “Josieville”, but my full name is listed in my bio.

Warning: Tumblr, just like Yik Yak is not perfect.  You are going to find posts that are negative about your campus.  You may see content that I noted earlier that may shock you.  A post may seem alarming, but as the students in my focus group explain, it is the raw emotion being reposted for expression not for action.  This alone could be a research project.  Anyone want to team up with me on it?!

Strategy for Higher Education on Tumblr

Before jumping into a Tumblr strategy, take a look at what you already are doing, and even more importantly if there is even a need.   Ask your students if they use Tumblr and how they would feel about knowing that a university entity (department, program, etc) had an account.  

Does the Financial Aid office need a Tumblr? NO.  Does Student Government or your programming team, I would argue yes; run by students for student consumption.

Tumblr Take-aways

A Young Audience: This gives you grace to be playful, use humor and have fun.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 1.12.19 PMReblog More than you Post: If you want to be ‘found’ on Tumblr and really ‘get’ the platform, you need to reblog.  This is easy as a ‘retweet’ on Twitter.  It is very common on Tumblr to have way more re-blogs than original posts.  Note the arrows button in the photo to the right.

Type of Content: Long posts will get lost.  Go for quick posts like photos, videos and quotes.  You can send viewers to longer posts in a hyperlink.

Tumblr Chats:  This platform has a chat function that keep the conversation going.  Try this out with a prominent influencers on your campus.  Note the “chat” option in the photo below.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 1.11.54 PMPush Content.  An easy way to get started on Tumblr is to begin to push existing content to Tumblr.  For example, Instagram has an option to push a photo over to Tumblr, just like on Facebook.

Hashtag it Up.  Unlike Twitter than has character maximums, Tumblr allows you to put in a great deal of hashtags to each post.  This shows up at the bottom so it is also not distracting.  This will help others find it when they search similar terms.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 1.12.05 PMUse the Search Tool: Tumblr claims to be the second most used search-engine on the internet.  Set up search terms that will help ‘listen’ on Tumblr, as well as find re-blog possibilities.

Use Emotion.  Remember the quotes from the student leaders above?  Tumblr is raw.  Use the emotions of your campus, celebrations, remembrances, humor, etc.  Tell your story through photos with captions or quotes that will evoke emotion in your Tumblrs.

Give it to your Students.  Have a student run your Tumblr and learn to listen for ‘talk’ about your campus.  Train them through expectations and accountability.  Part of their role should also be to teach you (and other administrators) the ins and outs of what is working and what they are seeing.

Post Late Night.  Most research shows Tumblr users go on late night.  This is also another reason to have students help with management.

Track analytics.  Like a blog, Tumblr provides some basic analytics.  Check out your top users, as well as hour by hour activity.  An example is included below.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 1.23.16 PM

More ideas on Tumblr Strategy

*All Images are taken directly from

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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