Microblogging Tool: Tumblr

Somewhere between traditional blogging and Twitter there lies a sort of half-blog option. If your primary blog is your heavyweight and Twitter is your featherweight, then sites like Tumblr, Posterous, and TypePad Micro would have to be your lightweights. Those sites aren’t quite as much as a full-fledged blog, but they are more than a microblog (though, technically, they are considered a part of microblogging). These lightweight blogs offer more than Twitter (you can use more than 140 characters and display media within a post instead of linking to it) and more than Facebook (items you link to or display at Tumblr, Posterous, or TypePad Micro are easily found if you need them later). These middle-of-the-road blogs are sort of like a social bookmarking site (e.g., Delicious), but again, they are more because they’re set up like a blog: you can choose your design and have multiple authors.

Today I’m writing about Tumblr and I’ll be honest, I haven’t really done anything with microbloging beyond Facebook and Twitter. As I researched Tumblr, I found that most people are using it as a place to keep track of media they find or to keep track of links that may be useful later.

Tumblr is incredibly easy to set up (just follow the wizard) and get started with. You can create either a public or private (readers by invite only) Tumblr account. Once you’re set up, you can customize your site with themes, include your avatar, and link to your other social media accounts.

I am impressed with the number of widgets and options Tumblr provides to help you integrate your Tumblr account with your other social media accounts:

  • Tumblr offers a bookmarklet you can drag to your browser’s toolbar and use to add links and media to your Tumblr site.
  • There’s also a Facebook application that allows you to cross-post your Tumblr items to your Facebook account.
  • You can download the iPhone application so you can take photos or record video while you’re out and about and post those directly to your Tumblr page.
  • If you have a Mac, you can download a dashboard widget so you can share things directly from your desktop without going to your browser.
  • You can choose to automatically or selectively share your Tumblr posts on Twitter.
  • You can even post to Tumblr via text or e-mail from your phone.

They have a whole page of third-party applications for the Tumblr platform.

The one thing Tumblr doesn’t come with is comments. Which, to me, seems a little counter-intuitive. Social media is almost always about the community and the give-and-take of ideas. You can get around this one-way communication and open your Tumblr site to the masses in two ways:

  1. Allow people to submit their own stories and comments about your content on your blog. Just go to Account > Preferences > Customize your blog > Advanced. Then scroll down until you see the option to Enable audience submissions. Now your readers can submit their own thoughts about your content and submit their own stories. Note that the submissions will show up in your main content area as an article. Two sites that take advantage of this option nicely are Clients From Hell and My Parents Were Awesome.
  2. Use a third-party comment application like Disqus. Disqus has easy instructions for you to follow and you’ll be up and running with comments in no time. You need to be aware, though, that not all Tumblr themes support the Disqus commenting option. In those cases, you’ll need to follow Disqus’ manual instructions (there’s a link in step 3 of their installation instructions) and install the code to your template yourself. Once installed, your Tumblr blog will have a link after each post titled Comments and, you guessed it, that’s where your readers can click to leave their comments.

At first glance, I thought Why do I want to start one more account? It’s one more thing to keep track of. So I started asking people how they use Tumblr. What I found was people using their Tumblr blog as

  • an RSS for their Twitter account (sort of a backup with easy navigation in case you need to find exactly what you said and when). You can see how Alli Worthington of Blissfully Domestic uses Tumblr for this.
  • a place for press releases, sales information, and media kits. Jo-Lynn of Musings of a Housewife uses her Tumblr site as her press page so she can add new items as necessary and point interested marketing reps to a single place.
  • a supplement to a regular or “main” blog. Meredith at Food for Thought told me she started using Tumblr because she wanted to comment on and share interesting frugal links without diluting the content on her primary blog, Like Merchant Ships. Now she uses her Tumblr account every day and says, “The best part of having an established blog is the ability to introduce  new blogs and share particularly great work. Food For Thought has become a great way to direct traffic AND serve my own readers.”
  • a repository for items you may need later. Colleen Morgan at Middle Savagery writes that she appreciates Tumblr “as a sort of visual short-hand while I’m doing research–I tend to tumble what I’m reading about or thinking about, select quotes and photographs. It makes a nice, general record of your research trajectory.  I like that it is an explicit acknowledgment of the marginalia created during the construction of knowledge.”

Lynn d Johnson, who has a Tumblr site in addition to her primary blog, suggests you consider what your goals are for your content before you decide where to post it:

Let’s be honest, no one (and I mean no one) has the bandwidth to be that many places at once. But where you end up producing most of your content, and sharing, really depends on quite a few factors.

1.    What is it you want to share?
2.    Who is it you want to share with?
3.    Are you more interested in building a brand or building a community?
4.    Is it more important to be where your peers are, or to bring people to you?

These are just some of the questions you have to ask yourself when considering whether you’d rather dabble in one space over the other, or use one space to feed all of the others. What’s your end goal?

Have you used a microblogging site like Tumblr in an interesting way? Leave me your thoughts and links in the comments. I’m interested to know you’re finding these sites useful and how you’re using them to build your brand and community.

This article was cross-posted at BlogHer.com.