Thursday, June 13, 2013

62: tumblr cult(ure)

Tumblr Tumblr Tumblr. Up until recently, it was the biggest thing you've never heard of – an odd thing to say, given that President Obama has his own account (and might I say, it's pretty darn great), not to mention countless other individuals that are huge in their own spheres: John Green, Wil Wheaton, Neil Gaiman, Queen Bey, Marina and the DiamondsZooey Deschanel... I'm lazy so I'll stop here.

Anyway, I bring this up because Tumblr is clearly a huge thing. Yet it's surprising how many people don't get it. Tumblr is constantly overlooked, with social media "experts" and "strategists" still hyper-focused on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest instead. (I've attended workshops and online seminars where the speakers don't even know what Tumblr is!)

So many of these agencies have underestimated the intensity of Tumblr users, and it's their loss, really. From my own experiences with Tumblr, a bulk of its users are actively involved with multiple fandoms, social causes, etc. and are proud of it. (Isn't this every brand's dream? To have the Engaged Target Customer?)

After Yahoo(!) bought out Tumblr a few weeks ago (cue sad violins), there was a flurry of activity surrounding the deal – i.e., lots of Tumblr users seriously concerned that Marissa Meyer was going to kill off their favorite website. Hank Green had some really great thoughts on the buy-out, so I won't go into detail there. What I do want to think about is the importance of maintaining your brand in the face of a big change like this.

David Karp wrote a letter to the Tumblr community, noting that:
Our headquarters isn’t moving. Our team isn’t changing. Our roadmap isn’t changing. And our mission – to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve – certainly isn’t changing... As always, everything that Tumblr is, we owe to this unbelievable community. We won’t let you down.
Fuck yeah,
(Emphasis mine.)

Like many others, I find it really important to highlight his sign-off because it is a reminder that although this sacred website has signed a deal with a huge corporate dinosaur, it doesn't mean that Tumblr will turn into something else. It's David Karp's way of acknowledging the Tumblr community's concerns. It's his way of almost drawing a line in the sand and showing us that he knows what Tumblr users are like – that he himself is one of them – and that he's on our side.

Wow, this got real sappy real fast.

I'm not saying that David thought through and calculated every word he was writing (I mean, maybe he was – who knows?). But my point is that there are ways for brands to assert their identities, to create a camaraderie between brand and user without it feeling forced. For Tumblr, it's about staying relevant and understanding the culture (think about all the Fuck Yeah! blogs that exist), as well as subtly affirming a sense of loyalty and therefore assuaging user concerns. Or trying to, at least.

So... cheers to that. May other brands learn from Tumblr along the way.

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