The Great Tumblr Debate: Blogging Platform Or Social Network?

Should you use Tumblr as part of your company's marketing strategy? Experts weigh in on Tumblr's strengths and weaknesses.
December 27, 2013

Take a quick look around the Web, and you’ll discover that there are a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs using Tumblr. In fact, the numbers are quite staggering: There are currently more than 161 million Tumblr blogs and 70 billion posts, with almost a third of the Interbrand Top 100 brands managing active Tumblr accounts. It's no surprise then that the platform is getting a lot of attention from marketers lately—but what is it? Is it a social network? A blogging platform? A hybrid? There’s a lot of confusion surrounding Tumblr and how it should be used.

Marko Muellner, vice president of marketing at ShopIgniter, perhaps sums it up best: "It's a microblogging service and social network that allows users to create custom blogs and post multimedia and text as blog posts, which users can comment on, like or re-post; users can also follow other blogs and the main user interface, the dashboard, is a feed of posts making it feel similar to other social networks.”

Blog Platform

If you're considering hosting your blog on Tumblr, there are some pros and cons to consider. Jenna Broughton, customer relationship manager at Union Metrics, which created the first listening and engagement metrics tool for Tumblr, explains the pros: "There are a lot of benefits to brands considering Tumblr to host their blogs. For one, Tumblr provides a built-in audience that self-segments into interest-based communities; and as a brand this means you can post highly targeted content with related tags and reach the right types of communities.”

Nikkie Means, CEO of Project Socialize, however warns against using Tumblr as your primary company blog. “Having a Tumblr page can provide a stronger online presence for any business. However, it can create competition for your company website within the search engines,” she warns. Hosting your main company blog on your own website allows you to reap the benefits of search-engine optimization, get users to spend more time on your website and reduce bounce rates, generate back-links and increase your credibility.

Muellner agrees with Means, and doesn't recommend hosting your company's primary blog on Tumblr. However he points out that brands marketing products and services to younger audiences should be capitalizing on Tumblr, as half of its user base is under the age of 35.

“A smart strategy would be to publish lengthier blog posts on your own website, opting to share different content on Tumblr, with a focus on multimedia content targeted to 18 to 35 year olds," Means says. "While this isn't true of every Tumblr, the most successful Tumblrs tend to be collections of wonderful or unexpected things, often curated from around the Web."

Social Media Channel

Then there's its social side. As a social network, Tumblr has a lot of things going for it. “Tumblr posts can be cross-pollinated to Twitter and Facebook and can also point back to the corporate blog,” Muellner says. But brands should use caution to carefully target their content to the user base, which is younger than most. According to recent studies, 45 percent of Tumblr's audience is under 35 years old; and it is more popular than Facebook among 13 to 25 year olds, making it a valuable platform for businesses targeting younger audiences. 

“Taking it a step further, companies who have an understanding of where consumers are in the sales and marketing funnel can further tailor their content and really begin to move these consumers from exploration to consideration and ultimately a sale,” Muellner points out.

Tumblr's Future

Tumblr is still emerging as a social network, but it’s one to watch. “Marketers have more and more ways to reach social consumers, especially millennials, from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and beyond,” Muellner explains. “Today, Tumblr doesn't have the scale or engagement that these others have, but with Yahoo's help they are growing with a focus on overcoming this weakness.”

Tumblr has been around for a while, but its recent acquisition by Yahoo and growth has led to some debate about its place in the online marketing world. While it’s not yet clear whether Tumblr will become the next Facebook, it’s worth some experimentation to see if your audience is a fit. That said, Tumblr shouldn’t be a replacement for your primary blog, but used as a supplement to your content marketing and social media strategies.

Angela Stringfellow is a freelance writer, social media strategist and complete content marketing junkie obsessed with all things Web, written word and marketing.

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Photos: iStockphoto