INSIGHTS & IDEAS >> Digital Marketing

A Decade on Tumblr: All The Feels from a User and Marketer

Tumblr 10th birthday cake illustration by MMK Marketing

What were you doing on social networks a decade ago? Were you testing the waters with Twitter and Facebook? Ten years ago, I was experimenting with a new social network — Tumblr. Here is my look back at how Tumblr has left its mark, and why marketers should continue to pay attention to this sometimes overlooked and misunderstood social network.

10 Years Ago - Hello Tumblr via Timehop

Tumblr Has Me at Hello

In the early days, I signed up for every new social network that launched. I took it as a point of professional pride to look into each and every hot new thing and to kick the tires as a user and a marketer.

I was a fan of Tumblr out of the gate. I needed a place where I could quickly save the internet stuff I come across in my daily life — and still do. It might be an article to read later, it could be a particular resonate quote, a new jam, or a great image, or video.

Here is a blog post I wrote about Tumblr a decade ago (preserved via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine):

I’ve been messing around with Tumblr for a couple of weeks. My Tumblr blog, Tumbleona, (hat tip to Leo Laporte via James), is a collection of my "quick bite" finds and my feeds around the web.

Setting up a Tumblr blog is dead simple. So is using the “share on tumblr” bookmarklet to post. The dashboard lets you see the posts of friends and track followers. It includes design settings (pre-set or custom), easy updating of feeds, and options to add a domain name, etc.

Giana Trapani at Lifehacker writes in her post “Geek to Live: Instant, no-overhead blog with Tumblr” (emphasis is mine):

“...we all come across interesting tidbits online every day that we want to remember and share - links, photos, videos, even that side-splitting IM session you had with your co-worker. A new blog format, called a “tumblelog,” is a no-hassle, no-writing-required way to share those bits and maintain a personal site with the least possible commitment.

Tumbling Along

I do so love this no-hassle, no-writing-required way to capture digital bits and maintain a personal site with the least possible commitment.

And I must call out that I am an a-typical Tumblr user. The network thrives on users connecting with a specific communities or fandoms, posting original work on the platform, and heavily commenting or posting personal reactions. But that’s not how I use Tumblr. From within my dashboard, I follow 740 interesting people, brands, publications and I browse and then frequently like or reblog what catches my interest. My interests (personal and professional) are all over the place, and as a result so is my Tumblr blog. For me, Tumblr is a source of inspiration, a frequent chuckle, insights, information and education. The fact that 196 people follow my Tumblr is equal parts amusing and perplexing.


Tumblr is...Gifs, Fandoms, Feminism & Gender Identity

Google Scholar Screenshot tumblr auto complete

I hit up Google Scholar for some informed perspective on Tumblr and its impact beyond pop culture zeitgists (internet freak-out moments) like The Dress


Heads up marketers: you need to understand this important content format.

Inside the Tumblr dashboard, animated GIFs are glimpsed briefly in an algorithmically assembled, steady stream of images.

Tumblr screen shot of GIF

Tumblr users have developed a distinct visual aesthetic using GIFs. A majority are excerpted from films or TV shows, frequently with super-imposed dialogue, and sometimes broken into a sequence of several GIFs. 

GIF of Seinfeld TV show character Elaine yelling "Stellaaaaaaa!"

Tumblr is responsible for igniting mainstream interest in the GIF as an aesthetic form, where artsists create original works for their own sake.

Animated GIF art of changing geometric shapes by Patakk

Credit: Patakk (

GIFs are used to tell a short story or describe situations readers may intimately identify with.

Animated GIF example of storytelling

Around 2011, GIFs started to be posted in response to, and often in lieu of, text online. The brief loops of bodies in motion are used to playfully express common ideas and emotions. The role of these GIFS is not primarily esthetic, rather they are gestures, performed reactions that are not fully realized until they meet their catalysts. 

Animated GIF of Molly Ringwald rolling her eyes

1) Text excerpted from A Brief History of the GIF (So Far) by Jason Eppink in The Journal of Visual Culture 13 (3). GIF selection by me.


No doubt about it, social media has created a more complex and nuanced relationship with fans. 

Fandom is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of emphathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest, on Tumblr this results in the increased rate in which fan related content is produced.

“Fan related content ranges mainly from fan-fiction, fan-art, costume play, role-playing and the new concept of ‘shipping’ (the bonding of characters usually through hypothetical relationships). This has created a huge group ‘Prosumers’, who consume related media content, then produce their own fan-created content to share with this online community.” — Luke Renwick, How Do Fandoms on Tumblr React to New Media Content

Tumblr tracks and tabulates its own fandom metrics. Take a look at the latest or have a look at the 2016 year in review

The Overwatch fandom is the largest on Tumblr as of this writing. If team-based multi-player first person shooter video games aren’t your speed, take a look at the fandommetrics for Game of Thrones, or Poetry. 



I have observed Tumblr being a vehicle for positive messages, identity seeking and advice for:

Those with disabilities, mental illness, non-Western religious identities, non-white ethnic or racial identities, non-thin bodies, non-Eurocentric features, low income, those who are not alloromantic, allosexual, heterosexual, or cis gender [specifically cis male by Western standards], or those who simply do not adhere to a Western model of gender or sexuality all experience oppression due to their relative “disadvantage.” -

In looking into this topic, I came across this Reddit comment about gender identify on Tumblr:

Tumblr has contributed strongly to the visibility of, and acceptance of, gender variety in people. This includes activism for the rights of transgender people.
Many people do not fit neatly in "male" or "female" categories. Since the English language lacks words to describe this, many people on Tumblr feel that it's important to be able to talk about other genders besides male and female. For this reason, they promote inclusive language: "non-binary" is a good neutral word, for example. Words such as "genderqueer", "gender-fluid" and "agender" are frequently used. Tumblr culture encourages people to think about gender identities and everyday discrimination. 


1. Tumblr is a place where communities form. Frequently those communities adopt the “blr” suffix. There are a myriad of “-blrs”  —  medblr (for medical students and practitioners), studyblr (for students) and birdblr (for twitchers). Other popular communities on Tumblr include Photographers on Tumblr, Black Tumblr and Artists on Tumblr.

Chances are your customer niche is represented on Tumblr. These communities represent a unique view into potential markets. Smart creatives, strategists and planners should look for insights and inspiration on Tumblr.  

2. Tumblr is where you reach users between 16 and 24. And those users are deeply engaged with the platform. This Business Insider article highlights the following:

  • According to GlobalWebIndex, 34 million internet users globally say they contribute to or use Tumblr on a monthly basis. Forty-six percent of these users were between the ages of 16 and 24 (always a difficult-to-reach demographic).
  • And unlike networks that encourage quick messaging and brief glances at the feed, Tumblr’s emphasis on multimedia blog posts means users spend a fair amount of time creating and digesting what’s on the site.
  • More total time is spent on Tumblr than on bigger social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, according to numbers from comScore.

3. The next big thing could be on Tumblr, because it is a platform that attracts creators. Not unlike traditional blogs, Tumblr has spawned numerous book deals and a few best sellers. Here are a handful of my favorite tumblr blogs in book format:  

1 / 5
Positive Doodles by Emm Roy
2 / 5
Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand
3 / 5
Cabin Porn by Zach Klein
4 / 5
Garfield Minus Garfield by Dan Walsh
5 / 5
Rules for My Unborn Son by Walker Lamond


4. Big brands are on Tumblr and major advertisers use the platform.

Need inspiration for visual storytelling? Take a look at the Tumblr accounts of GE, IBMLipton, BMW USA, Coca-Cola, Nike Women, Vans and Penguin Random House 

On the advertising side, you should follow Marketr, the official blog of Tumblr's ad sales team. As they put it, “Product updates, tips, success stories, news, happy little pictures.”

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