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Tumblr Visits the National Archives

by on February 21, 2014

Are you familiar with Tumblr? The popular microblogging site is one of many social media platforms that the National Archives uses to engage with the public and share news, information, and documents. With over a dozen Tumblr accounts including Today’s Document, Congress in the Archives, Our Presidents, four Presidential Libraries, and the eponymous U.S. National Archives, we’re among the most active Federal agencies on the platform, but we’re always looking to improve our approach.

Earlier this month we hosted the Federal Tumblr Working Group, where government agencies on Tumblr share information, tips, best practices, and technical support for working on the platform. We were thrilled to welcome Liba Rubenstein, Tumblr’s Director of Outreach for Causes and Politics as a special guest to our meet up.

In attendance were colleagues from the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of State, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others, representing 11 other agencies and bureaus in all. Many of these agencies have their own Tumblr blogs (see below for a complete list), and some are still new to the platform and looking to see if it was a good fit for their agency.

Liba Tumblr
Tumblr’s Liba Rubenstein speaks to the Federal Tumblr Working Group at the National Archives

Among the topics and questions Liba covered included:

  • Tumblr demographics: Tumblr users are young, active and engaged. They are more likely to be politically active and vote. On average they spend up to 18 minutes per visit on the platform. Teen users can be the most active bloggers and often hit the 250 post per day limit. There are over 170 million blogs, with 73 million individual posts per day.

  • Longevity & Reach:

    • One-third of reblogs happen 30 days after the content was originally posted.

    • 60% of all reblogs come from followers of followers.

  • Tumblr tries to be a “democratic” platform—follower counts are no longer listed to keep it from being a popularity contest. Creative and engaging content should take precedent.

  • Be mindful of the “two faces” of Tumblr—the internal dashboard view provides a different experience than the look and feel of the external web view  thatthe general public sees. Neither one should be neglected but some posts can be targeted for one “face” or the other.

  • Blogs are often most successful when they play to their strengths and focus on a core theme or audience. (Some readers may note that the National Archives takes this approach with separate Tumblr blogs on Today in History, Preservation, Presidential History, and even a personal Tumblr from the Archivist of the United States.)

  • Take advantage of all the available tools:

    • The Source link can maintain authorship and context instead of watermarks or text than can be lost when reblogging.

    • Use Photosets to create captivating layouts that can draw users in.

    • Animated GIFs are a unique form of digital expression. With no clicking required, they grab viewer’s attention and are easily engaging. (See our past Today’s Document GIFs for an example)

    • Question posts and the Submission form can provide new engagement opportunities and an easy path to solicit crowdsourced or user-generated content  (Submissions can’t be taken for granted but often need a compelling call to action for users.)

  • A new Terms of Service (TOS) was recently released (long-awaited by several agencies). Tumblr has been in touch with Government attorneys and most of the biggest concerns have been addressed.

  • Metrics

    • Full metrics remain elusive, especially where integrating internal views and external web visits is concerned, but Tumblr is aware of this issue.

    • Third party (subscription-based) services can help with tracking tags and reblogs but still only provide part of the picture.

    • Don’t be afraid to dig into particular posts—follow the comments and reblogs to help identify trends.

    • Be sure to compare apples to apples and take each platform on its own merits. Don’t hold social media to a higher standard than other forms of communication.

  • Tags, search, and discovery

    • The weight of Curated Tags has diminished as Search functionality has been improved across the site.

    • Similarly, Spotlight Categories no longer play a prominent role when new users join Tumblr.

  • Helping users in distress (threats of suicide, self harm, violence, etc): Blog owners can email directly. There is also a new Counseling & Prevention Resources page.

  • Reaching out to users and communities with surveys and direct contact can help focus efforts but this raises privacy issues for Government agencies. Use a coordinated effort across multiple platforms (Tumblr, email, Twitter) to maximize a campaign.

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment.

We can’t thank Liba enough for her time, patience, and enthusiasm—and thanks to all our Federal Working Group colleagues for their input and questions.  We’re looking forward to putting some of these tips to use!

Looking for new Tumblr blogs to follow? Check out these from our Federal colleagues:

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