The Corporations Are Coming to Tumblr


New York Times technology reporter Jenna Wortham wrote today about the emerging scene on Tumblr. No, not your scene of interior design photos, musings on the media, potential book deals and random old concert footage on YouTube. But you can be sure the scene Wortham is talking about is plenty interested in all the things you tumble about, or at least can pretend to be, if necessary.

Businesses have caught on to Tumblr, realizing (finally) that there has been a migration away from Facebook (given its privacy issues or, if you haven’t been keeping up with those, the terrifying trailer for The Social Network, a movie about it) and Twitter, which John Mayer, among other people, declared he was “over” some months ago, though he is tweeting again. Mayer championed Tumblr over Twitter which, despite his wit and occasional eloquence, made him sound like a bored child chucking his velveteen rabbit in the closet and running off with a new toy. But we all seem to be doing it: Tumblr is a more thoughtful environment––by volume, at the very least. It feels safer, more intimate, less like a stock ticker of inanity, more like chilling with your friends in study hall. So what do businesses want with it?

Well, your eyeballs. But not all businesses are bad. Newsweek has a popular tumblr, and its creator, Mark Coatney, recently moved from the magazine to the Tumblr headquarters, where his title is “media evangelist,” Wortham reports. Coatney said he created the Newsweek tumblr in order to “talk to our audience in a new way.” Media companies have had blogs for years. The difference is that media companies’ tumblrs are usually all-encompassing, whimsical offshoots, rather than specific verticals manned by one or a handful of bloggers (see: the New York Times). Keyword: whimsical. “[N]o one at Newsweek really knew what I was doing,” Coatney said of his tumblr.

There are some unspoken rules on Tumblr. As far as creativity goes, the rule is that there are no rules. But as far as businesses? Wortham writes:

Unlike Twitter, where it is not uncommon for publishers to simply set up accounts that automatically publish links to their articles and blog posts, Tumblr requires publishers to add more commentary and interaction if they want to win favor with its community.

Naturally, there is plenty of self-promotion thrown into the mix too. But even unincorporated entities––e.g. you and I––do this. So should we be worried? To the degree that social media is changing the way we conduct ourselves and our professional work, yes. But should Wal-Mart decide to start a tumblr, at least you won’t be obligated to follow it.