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Tumblr doesn’t want to be the punchline to the Twitter joke anymore. And with the chaos that has gripped Twitter in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover, Tumblr is leveraging the opportunity to reshape its image.
Rather than being relegated to a contingency plan by disgruntled Twitter users or an outcast by brands and agencies developing social media marketing strategies, Tumblr is actively positioning itself as a trendy social hotspot with a mixture of Twitter’s snark and meme-dominated humor and passionate fan communities. It’s a combination that Tumblr hopes will win over brands, in particular, that have abandoned Tumblr in favor of newer, larger platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.
“The punchline to the Twitter joke has always been ‘I’m going to go to Tumblr,” Tumblr’s social media manager Dayna Castillo said. “And it used to be a joke, but now it’s actually happening. I feel like all of those years of being the punchline … is actually coming to fruition.”
Castillo saw an opportunity to help bring the brand back into the zeitgeist when Twitter users, including Duolingo, began referring to Tumblr (mostly in jest) as a refuge from the Twitter mess. For example, on the night of Nov. 17, when Twitter had devolved into chaos after Musk’s demand that employees embrace an “extremely hardcore” work ethic was met with mass resignations, Castillo tweeted a tongue-in-cheek photo of a banner reading “Welcome home cheater,” along with a link to Tumblr’s main page.
Castillo’s Twitter content has drawn in former Tumblr users and new audiences alike. The Nov. 17 tweet quickly garnered over 400,000 likes and comments such as, “it’s been a while tumblr but i’m coming back for you baby,” and, “I guess now is as good a time as any to get on tumblr.” And among the plethora of hashtags lamenting Twitter’s potential downfall that emerged that same night, Tumblr rose among the ranks, even temporarily reaching the top trending topic and surpassing other trending social media platforms including Discord and Reddit.
Tumblr, which began in 2007 as a social media and blogging site, has struggled to compete against newer rivals like TikTok and Instagram in recent years. The platform attracted high-profile brands in the early 2010s, including Starbucks, BMW, Audi, AT&T and Apple (for which Tumblr was actually the brand’s first social media presence).
Tumblr also partnered with several creative agencies in 2012 to extend its advertising efforts, such as Droga5, R/GA and BBH.
But Tumblr’s 2017 acquisition by Verizon effectively heralded a deterioration of its brand partnerships work. Under the ownership of Verizon—which inherited Tumblr when it purchased the platform’s previous owner, Yahoo—there was no dedicated team at Tumblr for brand outreach efforts, and the absence of discussions surrounding Tumblr in the advertising realm led brands to forget about the platform, according to a former Tumblr employee.
Tumblr has looked to try to revitalize brand interest since being purchased in 2019 by Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com. While Tumblr has seen some brands including Netflix and Marvel launch campaigns on the platform, it remains largely overshadowed by rival platforms, including Twitter, when it comes to social media marketing.
But Tumblr is now actively working to set itself apart from those competitors and sway Twitter users and brands to its platform. It launched a site specifically designed to acclimate new and returning users that includes a “welcome guide” with information and frequently asked questions about Tumblr, along with a tutorial for how to link a Twitter account and its contents to a Tumblr blog. “Automatically post your Tumblr to your Twitter, while it still exists,” the page quips.
Castillo also pinned a “reasons to join Tumblr” thread at the top of the site’s Twitter account, and Tumblr mocked the disastrous rollout of Twitter’s paid verification system with the ability to purchase pointless “Important Blue Internet Checkmarks” on its platform.
Reasons to join Tumblr (a thread 🧵)
Reason to Join Tumblr #1:
The feed is reverse chronological so if you scroll long enough, you’ll see everyone’s posts
Despite the humor woven into Tumblr’s self-marketing, it seems brands are starting to see Tumblr as more than a joke. With Twitter’s future uncertain, and concerns surrounding the platform’s brand safety prompting some companies to reduce their spending on Twitter ads, a growing number of brands have begun reaching out to Tumblr and expressing interest in creating new accounts on the platform or reestablishing their existing ones, said Ari Levine, VP of brand partnerships and sales at Tumblr.
Nearly 20 brands contacted Tumblr during the week of Nov. 7 alone, and his team is currently working with several companies to launch accounts on the platform before the end of the year, he said.
Part of Castillo’s outreach has involved connecting with brands, specifically, by inviting them to interact with Tumblr on Twitter and experience a “recreate[d] Tumblr experience” on Twitter.
“I’m definitely identifying brands that have started conversations with us or have mentioned us, and then I kind of slide in and publicly say, ‘Hey, what’s your Tumblr?’ the same way that I would do that for a celebrity that’s mentioned us,” Castillo said.
i’m flirting w tumblr and urban decay rn
A tweet she posted on Nov. 8, reading, “We are cringe. But we are free,” amassed over 350,000 likes and hundreds of comments, including responses from brands such as AriZona Iced Tea and Gold Peak, agreeing with the sentiment. And amid the chaotic atmosphere of Nov. 17, Tumblr’s Twitter page hosted a “virtual sleepover” with makeup brand Urban Decay and influencer Chrissy Chlapecka, where the three roleplayed traditional sleepover activities like braiding each other’s hair and having a pillow fight.
Although Tumblr is marketing itself as a platform for those fleeing Twitter, the site isn’t seeking to directly match the environment of Twitter, instead embracing its eccentric and fan-oriented identity.
“People don’t come to Tumblr to find out the scores of a hockey game,” said Amanda Brennan, former head of editorial content at Tumblr, who now works at the agency XX Artists as senior director of social trends. “People come to see funny gifs of the players behind the scenes, or to learn a weird fact about what [a player’s] favorite food is…They’re here because they love something and want to be connected to the community in that way. And that’s a fundamental understanding that is needed before any brand can just jump in.”
The content users can share on Tumblr ranges from simple text posts to multimedia content including photos, videos and gifs. As on several social media platforms, users have a personal account, known as a blog on Tumblr, to which they can share content by “reblogging” it. Users can also like and comment on posts, and the combination of likes, comments and reblogs is collectively referred to on Tumblr as a post’s “notes.” Tumblr users can also customize the appearance of their blog using either pre-made blog themes or custom HTML.
Additionally, Tumblr’s algorithm isn’t as all-encompassing as those on rival platforms. Unlike platforms such as TikTok, where the site’s algorithm essentially determines all of the content that appears on a user’s feed, the posts a user encounters on Tumblr depend almost entirely on the accounts or topics they’re following. That allows Tumblr users to essentially fully curate their viewing experience.
Beyond these functional elements of the platform, Tumblr’s core identity revolves around memes, snarky humor and the site’s hundreds of fandoms. Tumblr has birthed some of the internet’s most widespread memes, from the viral dress in 2015 that sparked online debates about whether it was black and blue or white and gold, to the recent “Goncharov” phenomenon in which Tumblr collectively developed imaginary lore for a fake Martin Scorsese mafia film.
Entertainment-related content like TV shows, movies and video games, tend to receive the most attention on Tumblr, Brennan said, but the platform’s fandom-oriented mentality also extends beyond pure entertainment. Tumblr is home to dozens of niches, similar to TikTok subcommunities like “BookTok” or “RecipeTok.” According to the platform’s recent “year in review,” some of the most popular Tumblr communities in 2022 were groups of creatives—like artists, photographers and writers—as well as niches like “Studyblr,” a section of Tumblr devoted to aesthetically-pleasing school notes and pristine desks, and “Booklr,” Tumblr’s BookTok equivalent.
Although Tumblr’s userbase is smaller than competing social platforms, sitting at only about 135 million monthly active users compared to Facebook’s 2.9 billion or Instagram’s 2 billion, Tumblr does have a young audience, with Gen Z making up just over half of the platform’s active users, according to Levine. The platform doesn’t directly collect other demographic data from users, he said, but he added that, according to media analytics company Comscore, Tumblr’s audience skews slightly female, and one in four users identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Tumblr’s overall number of active monthly users has declined on the web version of the platform “by double digits” over the course of 2022 compared to the year prior, and usage of the Tumblr app has fallen about 9% since August, according to a recent report from web analytics company Similarweb, However, the report also found that Tumblr experienced a surge in traffic on the night of Nov. 17, jumping from 8 million visits to nearly 9.5 million in one night. This statistic doesn’t account for visits to the Tumblr app, which is how 69% of users access the platform.
Additionally, in the wake of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, Tumblr has already seen significant growth in its number of overall users. The platform’s about page includes a daily counter of how many blogs and users exist on Tumblr, including how many new blogs were created each day. According to this page, roughly 60,000 new Tumblr blogs have been created daily since Dec. 1.
And Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg reported in a tweet that downloads of the Tumblr app soared 58% on iOS devices and 57% on Android ones in the first week of November.
For @Tumblr: Over the past 7 days, iOS downloads are up 58% with 30% more impressions in the App Store. Android downloads are up 57% with 50% more impressions in the Play Store.
While several brands have launched successful campaigns on Tumblr over the years, the platform has historically been excluded from the typical combination of platforms brands use to develop their social media presence. Media buyers, too, tend to dismiss the site, with the head of social media at one agency telling Ad Age, “[Tumblr] is pretty far off our radar.”
But in the mid-2010s, Tumblr was a place where brands were developing their social strategy. Denny’s, which was active on the platform throughout the 2010s, used meme-heavy content on Tumblr that was one of the first examples of “unhinged” brand accounts. That “unhinged” strategy has since become commonplace on other platforms, such as Duolingo’s TikTok or RadioShack’s Twitter.
Over the years, as new social media platforms popped up and attracted marketers’ attention, the conversation around Tumblr dwindled and the platform faded into the background. But since Automattic acquired the company in 2019, Tumblr has been working, albeit slowly, to rebuild its cache of brands by reforming its team devoted to brand outreach.
In recent years, Netflix and Marvel have embraced Tumblr as a promotional vehicle for upcoming TV series and movies, with Marvel using a mix of paid and organic content to build excitement for the release of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” last month. Members of the movie’s cast and crew responded to a series of fan-submitted questions in several “Answer Time” posts, and the company harnessed Tumblr’s “Creatrs” program—its in-house network of artists that produce art, memes and other branded content for campaigns—to commission three pieces of promotional art, said Cherokee McAnelly, Tumblr’s head of entertainment.
Netflix similarly worked with Tumblr to promote the latest season of “Stranger Things,” flipping the entire dashboard—Tumblr’s main content feed—upside down in a reference to the fictional world in the show called the “Upside Down,” and adding a custom tab on the dashboard filled with content related to the series, including several pieces of art produced by Tumblr Creatrs.
“Brands are coming here to build brand love,” Levine said. “You can chase conversions and clicks in a lot of places—and certainly every brand we’re running with is running a [call to action] on their ads—but they’re coming here for the conversation, the fun, the awareness and the engagement.”
Manscaped, for example, has found success on Tumblr with humor and an emphasis on memes, Kevin Graham, social media specialist at Manscaped, wrote in an email.
One of Manscaped’s best-performing posts on the platform put a spin on a Tumblr ad featuring a man dressed in a Pikachu costume, which quickly became so prevalent across Tumblr that “users complained they would rather see Manscaped ads again over the ‘Pikaman’ ads,” Graham said. “So, we decided to give Tumblr the collab it never asked for,” having a Manscaped employee dress as the ‘Pikaman’ while holding one of the brand’s razors. That post amassed nearly 40,000 notes, far surpassing the average of 1,600 notes Manscaped typically receives per month.
“Consistently posting Tumblr content has helped us learn a lot about Gen Z and what the generation enjoys consuming and interacting with,” Graham added. Manscaped has gained over 23,000 on Tumblr since joining the platform in July 2020, though the majority of those followers came on in 2021.
If brands and users are seeking out a platform completely identical to Twitter, Tumblr isn’t going to be the Holy Grail they’re looking for—and that quest might be unachievable in the first place, said Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communications at the University of Louisville. However, Tumblr does share a fair number of similarities to Twitter: particularly, their shared multimedia post options; chronological order in which posts appear on users’ dashboards; and general ambience and posting style, she said.
“In terms of the overall voice and content, I think [Tumblr] is very closely aligned to what Twitter has been known for—the memes, the snarkiness,” Freberg said. “But in terms of formulating community and that back-and-forth engagement, it’s going to be different. [Tumblr’s] not regular Coke; it’s going to be Diet Coke.”
“If brands are going to use Tumblr as part of their strategy, they really need to communicate why they’re on the platform, but also how they’re going to use the platform to best fit their community needs,” she continued. “And also, at the end of the day, they have to figure out ‘Are our audiences even on Tumblr? Or is that even something they want?’”
Tumblr could be a good fit for companies that have cultivated a playful, sardonic brand voice, Freberg said, as dry humor and memes characterize the platform. Ryan Reynolds and his agency, Maximum Effort, both recently established Tumblr accounts, likely because Reynolds was drawn to the platform’s “entertainment factor,” she added.
🎶All the world is waiting for you 🎶 https://t.co/zV9nhlIbNa
Several of the nearly two dozen companies that have contacted Tumblr about setting up a blog on the platform cited Castillo’s amusing Twitter posts as their primary reason for reaching out to Tumblr, Levine said.
“We’re seeing a lot of brands reaching out due to [our Twitter account] and saying, ‘We want to be part of playing with you on your platform and having conversations,’” he said. “Our Trust & Safety team is busy freeing up URLs and usernames and helping brands get on board.”
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CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of Tumblr’s active monthly users.
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