These days, social media is the fastest way to engage with readers, if that's your sort of thing. Some people, of course, choose to create a veneer of mystery instead, not Tweeting, not Facebooking, nada. But the great thing about social media is that it's so simple! You can do it all while sitting at home, not wearing any pants! I don't know why you're not wearing pants. Better not to ask.
Pants aside: when it comes to various social media platforms, people don't seem to think Tumblr is as simple as Twitter or Facebook. Every time I mention Tumblr to people who don't Tumbl, they react with alarm, bafflement, or a mixture of the two. This makes sense to a degree, since Tumblr culture is, erm, sort of weird. But never fear! I know the place a little too well, since over the last few years, my blog has stumbled its way into 10,000+ followers, and I also spend about 10,000% of my free time on the site. I've made this cheat sheet to explain a few things about Tumblr if you're looking to get started.
Without further ado, here are the five things you need to know about Tumblr Culture:
5) Keep Up
One thing that can seem intimidating about Tumblr is the pace, which is breakneck. The Dashboard -- home to posts from all the blogs you follow -- is active 24/7 and constantly updating, so things get easily lost in the mix. Tumblr even has a specific function to encourage constant activity: the Queue. You can set your queue to post automatically for you, up to 24 times a day. Compared to hosts like Blogspot, that can seem like an extreme number, but on Tumblr, a steady stream of activity is good.
"Wait!" you might say. "What about the quantity of stuff I will need to generate, if I want to post that often? Am I supposed to sell my soul? Quit my job to make Tumblr posts all day?" No, friend. Although I'm sure Tumblr staff would love for you to do that, you don't have to, because ...
4) To Blog is to Reblog
On most other social media outlets, people focus primarily on their own content -- displaying it, advertising it, etc. But the climate on Tumblr is one of sharing. The site prides itself on being full of not only creators, but creative communities. For instance, you might find fanartists who draw pieces based on a fanfiction writer's work, or people who write 3,000-word essays about a TV character's psychology just to share with others and discuss.
Tumblr is hugely about interplay, which is why -- even on many popular blogs -- you'll find that the percentage of original content is relatively low. Each blog feels something like a miniature aggregate site, a collection of art, writing, opinions, etc. that the blogrunner enjoys. Like a little internet gallery! (For those unfamiliar, reblogging works quite simply: by clicking the "reblog" button, you rehost an original post from somebody else's blog to yours, and thereby share it with all of your followers.)
All this is to say that you don't have to stress about making your own stuff 24/7. The general mood of Tumblr is to stay active by reblogging others' work to support them, and you'll find your kin through common interests. This is best if you ...
3) Learn the Tag System
Some people migrate from Twitter to Tumblr and assume that tags function in essentially the same manner, but this is not the case. On Tumblr, people use tags in several primary ways. Firstly, you can organize your blog through tags. On many blogs, you'll find tag-based Navigation pages -- here's a screenshot of what mine looks like:
... so, whenever I make a post with a horrible pun, I tag it with "GET THEE TO A PUNNERY!" Then, on my Navigation page, when you click the "Get Thee to a Punnery!" link, it can take you to a page that displays every post I've ever made (or reblogged!) that has a horrible pun in it.
The second primary use of tags is to add commentary. On Tumblr--unless you have something vital to contribute to a conversation--it's seen as weird to reblog and add a comment to the post, because the original poster will see it as a response. This might feel counterintuitive, because on most other sites, commenting is seen as the best way to connect. But on Tumblr, people often get concerned that too much text messes with the ~aesthetic~ of the post.
If you do have an opinion but don't want to address it to the author of the original post, what many people do is reblog the post and write it in the tags, like this:
Tags are also gathering spaces. This function is more like the way Twitter uses tags. If you go to the Doctor Who tag, for instance -- http://tumblr.com/tagged/doctor-who -- you can see every post that Who fans have tagged with "doctor who". For smaller fanbases, the tag becomes like a little home base.
Phew! Okay. Tagging is a lot. Moving on ...
2) Do Not Engage with Call-Out Culture.
I waffled on whether to include this. For people just looking to make an author Tumblr and connect with their readers, one would hope it wouldn't be an issue, but you never know.
Tumblr users tend to be impulsive, passionate, opinionated -- and overwhelmingly socially liberal. It's a haven for LGBTQ+ people and intersectional feminist discourse; it has huge communities for the marginalized. And in people's desire to make Tumblr a safe space for social discussion, they often turn to "Call-Out Culture." This is where people present problematic behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) and eviscerate it publicly. And for those who are actually famous, public opinion can turn on a dime and give the site a feeling of mob mentality. (See: that recent John Green debacle.)
Mostly, call-out culture is nothing to be afraid of, assuming you're not actually sexist/racist/etc. But it's the internet. Misunderstandings abound. A few months back, one of my joke posts got popular, but -- alas! -- it had a snarkier tone than I usually employ, and a comment arose claiming that I was jeering at young, female writers. (Which would be weird of me, as a young, female writer.) I tried to clarify, but people were already coming to my askbox yelling cursewords at me. So I didn't engage. After making a separate post to clarify the situation, I deleted the original post and turned off my askbox, and things simmered down.
There are far worse things than the overly enthusiastic social justice community. Like, say, the pro-anorexia side of Tumblr, or the shoplifter community. Also, a few years ago, I was mobbed by Men's Rights Activist users, who gave 18-year-old me appalling threats of sexual violence. Same solution: turn off the askbox; don't engage. This too shall pass.
Moving on now to the most important thing:
1) The Golden SocMed Rule: It's Not Really About You
I think this holds true for any social media platform: engaging with an audience should be about the audience first and foremost. A Twitter that consists mostly of a bot posting promos every five seconds is about the most self-defeating thing in the world. People are inherently self-serving, and if what you're posting isn't funny, useful, or in some way pleasing, there's no reason they'll want to connect with you.
Of course, the more famous you are, the less the Golden Rule applies. If you have a giant, rabid fanbase, you can probably talk about yourself all day and night and people will still love you. But for people trying to build buzz through social media, incessant self-promotion doesn't make sense.
Anyway, if you're already famous, all of the above is totally irrelevant. You could probably post just the word "butts" on Tumblr once a day and get a hilariously huge following.
I hope this is helpful! Questions about Tumblr, or about any of the above? Leave them in the comments. Until then, signing off.
Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a senior at Kenyon College represented by Caryn Wiseman. Her debut novel, Seven Ways We Lie, will be released by Abrams/Amulet in Spring 2016. Her site (hosted by Tumblr, no less) is here, and she Tweets here.