Tumblring toward success

Should I be using Tumblr?

It’s the question freelancers ask themselves every time they come across another social network or media platform and read that ______ is the new Twitter, or _______ is the best way to find sources, to find out about new gigs, or to reach out to readers. It’s tempting to jump right in and try out this hot new thing.

There are only so many hours in a freelancer’s day, though, and investing significant time in new technology is risky. So, as a journalist, is maintaining a Tumblr blog a good use of your valuable time?

First, a Tumblr primer:

Tumblr is, in the simplest terms, part way between a traditional blog and a Twitter feed. Posts tend to be fairly short (longer than a tweet, shorter than a full blog post) and many Tumblrs focus on visual elements. There a lot of ways to customize a Tumblr, but they are optional, so getting a very basic blog up and running takes little time. Because the design is so simple, content is really the star on Tumblr blogs, which could work well for journalists who want to showcase their work. Tumblr makes it easy to post content via their app from a mobile phone and post via email, allowing for updates on the fly. Readers who follow your Tumblr can share your content easily too, and its traceable back to your page. It allows you to build a network. Because of these characteristics, people trying to sell things love Tumblr. And, as freelancer, you’re trying to sell something too: your work or maybe yourself as a person worth engaging. At the same time, some people consider Tumblr to be an informal or shallow platform, which might turn some prospective clients off if it’s your only online presence. Tumblr has also had some pretty significant outages, including a full 24 hours when the site was down in December 2010. The frequency of the outages even inspired someone to create Tumblr downtime mascots. Something to consider.

One person who is convinced Tumblr is a great tool for journalists is Mark Coatney, a former journalist who is a director and media evangelist for the blogging tool (so, grain of salt and all that with his comments). He told Poynter how Tumblr can help journalists advance their careers. The full conversation is available here, but these were his key points:

  • It “effectively marries publishing and distribution.” Each post allows for more content (pictures and words) than a Tweet, but using Tumblr’s built-in networking function, it allows for sharing with a network that’s conducive to exponential distribution.
  • It allows for valuable engagement with readers. Coatney used to work for Newsweek, and he found that when their Tumblr shared something a reader had blogged about, it was a great experience for the reader. “That validation was really useful, I thought, and I thought it really helped forge closer ties to the community,” he says.
  • Using Tumblr’s network is a good way to find story ideas and sources. Coatney emphasizes thinking of Tumblr as a community as much as a platform.
  • Coatney sees Tumblr as an equalizer between journalists and readers: “It takes advantage of what the web is best at–a real two-way dialogue between journalists and audience.”
  • If you’re using Tumblr in addition to a full website or a heftier blog, it can highlight just one element of your work. So, for instance, if you want to build an audience for your photography, Tumblr is a good way to do that. Coatney says some news outlet do that too, like NPR, whose Tumblr is “all about audience building–they make really great use of Tumblr’s ‘ask’ feature, where any reader can ask a question about the show, and the answers bring the audience back in.”

Of course, you first have to decide whether you want to main a blog at all. Our advice columnist, the Born Freelancer, comes down firmly on the pro-blogging side for freelancers and shares some great tips on blogging here. After that, if you’re a wannabe blogger but don’t know what platform to choose (there are many), Tumblr is a strong contender, especially if you’re not interested in wrestling much with style and formatting, don’t have a lot of time, and the very idea of HTML coding gives you cold sweats.

If you’ve used Tumblr professionally and it really paid off (or really didn’t), please leave a comment about your experience below.

Posted on December 1, 2011 at 3:54 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , , , ,

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