A journalist’s guide to using Tumblr

This morning I wrote about how some newsrooms use Tumblr, but getting to know the site can take awhile. So here’s a quick guide to using Tumblr, with Poynter’s Tumblr page as a reference.

This is the Tumblr Dashboard, the first thing Tumblr users see when they visit the site. This is Poynter’s Dash, but each user’s Dash will look a bit different, depending on what blogs each user follows.

From the Dashboard, users can access most of the key Tumblr functions — it’s the hub for making and sharing posts. Users scroll down — and can keep scrolling down — to read posts from the Tumblrs they follow. As you can see, the first post in our feed (when the screenshot was taken) was from the Pulitzer Center’s Tumblr.

If a user wants to make their own post, they can do so with the toolbar at the top of their Dashboard. These are the general posts they can make, but there’s room for crossover. Users can embed photos, video and media like tweets in text posts; they can add text to photo, link, audio and video posts, and so on.

Laura Oliver, community manager at the Guardian, said Tumblr’s versatility was what drew the publication to the platform.

“The ability to add text, pictures and audio, and to reblog others’ content… was something we were keen to try out as a multimedia reporting tool, and to experiment with different ways of presenting and embedding this content on Guardian.co.uk.”

Above are a few posts from blogs that Poynter follows, as they appeared on our feed. Posts from the blogs users follow are aggregated into a single stream.

Outlets may develop a certain editorial voice through the content they post and share, but they also contribute to the ecosystem and tone of the users’ feed. Users can curate their feed to reflect their values and are far likelier to encounter an organization’s post through their blogroll rather than via the organization’s Tumblr homepage.

Here are two more posts, from the BBC Breaking News blog and a popular blog called Brotips. Regardless of the subject matter, each post gets relatively equal weight – the only thing that will change the size of the post is the amount of content in each post.

Here are some statistics from the right-hand side of the Dashboard; they’re for the Poynter Institute’s Tumblr. We have 499 published posts and 1,231 followers; users can click each on their own Dashboards to see the posts they’ve made and who follows them, respectively. If a user wants to save a post in the middle of working on it, they can save the post as a draft; if they don’t want to publish it immediately after finishing it, they can schedule it to be posted at a specific time and date, or they can add it to the Queue, and Tumblr will space out the posts at the rate you specify. Both scheduled and queued posts are listed in the Queue.

Users on Tumblr are generally able to keep track of new content in their feed; that’s hard to do with a site like Twitter unless you’re constantly perched on the homepage. As a result, says Colleen Shalby of PBS NewsHour, the environment on Tumblr is different than Twitter.

“To stay pertinent on [Twitter and Facebook] you kind of have to be a part of the conversation constantly…there’s not a need to be with [Tumblr] 24/7.”

These are the notifications you’ll get when a user or follower interacts with your posts. Liking a post on Tumblr is akin to liking a post on Facebook, whereas reblogging a post on Tumblr means the post will also be posted to the user’s own feed, with information about where the post came from. For example, if someone reblogs a post from our account, it will say “Reblogged from Poynter” at the top of the post. It’s a way of sharing others’ content with your own followers.

A little more on sharing: In the top right corner of each post, you’ll see icons like this. Depending on the type of post, you may see all or only a few of them.

  • The box with the number in it is the number of notes each post has received. Posts get a note each time a person likes or reblogs the post, from anyone. The note count here is 287; that means since the first person made the original post, 287 people have liked or reblogged the post (or that a smaller number of people have done both). It is a cumulative count.
  • The rectangular outline with an arrow allows you to share the post outside of Tumblr. At the moment, you can access the permalink to the post or email the post.
  • Some posts may ask a question or for input. They’ll be accompanied by the chat bubble, which you can click and then type a response to the post. It will be listed under the post. (The chat bubble isn’t shown in the above image, but it looks like a speech bubble in a comic book.)
  • The two arrows headed in opposite directions represent reblogging. If you reblog a post, it will be posted to your own blog and show up in your followers’ feeds.
  • The heart button is what users click to like a post.

If look at the bottom of the Vanity Fair post, you’ll see hashtags. Tagging works on Tumblr the same way it works on sites like Twitter and Instagram.

Some tags are very popular on Tumblr – they range from things like “politics” and “history” to “nail art” and “photography.” Because of the massive influx of posts with these tags, it can be hard to sort through to find high-quality posts or posts of widespread merit. For these tags, Tumblr tasks editors with searching through Tumblr for posts to tag with the popular labels. Those tagged posts are given preferential placement in search results for the tags.

Some users prefer to avoid content geared toward more adult or mature audiences; Tumblr doesn’t ban users from posting porn, while individual users may want to avoid it. Safe Dash blocks posts that are NSFW from fully loading. If there’s an image in a post that’s tagged #NSFW (or a similar tag), the image won’t automatically load; users will have to click to load it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Tumblr for journalists, check out NewsU’s webinar on best practices for the platform.

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