How Tumblr Became One Of The Hottest Social Networks

Alden Tan
Alden Tan
July 6, 2017
2 min read
How Tumblr Became One Of The Hottest Social Networks

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Founded by David Karp back in 2007, Tumblr, a microblogging and social network site has grew to become a social networking powerhouse we know today.

Whether you use it or not, you can't deny its existence.

As of June 1, 2017, Tumblr is reported to host over 349.3 million blogs, over 700 million visits per month and an Alexa global rank of 45. According to Forbes, Tumblr has been valued at $800 million.

Often referred to as the wild child that combines Twitter, YouTube and Wordpress, let's take a look at how Tumblr grew since its infant years.

1. Youthful Defiance

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When Tumblr grew to the point where Karp was neglecting his consultancy gig and clients, investors began eyeing the baby social network.

However, Karp didn't want to sell out.

He refused for Tumblr to be thrown in the arena that is Silicon Valley, where he felt entrepreneurs there were only worrying whether Apple, Google or Facebook were going to steal their best talent.

As such, Karp repeatedly turned down offers by investors but instead focused on allowing Tumblr to flourish as a creative community.

2. Pushing Things Forward With Creativity

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Karp's main focus on Tumblr was always about creativity. He wanted users to be able to put cool things up, be it articles, links, pictures or videos without the external drive for rewards other platforms incentivized users with.

In other words, he didn't want Tumblr to be like Facebook or YouTube, where content gets ads slapped on top or content which people only create to get more subscribers and fans.

Needless to say, Karp valued expression of art and creativity.

He knew that there was a market that wasn't being served well enough by existing standards, tools and platforms, going so far as to critiquing YouTube for hijacking creativity,

"The only real tools for expression these days are YouTube, which turns my stomach," he says. "They take your creative works – your film that you poured hours and hours of energy into – and they put ads on top of it. They make it as gross an experience to watch your film as possible. I'm sure it will contribute to Google's bottom line; I'm not sure it will inspire any creators."

3. A Worldwide Audience That Divided Itself Into Specific Communities

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At first, Tumblr's early adopters consisted of avant-garde bloggers i.e. the unknowing hipters of that time. While exclusive as they were, these bloggers effectively linked up with other popular sites such as Digg and Techmeme.

Soon after, Tumblr flowed into a mainstream current as whole universities, countries and cultures signed up. Karp has reported they were known to come in all at once.

Coupled with the freedom of creativity, specific communities formed and bloomed, namely musicians, photographers, fashion and writers.

4. Low To High Level Actions

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While it's easy to conclude that Tumblr's tools alone allowed for ease and creativity, it's actually a lot more subtle than that.

Karp calls them low-level or high level actions.

Low-level actions consist of Liking, Replying or Answering, while high-level actions include Reblogging. Effectively, this means that creative people, regardless of how popular they are can get picked up by much bigger audiences.

Ultimately, it is solely up to the user to work hard creatively to get the attention and growth they want. This is further ingrained by the fact that Tumblr does not allow advertising on the network. The company only makes money through selling premium blog themes and charging users for promotion in its directories.

5. Specialized Community Management

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Karp then hired prominent figures of a specific field to head the entire community, rather than let them grow on organically without leadership.

For example, Tumblr hired Rich Tong, founder of Weardrobe, a social fashion site to take charge of the fashion community. They even sent out more than twenty bloggers to fashion events such as New York Fashion Week.

“I have no clue about fashion,” Karp admits. “That’s one of the reasons that one of our first specialised community people is on the fashion side. Someone that really speaks the language, has the vocabulary and can reach out to people to find out why they liked Tumblr, so we can do an even better job for them" said David Karp in an interview.

6. Celebrity Lustre


The icing on the cake comes in the form of celebrities. Big names like Lady Gaga and Barack Obama use Tumblr. Big companies such as Adidas use it to promote their brand as well, all using creativity as a way to move forward.

With such a strong following with stars involved, it's no doubt that Tumblr wouldn't be tumbling down anytime soon.

Here's a recap of what we've learnt from Tumblr:

  1. Don't let others control what you've built
  2. Have company values and insist on protecting it
  3. Attract people of diverse communities
  4. Create behavioural actions that encourage users to interact
  5. Hire industry experts to lead the charge
  6. Encourage influencers to use your platform
Alden Tan
Alden Tan

Alden Tan is a writer and blogger from Singapore. He writes about self-improvement in an honest and real way as he doesn't have time for cliches and bullshit.

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