The Staying Power of Tumblr

It took two days for the poll to pop.

Three days after the pride cookie, Houston radio station KTRH dropped a question for its listeners.

“The cookie your grandfather loved has ‘gone gay!’” the station wrote on its website, “What Do You Think? Does This Rainbow Flag Cookie Bother You?”

It bothered becausegretchensaidso (now using Tumblr username Gretchenisincognito). Well, at least, the question did. That day, the user left a tumble for followers:

“This poll is from a conservative news radio station,” the user wrote, “Let’s surprise them with overwhelming results in favor of equality.”

The post trickled out, gathering almost a hundred reblogs in a 24-hour period. Then it flatlined, holding without major gains through the morning of the episode’s fifth day.

And that’s when it burst. On the evening of June 30th, with Tumblr Oreo chatter sloping back to normal, becausegretchensaidso’s message went vertical — a full 48 hours after publication. Close to 300 users shared the post in a matter of hours. A day later, that number had doubled. Over at KTRH, the poll was tilting for the pride cookie.

Content lingers on Tumblr. becausegretchensaidso and another user waited for days before posts went viral. Others watched as posts drifted forward, adding one or two reblogs each day.
Figure 1 presents the accumulation of reblogs by content posted by different Tumblr users. Excluded from the picture is palahniukandchocolate. During the Oreo episode, fewer than 10 Tumblr users originated content that drove the explosion of the story.

It’s different on Twitter. Not only where the total volumes slow (as we saw in earlier posts here and here), but share rates of the story’s top drivers fell precipitously and sequentially as each piece of content yielded to the freshest meme. Traffic mapped a Social Media Pulse, the picture of social decay for unanticipated events. Across the nine users who drove most conversation on Twitter, user retweets — a analog for reblogs on Tumblr — did not display the endurance of a Tumblr conversation.

Figure 2 presents the rate of retweets by hour for content posted by top drivers of the Oreo conversation on Twitter.

For brands, the implications are clear: Conversations — promoted or unprovoked — endure on Tumblr through reblogging. That can heighten the returns to network engagement — and the risk of allowing negative perceptions to form.

Tumblr also has movement quality that can dominate a moment: During the height of the Oreo episode, reblogs made up more than 90 percent of tumbles related to the pride cookie. On Twitter, the number of retweets rarely rose above 50 percent of the tweet volume.


Figure 3 presents the shares of Tumblr and Twitter conversations related to Oreo, at the episode’s peak, driven by shared content.

In a sense, then, on Tumblr, the creator is king: The network offers those who would speak an unprecedented platform, engineered for replication and amplification. It falls to brands to take advantage of the behavior on this platform by creating content users want to associate themselves with and pass along.

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