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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Oreo, Tumblr and a Network's Power to Amplify

Really, it was bigger than Oreo.

When Nabisco posted an image supporting gay pride, Tumblr blew it up. Users took the statement of a single snack manufacturer and made a cause that touched many companies.

In this, the second part of a trilogy, major brands find themselves roped to a conversation about love in America. Part one talked about how Oreo cannonballed into the social web by posting an image of a rainbow Oreo in support of gay pride. Part three will use the episode to highlight conversation dynamics unique to the Tumblr network.

It began with maskedman.

“Gay oreo? Oreo suppoert Gays/??” the user wrote, “Never evating cookie again. … Disgustedng. THis is AMERICA, not HOMERICA.”

The post, which would ultimately accumulate some 1,500 notes, landed a day after Oreo’s image and touched off a wave of support for the company.

One user, palahniukandchocolate, made a list.

“Dear people boycotting Oreos for supporting gay rights: The following companies also support gay rights,” she wrote, adding the names of 37 companies, among them Allstate, Gap, Nike and Starbucks.

A day later, monkaroo retooled the tactic:

“Yes, please boycott Oreo for their support of gay rights,” monkaroo wrote before invoking two dozen companies aligned with Oreo, “We’ll all appreciate you going on a diet … [D]o us all a favor, don’t take it all out on a festive cookie… Just stay home and boycott everything.”

The note from palahniukandchocolate ran close to 900 characters. monkaroo’s topped out over 1,800. Together, they used the freedom of Tumblr’s platform to find a community in an ideology. They grabbed allies — and by doing so, they blew up the question.

The notes caught.

By the evening of the 26th, palahniukandchocolate’s message was pulling down hundreds of reblogs per hour. Indeed, that night, the note would lay claim to 75 percent of Tumblr’s Oreo conversation.

Graph Showing Oreo Mentions Spike on Tumblr

Figure 1 presents hourly Tumblr activity about Oreos (blue) and hourly reblogs of user palahniukandchocolate (orange).

The action spread elsewhere. Starbucks had seen a median 11 tumbles per hour in the two weeks leading up to the 24th. Pepsi had seen 14. On the night of the 26th, palahniukandchocolate lifted both brands, driving each to a network peak of more than 400 posts per hour.

Microsoft also bounced, rising to the 400 peak from 15 posts per hour and holding triple digits as late as the afternoon of the 29th. Costco, with barely a pulse on the network the week before, found itself in 7,100 tumbles the day after the cookie.

Figure 2 presents hourly Tumblr activity around Costco, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Pepsi, Sears and Starbucks. Association with Oreo’s pride cookie drove heightened activity for each brand.

palahniukandchocolate named 37 brands in her defense of Oreo. For most, including Coca-Cola, Levi’s,  Nike and Walgreen’s, that single association dominated the brand’s Tumblr presence in the second half of June.

Tumblr’s platform made that possible. Figure 3 shows four brands that bounced on Tumblr thanks to the Oreo affair. None saw pickup on Twitter in the wake of the image — the platform has no room for periphery.

Graph Showing Cookie Brand Mentions on Tumblr
Figure 3 presents hourly Twitter volumes for four brands that popped on Tumblr in the wake of Oreo’s image. Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer drove the brand’s heightened activity pictured here.

In part, it’s not surprising that the Oreo story could cast so long a shadow over so many brands. Tumblr’s largely an extraprofessional platform; presence on the network requires personal connections between users and brands. Figure 3 presents average daily Tumblr volumes for corporate titans. The flows are thin, technology superbrands notwithstanding.
Graph of Brand Activity on Tumblr

Figure 4 presents average daily Tumblr activity around a subset of the 50 largest corporations by market capitalization (ranked Aug. 18, 2012).

Brands with little network presence risk leaving definition in the hands of others. And Tumblr encourages association: The platform provides flexibility in media and speeds the replication of conversation.

The series’ last installment dives into conversation dynamics on the network. If you like trace diagrams, this next one’s for you.

Twist, Lick, Dunk: A Tumblr Story

Oreo Showing Pride

Tumblr won’t soon forget the day America’s favorite cookie came out.

On June 25th, to promote the year of Oreo’s 100th birthday, Nabisco lent its cookie some currency: The company tweeted the image of a six-layered cookie, with crèmes the color of the rainbow, above a simple caption – “Pride.”

“We feel the Oreo ad is a fun reflection of our values,” a Kraft spokesman later told reporters. The cookie, the company said, illustrated ‘in a fun and playful way’ an issue that was making history.

The image lit up the social web. This post, and two that follow, explore conversations on Tumblr through the lens of Oreo. Part Two looks at how the episode touched other brands on the network. Part Three dives into the dynamics of Tumblr conversations and how they diverge from other platforms.

The image itself touched a vein. Opponents to marriage equality took to Oreo’s accounts on Facebook and Twitter to slam Nabisco and threaten boycott.

“[U]nliking oreo, cleaning out cupboard, changing buying habits, no more Oreo’s, and it’s parent company,” one user wrote.

“I will never eat an oreo again! ew!” said another.

Those comments, and others, drew counter-protests, among them:

“[W]onderful job Oreo on supporting equal rights, just for that, now I’ll buy a pack today.”

“I believe I’m going to go buy every package of Oreos I see when I go grocery shopping. Kudos!!”

Within hours, Oreo found itself the subject of some 7,500 tweets. The conversation ramped to midnight EST, when the brand was pulling back some 2,000 tweets per hour.
Graph Demonstrating Twitter Volume Around Pride Oreo
Figure 1 shows hourly Twitter volumes around Oreo between June 18 and July 2.

Tumblr followed on the 26th. In three hours that night, the company drew more than 300 textual posts on the network, double what the brand had done each day the week before.

The talk stayed political: “Way to go Kraft!,” one post read, “However it is also eye-opening to see how many people are proud to show their hate, or belief that all Americans do not deserve equal rights.”

Graph Showing Tumblr Volume Around the Pride Oreo
Figure 2 shows hourly Tumblr volumes around Oreo between June 18 and July 2.

By then, the story had spilled. ABC, NBC, Reuters and the Washington Post amplified news of the flap. A conservative family group urged supporters to look elsewhere for cookies. Meanwhile, the image was slowly amassing more than 60,000 Facebook comments and close to 300,000 likes. Two social analytics companies would later call that conversation overwhelmingly positive – for Oreo.

For days on Tumblr, the story echoed. Median hourly Twitter volumes had returned to normal by the fracas’ fourth day. But on Tumblr, a full week after Oreo’s image went live, chatter remained triple the cookie’s prior volume.

In that way, the image marked a breakthrough for Oreo on Tumblr. At peak, the pride cookie generated 2.6 times Oreo’s median Twitter volume from the week prior. For Tumblr, that figure was 19.8.
Graph Demonstrating Increase in Tumblr Traffic After the Pride Oreo
Figure 3 shows the ratio between hourly platform volume around Oreo and typical hourly platform volumes between June 18 and July 2.

Oreo had long been a social brand. Before the pride cookie, it counted 26 million Facebook fans and tens of thousands of Twitter followers. On Tumblr, the cookie already outstripped its rivals. And in a move that may help the company retain that lead, Oreo can rely on, the brand’s official Tumblr presence. Its first posted image? June 25 – the pride cookie.

Graph Showing Oreo Compared to Other Cookie Brands on Tumblr

Figure 4 shows Oreo’s Tumblr lead over major cookie brands in the United States between June 18 and July 2.

But Oreo’s Tumblr story rippled beyond the cookie alone. That broadening – a central quality of the Tumblr platform – has implications for brands linked by product, demographic or, in this case, ideology. Return for more in Part Two.