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.