Tumblr is a relatively new player in the social media game, but already it boasts some impressive growth figures. With over 6.6 million users, it is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the social media landscape. It’s fascinating to see a blogging platform rise so quickly in a field with such intense competition. The reasons for Tumblr’s speedy ascendancy are many, but one of the most important elements driving it’s success is that Tumblr has some of the greatest viral potential of any social network. Tumblr combines Twitteresque sharing (called reblogging) with the tried and true interface of a blogging platform. Added to this is a post timeline that pulls in the latest posts from followed blogs in a manner very similar to Twitter.
While the addition of sharing tools is a natural evolution for blogging, Tumblr takes social sharing to the next level. Tumblr’s virality comes from three things:
1) There is No Character Limit.
In Twitter, retweeting eventually becomes impossible because 140 characters limit the degree to which a link can spread. Most influential users on Twitter still use the traditional RT style of retweeting because it credits the originator of the content, and allows them to comment on the content with the remaining characters. A chain of traditional retweets quickly gets out of hand, and twitter users eventually wind up mentioning the originator of the link. Using the new style of retweeting also hampers sharing; each time a link is shared, it breaks the chain of attribution from the previous iteration.
2) Tumblr Shows Each Person Who Shared the Post
What is so important about maintaining an unbroken chain of link attribution? It helps creates critical mass for sharing. When someone sees how many other people have shared something, they become more likely to share it with their friends, which in turn makes it even easier to be shared in the future. On Tumblr, this is very evident. Posts are propagated for days, or even weeks on end.
3) Tumblr Links Never Really Die
Tumblr combines the timeline of a social media platform with all the power of a fully functional website. With an archive built into many Tumblr themes, it means even the simplest Tumblr blog can have a place to save and endlessly perpetuate their links. While all other social media platforms eventually have their content disappear to make way for more recent timeline posts, a dormant Tumblr post can be revived many days after the initial post. Combine the preserving power of an archive with tag-based searching, and you have potent, long term propagation.
What does streamlined sharing mean for the future of Tumblr? The ease of going viral may turn out to be a mixed blessing. Users may tire of seeing the same GIFs appearing over and over in their feeds, which may lead many to become more choosy about whom they follow. Another threat lies in the allure of widespread content dissemination for marketers, which could lead to a flood of tactless companies that use Tumblr as just another sales outlet. We’ve seen some of this on twitter; Too many advertisers too quickly can spoil a delicate online ecosystem. On the other hand, it might make an already great platform all the more appealing. Whatever the future may hold for Tumblr, I’m going to enjoy how many reblogs David Grohl’s “Fresh Pots” gets.
Mr. David Benson is a social media analyst and coffeephile. He currently lives in New York City and works as an analyst for Mashwork, a social media analytics company.