Tumblr: A How-To Guide

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So, you’re curious about Tumblr.  Let’s get you started.

(Caveat: This is based entirely on my overwhelmingly positive experience with Tumblr.  I hear evil things said of the darker corners of the site, but they’re pretty easy to avoid.)

How does it work?

You create an account, like you would for any social media site.  Once you’re a user, you can follow other users that interest you, and you’ll see what they post in a stream on your dashboard.

If you don’t plan to actually create a blog yourself, you can stop right there, and just be a reader, not a poster.  You can use Tumblr to look at shiny things without posting your own shiny things, and that’s fine.

But I do want to start a blog there–how is it different from a regular blog?

Okay.  Lots of people use Tumblr as a primary blogging platform, but I’m not one of them.  My WordPress blog is better suited to long-form original content (like this article!) than Tumblr is.  Not that people don’t write long text posts, because they do, but the never-ending scroll of Tumblr means that sometimes readers’ eyes will glaze over and rush past those long text posts to get to the next picture in their stream.

I use Tumblr for short-form posts.  Single book photos, little ads for my novel, random book-related thoughts that I have that can’t possibly support an entire WordPress blog post.  I’ve participated in book-photo and journal challenges, so I was posting those photos on Tumblr every day for a solid month.  (Though I did aggregate them weekly here for my non-Tumblr readers.)

Tumblr is really half blog, half social media site.  It’s not as frenetic as Twitter (though I suppose it could be if you follow lots of people who post constantly), but it’s definitely not as sedate as more traditional blogging.

I’m sold.  What do I do?

Your Tumblr will be easier for readers to find, and more appealing to follow, if you mostly stick to a theme.  (And that theme could absolutely be a spill-all personal blog, plenty of people do that, or a blog about a specific fandom, there’s tons of those too.  For our purposes, let’s assume you want to be a booklr, the most common term for a book-related Tumblr user/account.)

Choose your user name with this in mind, if you like.  Mine is just my pen name, as that’s my brand, but if you’re an author (or intend to be) I’ve seen quiet a few fellow authors include the word in their user name, to make it more obvious.  I didn’t know that at the time, so I didn’t.  Also, my name is plenty long enough already without tacking “author” to the end.

Okay, done.  What next?

Find some people to follow.  I started by looking for writing prompts, book recommendations, and following a few authors I already knew had Tumblrs.  Search for things related to your interests/theme, and the results will have a row of closely-matching blogs at the top, then individual posts below that are tagged with your search terms.  Poke around, see what you like, and if a user posts a lot of stuff that interests you, follow them.  (You can always unfollow them later if you change your mind, more on that in a second.)

I have collected my cool people.

So now it’s time to talk about likes and reblogs.  Likes (the little heart button) are a hug you give to the poster for putting up something you enjoy.

Reblogs perpetuate content by posting it to your account, even though you’re not the original creator.  (Don’t worry, the source is credited forever, so no one’s going to accuse you of stealing.  Though it’s considered bad form to delete captions in an effort to disguise the post as your own, but you would never do that, right?)

So “like” things you like, and reblog things that you want your followers to see, because it’s an especially pretty picture of that book you’re currently reading, or a helpful article on plot structure, or a video of a beluga whale blowing bubbles at a little girl.  (I’m a sucker for cute animals.)

Don’t have followers yet?  Don’t worry, you will, once the ball gets rolling.

But how?

Be active. Follow people who post in your wheelhouse, like and reblog from them, and they’ll be curious about that new name they’re seeing pop up in their activity.  They might check you out.  If they like what they see from you, they might follow you back.

Post original content.  Yeah, it takes a while for something to make the rounds, especially in the beginning when you don’t have many followers to see and potentially reblog your stuff, but it will happen.

Tag your posts to make them searchable.  Remember, that’s how you found some blogs to start following?  Tag your posts and that’s how people can find you.  (Honestly, this is the one I’m worst at.  I’m diligent about tagging my original content and I basically never tag the stuff I reblog.  I should work on that.)

Talk to people.  This one can be trickier, because when you’re new, you feel like an outsider.  But “ask” posts are pretty popular (at least on the booklr side of things), so if someone you follow posts one, that’s an invitation to send them an ask.  If they post something that says “I’m bored, somebody talk to me,” that’s a good time to say hello.  Be polite, of course, comment on a common interest (“I see you’re reading BOOK, I was thinking of reading it too, are you enjoying it?”) or just say something nice, like “I’m glad I found your blog, the endless pics of baby otters really brighten my day!”

You get the idea.  HOWEVER.  The other way to contact a user is the much newer messaging system, and many users can’t stand it.  For a variety of reasons.  When it was brand-new, you’d see lots of posts from people about whether they were okay with people messaging them or not, but now that’s tapered off, so when in doubt, asks are probably the way to go.

(Personally, I’m happy to get both messages and asks.  So you know.  If you end up making a Tumblr and following me. /wink)

You said something about unfollowing people?

It’s easy to find yourself following a million people.  (Okay, that’s hyperbole, but still, you can clog your dash pretty quickly.)

IT IS OKAY TO UNFOLLOW PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT POSTING THINGS YOU ENJOY.  They won’t get a message saying “[this user] has unfollowed you,” like they do when you first follow them.  All they’ll see is that their number of followers went down by one, and that’s only if they’re checking.  If they remember your name, they might notice it’s missing from their followers list, but it’s really not a big deal.

I go through my followed list periodically and unfollow blogs that haven’t updated in a long time.  And I have occasionally (twice? three times?) unfollowed a blog for more personal reasons, like they start posting tirades about religious/political viewpoints I don’t agree with, or use hate speech.  Doesn’t matter how pretty your books are, I ain’t listening to that nonsense.

So I’ll say it again: IT IS OKAY TO UNFOLLOW PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT POSTING THINGS YOU ENJOY.

That’s a lot to take in.

Boiled down: Post/reblog things that interest you, and be friendly.  People will find you.  You’ll have a good time.  And if you don’t, you don’t have to stay.

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