March 21, 2013
As 2013 begins, sharing content on Facebook and Twitter is firmly entrenched in the communications and marketing plans of institutions of higher education. But there is another platform, potentially a more creative environment, where content goes to thrive. That place is Tumblr.
Launched in 2007, Tumblr is a user-friendly, free-to-use, customizable sharing platform that allows users to post text, photos, quotes, videos and more. Tumblr has shown remarkable growth over the past six years. By the end of last year, Tumblr was home to more than 86 million blogs. Users reportedly spend almost as much time on Tumblr as they do on Facebook — and most users are under the age of 25 — a perfect age for undergraduate and graduate recruiting.
One of the biggest reasons higher education institutions use social media is to attract more students, and Tumblr can help simply by reasons of user demographics. High school students who are exploring the Internet — and themselves — will find posts that align with their interests. Content on Tumblr is organized by ‘tags’ which brings users the things they’re thinking about at that moment. Tags can be as simple as ‘dorms’ which would bring back the obvious responses, or as complex as ‘What is there to do at University X’ which would call up content showcasing an active student culture.
All schools tout amazing classes and brilliant instructors in a nurturing community. Every institution of higher education can post a Facebook cover image of a snowy building with students smiling as they walk out of class, or a sun-dappled sidewalk on a glowing autumn day where new students laugh on their way to their dorm. Tumblr provides a place to expand the range of content available to curators. Great skiing nearby but no school ski team? Share an image of the ski locations and describe how this is an environment that is close to skiing, unlike that other college down the state that’s hundreds of miles away from the nearest slope. Now there’s a difference; and skiing students may feel more drawn to a place where they can meet and hang out with their peers.
Content accumulates over time. Images and stories posted to websites five years ago still have value. Tumblr allows that old content to be presented in a new way. Stumble upon a 10-year-old story about a then-new faculty member who has recently risen in popularity? Reshare as an example of how much faculty members like working at the school. Historical pictures that have no place on Facebook since there is no milestone anniversary soon? Tumblr doesn’t care! Create a photoset and share the old images. Tumblr’s built-in queue allows curators to have dozens of pieces of content in line for postings over days, weeks or years.
Tumblr users pull no punches. This is not Facebook, where everyone is usually putting on their best faces, or Twitter, where users feel pressure to embrace ‘brevity is the soul of wit’. Tumblr users share content, comment on content and are honest about what they like and don’t like. Here, schools can find out what prospective and current students really think. It’s also a place where there is a chance for curators to share student-generated content. (Ask permission first, of course) as well as posts by other brands, organizations and themed blogs. Being an active part of a network of interests demonstrates an understanding and appreciation of the world beyond the school-specific events and press releases shared on other platforms.
Users on Tumblr are provided what the platform calls the ‘ask’ box. Questions about curriculum, access to housing, student activities and more will come from users and administrators are given the choice to answer privately or post the answers to their feeds. This allows other users with similar questions to find the information they, too, were seeking.
A single Tumblr post can include video, still images, animated gifs and more. This allows for a full multimedia exploration of content. A press release from the engineering department that includes a time-lapse video of the project being completed, a lengthy interview with researchers that rely on extensive context and a video and photos of the finished project can all be bundled into a complete and informative posting. The Tumblr platform is an environment where curators explore their own creativity.
Tumblr is a great place to host content that will be shared in the future. Because archived posts are sorted by months and tags, curators can easily find photos or videos or articles to share on other platforms weeks, months or even years later. Did a graduate have a noteworthy success? A quick tag search through a Tumblr archive may yield that student’s previous involvement in a similar venture on campus. Share that image to Facebook with the new update and strike content gold. And since Tumblr is web-based, admins have quick access to content wherever and whenever they have the Internet, but can’t connect to office resources.
Students and prospective students are alive on Tumblr! Conversations about going to school, living on campus, worries about leaving home for college and complaints about classes are all happening within the platform. Being an active member of the Tumblr community provides the opportunity to join in these discussions. A user may be debating between schools and throw their questions out to the Tumblr community, which provides an admin the chance to put forward a case for their particular institution.
Perhaps the most basic use of any media platform is providing information. Tumblr users know how to find the information they want by using the tag search. For curators, tags are an effective way to target specific content to the people who most want to see it.
Fandom refers to a community of people who all like the same element of pop culture. Finding ways to include pop culture references in posts from the institution demonstrate a sense of humor and that there is a heart within the organization. If a post includes a reference to ‘Sherlock’ or ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘House’ then users experiencing that post make emotional and intellectual connections beyond the basic content of the post. When it comes time to choose a place to go to college, because, remember, all schools have amazing classes and brilliant instructors in a nurturing community, they just might choose a place they know likes Doctor Who.
No limits on posting length and no perceptible diminishing returns for multiple postings, a great tablet app and an attitude of irreverence that is refreshing after the ‘how are you feeling today’ questions asked by Facebook and the onslaught of information given by Twitter.
Tumblr users know the platform is a place they can go to learn a more about the world they live in, be around people who think like they do and have fun. By creating and maintaining an active and honest Tumblr blog, schools can demonstrate they have those very same qualities.