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Tumblr, which has been described as a publishing tool that's somewhere between Twitter/Facebook and a full-fledged blog, is a fast-rising star in the crowded world of social media. It recently passed the one billion post mark, and it counts some pretty prominent publishers, including The Economist and Newsweek, as users.
The latest recognizable name in publishing to jump on the Tumblr bandwagon is The Atlantic. It doesn't know what to expect from its Tumblr experiment, but it's getting involved with Tumblr nonetheless.
Why has Tumblr become of interest to large publishers? It certainly isn't the revenue; there's little to none of that. And it isn't exactly Tumblr's mainstream popularity. While Tumblr's popularity is growing rapidly, it's not exactly what one would probably refer to as a 'mainstream' service, at least not yet.
So what is it? Tumblr is, as Megan Garber of the Nieman Journalism Lab, puts it, "whimsy." Which is probably one of the reasons why The Atlantic's deputy online editor, J.J. Gould, says that Tumblr "looks like a lot of fun." With that in mind, Gould indicates that The Atlantic will avoid trying to think too strategically when it comes to its new Tumblr presence, at least initially. It's going to try to be savvy, but not "over-thought."
Pragmatically-speaking, that might not be such a bad move. While strategy is important, strategy often carries with it something else: expectation. Brands experimenting with new platforms should always be thoughtful, but too many expectations can also be harmful.
New platforms often function in ways that are foreign to brands, and expectations can easily create limitations. Keeping an open mind and seeing what happens gives brands the ability to learn and spot new opportunities.
Perhaps publishers will discover that a platform like Tumblr can make a meaningful contribution to the brand and business, even if it doesn't make a huge contribution to the bottom line. Perhaps the mere act of experimenting with Tumblr will offer some benefit. After all, many publishers are in a precarious situation andwill have to experiment if they want to survive. But this doesn't necessarily mean that publishers should invest in presence on every emerging platform.
As my colleague Matt Owen has pointed out, time management is important. Publishers can't be everywhere, and once a presence has been established on a new platform, it can be difficult to close down shop, particularly when the platform is driving exposure but not revenue. If Newsweek's Tumblr experience is any indication, publishers may want to consider that.