Innovative Social Media Use at Colleges: Keeping it Casual with Tumblr

This is the third article in a series that will highlight one social media network or application at a time to showcase the different ways colleges are utilizing each of them.

Blogs are everywhere today; at the start of 2011, more than 152 million blogs existed on the Internet. From corporations to journalists, blogs are being authored by a diverse audience. A while back we also wrote about how colleges are starting to realize the benefits.

But not all blogs are born equal. In fact, over 36 million blogs on the Internet today belong to a different breed of blogging centered around a platform called Tumblr. Often classified as a platform of “microblogs”, Tumblr is to traditional blogging as Twitter is to Facebook.

Rather than in-depth blog articles like the one you’re reading right now, Tumblr is a place where an average of 42 million snippets of information are published and shared on a daily basis. Posts that contain a single image make up approximately half of the posts on Tumblr and the rest are split between snippets of quotes, links, text, music and videos.

So who uses Tumblr? Celebrities like Lady Gaga, top fashion brands and publications from Rolling Stone to The New Yorker do. In October, President Barack Obama even joined the microblogging website.

Strangely enough — despite its rapid user growth and unique features — Tumblr has been slow to find a foothold in higher education. However, there are a handful of colleges and universities that are leading the way.

Betsy Soler, who is the Community Manager and Tumblr guru for social media savvy Florida International University, has found considerable success using FIU’s Tumblr to engage the student body.

“The focus on Tumblr is to build a casual conversation about FIU and the college experience,” Soler says.

Casual is certainly the emphasis with Tumblr. The microblogging Web site has been dominated by a younger audience with half of its users under the age of 25. As a long-time Tumblr user myself, I can tell you that the community often takes on a much more casual (and often unfiltered) tone compared to conversations on Twitter or Facebook.

For Soler and FIU, that’s the point. She uses Tumblr’s unique search functions to track conversations and content related to FIU and engage with students in a more natural habitat.

“We’ll share stories and photos we find of our prospective and current students talking about FIU and we’re not afraid to reblog and comment on negative stories,” Soler says.

“It’s our take on student blogging. It’s real and uncensored,” she says.

And it’s working.

Using Tumblr’s “ask” button, users can submit attributed or anonymous questions to FIU’s Tumblr account. To Soler’s surprise, her team has received more than 1,000 questions in under a year.

The questions range from requests for general information to “very personal questions” like dropping out of college. The overflow of requests has forced her team to coordinate with various departments around FIU to provide questions with quality answers in a timely manner.

“If you’re willing to put the time into curating content that is both interesting and reflects the culture of your university, you’ll be surprised at how a community can flourish and how fast your content can spread on Tumblr,” she says.

While Tumblr is great for colleges, it’s also a great learning tool within the classroom.

David Gerzof is a Professor of Social Media and Marketing at Emerson College, where he conducts Emerson Social Media class, or more virally known as #ESM.

To teach students about blogging, Gerzof created ESM’s Web site using Tumblr where he requires students to write new posts on a weekly basis.

“The great thing about Tumblr is that it’s stupid simple, as much as Facebook, and it’s easy for students who are not social media savvy to pick up,” he says.

Each student posts at least once a week and with a combined classroom of over 30, the ESM Tumblr is quite active. The goal for Gerzof is to keep students engaged and keep the discussions on subject matter flowing.

“It forces them to keep relevant with the class and express their own opinions,” he says.

Similar to Soler’s approach, Gerzof lets students take control of the medium.

“I don’t edit them, I give them free range,” he says. “Students can write about whatever they want, so long as it relates back to the curriculum.”

Gerzof does this in the hopes that students will learn how to build their personal brand and presence on the web.

“When you go apply for a job, the first thing people go do is Google you,” he says. “Tumblr isn’t like a paper that gets thrown away at the end of the semester, it’s up there forever. Hopefully this exercise will start putting favorable things about students on that Google search result.”

ESM’s microblogging endeavors may be helping the school too.

“ESM’s Tumblr has been around for 4 years and I dare say there have been students who applied to Emerson College because they were searching about Emerson’s social media program on Google and found us,” he says.

Do you use Tumblr? What are your favorite accounts to follow and does your school endorse microblogging?

Image Credit: Gustavo Pimento

Hiroki Murakami I'm the Community Manager of The Next Great Generation and Mullen's busiest intern. Emerson College marketing and entrepreneurship student graduating this May. I'm a Seattle native studying in Boston, working with startups, and your local coffee shop's #1 customer. Drop me a line at @hnmurakami.

View all posts by Hiroki Murakami

2 Responses to “Innovative Social Media Use at Colleges: Keeping it Casual with Tumblr”


    Tumblr has always been a great blogging platform for people who don’t want to run their own website. I prefer wordpress if I’m going to host it myself, however, Tumblr is perfect for college kids!

    Thanks for the post, Hiroki!


Leave a Reply