Federal agency blogs gaining fresh appeal on Tumblr platform

Tumblr offers advantages of blogging and social sharing combined

Federal blogging may be getting a second wind, as a handful of agencies recently have created buzz-generating blogs on Tumblr, a next-generation Web platform that combines blogging with social features.

Blogging -- "blog" is short for "web log" and refers to a site featuring short items conveying information and opinion -- has been around for over a decade, but the format has grown somewhat dated as social media platforms have risen in popularity. Tumblr combines blogging with social sharing, providing opportunities for a fresher approach and a chance to gain a broader audience.

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GSA is first agency to blog on Tumblr platform

Tumblr gaining popularity as blogging platform for federal agencies

The General Services Administration led the way by establishing a USA.gov presence on Tumblr.com in April, and Bev Godwin, director of the GSA’s Federal Citizens Information Center, said in a recent interview that Tumblr has helped boost USA.gov’s traffic by 40 percent since then.

Other agencies that have joined Tumblr include the Defense and State departments, Peace Corps, National Archives and National Endowment for the Humanities, according to Jed Sundwall, president of Measured Voice, which helped the GSA in moving onto Tumblr. He spoke about Tumblr at a recent Webinar sponsored by the GSA’s Web Managers University.

Tumblr offers several unique advantages as a blogging platform for federal agencies and officials, Sundwall said.

For one, Tumblr is a popular platform, expanding from 1 billion monthly page views in June 2010 to 102 billion page views in October 2011. A large share of its users, about 37 percent, are aged 18 to 34.

“Tumblr has grown rapidly, and you do not have to pay a penny to host a blog on it,” Sundwall said.

The Tumblr platform itself is unique, combining blogging with social sharing. Users may follow and “like” each other and “reblog” content from other users. For a federal agency, there is opportunity to share content with many thousands of followers.

“It is a very useful, powerful blogging platform with the features of a social network,” Sundwall said. “Many federal agencies can benefit from it.”

Amber Smigiel, online content and social media manager at the Peace Corps, said the agency began using Tumblr to reach its target audience of potential volunteers. The Peace Corps’ Tumblr blog also republishes and distributes content from numerous Tumblr blogs hosted by current and former Peace Corps volunteers.

The Peace Corps favored Tumblr because it was easy to get started and offered opportunities to showcase photos and videos as well as to “use a different voice” than other agency communications channels, Smigiel said.

The Peace Corps publishes a blog item at least once a day, Smigiel added.

“We have had some surprising things that are popular, “ Smigiel said in the webinar. “People seem to like quotes and that kind of thing.”

Primarily, the Tumblr blog is serving as an outreach tool, she added, and currently is generating about 200 referrals a month.

Tumblr has some features that are different from Twitter and Facebook. While Tumblr users follow each other, the Tumblr blogs do not publicly list their followers or indicate the number of followers. Also, becoming a user on Tumblr does not require creating a detailed personal profile or using your real name.

As a result, many Tumblr blogs are extremely creative and individualized, and federal agencies likewise have greater freedom to create a unique visual presence, Sundwall said.

“I’ve heard it said that no one is especially proud of their Facebook profile. Facebook kind of puts you in a box,” Sundwall said. “On Tumblr, on the other hand, people tend to be very proud of their blogs and want to show them off. It is a very different approach.”

Despite its many advantages, Tumblr does have some shortcomings. For example, it’s not easy to search Tumblr for specific information, because the searches are mostly based on broad categories such as “politics” or “animals” rather than on specific words. Sundwall said Measured Voice recognized that difficulty when it decided to develop and manage its own ongoing listing of federal agencies on Tumblr.

Starting a blog on Tumblr is simple and easy, but understanding and managing all the sharing features takes a bit of trial and error, he said.

“Tumblr does have a bit of a learning curve,” Sundwall said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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