Social Media

5 Surprising Things I Learned By Watching A Post Go Viral On Tumblr

Robert Wiesehan 12-09-2014

When you’ve been toiling away at making original content for your Tumblr in quiet obscurity, you start to think you know the extent of your reach. You peek in on your activity feed, enjoying a like here, a reblog there. You’re really just happy anyone drops by and gives a bit of your work their digital thumbs up.


Imagine your surprise when you wake up one morning and check your phone to find that something you made has gone viral. In my case, it was a funny little post directed at fans of tabletop RPGs The 5 Most Important Websites To Learn about Tabletop Roleplay Gaming The most interesting people I've met have been RPG players. Tabletop RPGs have been labelled as everything from satanic to the cause of suicides – but they're really just a form of collaborative storytelling. Read More . The hundreds or even many thousands of likes and reblogs showered on your post are certainly something to be proud of, but don’t just consider it a happy accident and move on. You can learn lots of things about how content behaves on Tumblr by watching the viral process unfold.

Here are five things I noticed as a newer Tumblr user by investigating my viral post.

Notes Don’t Guarantee Follows

When my post first took off, I got ridiculously excited. I looked forward to a horde of new followers, each eager to see my next nugget of brilliance!

By the time the post hit 600 notes, I’d gotten about 12 new follows. So much for my delusions of grandeur.

The fact of the matter is, you just don’t need to follow that many people on Tumblr to get a satisfying experience. It’s much easier to follow one user who reblogs the very best content in a particular theme than dozens of users each producing their own things. One really active blogger with great taste can make sure you’ll only see the coolest, funniest, and most meaningful content make it to your dashboard when you follow them. For this reason, most people won’t follow you.


Tags Really Are Critical

So how do you get your content into the hands of these respected bloggers? One word: Tags. Sure, many users just fill the tag space with little punchlines or personal notes, but if you make sure to tag your posts with terms that people actually search for, you’re more likely to get discovered and shared. Anytime you finish making a post, always ask yourself what you would search for if you were trying to find your post. Make sure those terms make it into your tags, and like-minded users will find your content easily.

It Could Happen Any Time

The post that took off on my Tumblr circulated for two full weeks, seeing only a few notes each day, before it saw its wild upsurge in traffic. If there aren’t any popular users watching your blog, it may take quite a while for the right friend-of-a-friend to post the reblog that gets you on the radar.

The bottom line is, don’t be discouraged when that post you’re sure is solid gold seems to go live to a lonely reception of chirping crickets and rolling Tumblrweeds. It might just need a little time to wander before it makes it onto the right blog.

It’s Hard To Find The Instigator

Figuring out who the metaphorical ‘patient zero’ is for your post’s viral journey would be way easier if we could all have access to Union Metrics’ beautiful Reblog Trees, but that may not be in the reasonable price range for the casual Tumblr user. If you don’t have outside help, you’ll need to scout out the data the old fashioned way.


Remember the trail of attribution I mentioned earlier? You can follow it back to your blog if you like. Find the start of the upsurge in notes on your activity feed and start by clicking each entry to make that user’s blog slide open on the right side of your browser. At the top of each post, you’ll see the source Tumblr of that user’s reblog. Keep clicking the names at the top of your post to trace the trail back to your blog.

Once you’ve looked at one or two dozen, you’ll likely notice one user’s name coming up repeatedly somewhere in most of the trails. The more often each name comes up, the more critical that user was to spreading your post. Consider following these users and dropping them a few likes, comments, and reblogs. If you’re lucky, they might follow you back, which could fast-track your best work to Tumblr fame.

You Are Anyone’s Guest Blogger

Tumblr’s atmosphere is different from that of your other social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Since Facebook tends to link you up with personal friends and family from many walks of life, a barrage of posts about your hobbies or favorite causes might only appeal to a narrow subset of your audience. That’s not as much of a problem on Twitter, where you may have built your following around a more focused theme, but those followers may have broader audiences, limiting the utility of their retweets.

On Tumblr though, posts about your hobbies and causes are welcome. Any other interested user can effectively make you their guest blogger just by reblogging your content. You’re never losing attribution when someone reblogs your content, because Tumblr leaves a trail all the way back to the original poster. It’s the ultimate win-win situation; you get increased exposure, and the users who reblog you get to effortlessly maintain an active blog with regular updates in their fields of interest.


Analyze, Speculate & Experiment

With Tumblr, as with many endeavors, the way to grow more successful is to look at the data and patterns of behavior, speculate on ways to take advantage of them, and experiment! You don’t need to have a sophisticated feed of analytics to meaningfully boost engagement and find follows; just a pioneering spirit. Change your post times, or watch what your favorite popular Tumblr users do to see what you can learn. You’ll figure out more of the dos and don’ts with each post.

Ready to start your own Tumblr? We’ve got a complete beginner’s guide to Tumblr The Unofficial, Beginner's Guide to Tumblr Tumblr's the number one social networking site for people under 25. Clearly it's important, but it's a bit mystifying. It's less a blog than it is an anti-blog. Read More for you right here, and links to the best free Tumblr themes From Minimalistic To Highly-Customizable: The Most Modern & Free Tumblr Themes On Tumblr, you're limited to the features that each theme has, and many of them are different. If you're willing to spend some money, there are some awesome Tumblr themes, but depending on your needs... Read More to customize your experience.

Have you learned any useful Tumblr truths that might help a beginner grow their following? Share them in the comments!

Image Credits: Time for…? by Alexander Boden. Laptop Keyboard by DeclanTM. Arrows showing up (Blender) by FutUndBeidl.


Related topics: Blogging, Tumblr, Web Analytics.

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  1. Brayden Foust
    November 11, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    I have over 22,000 followers on tumblr. What I found useful was to stay actively posting on it all day and using relative hash tags and having a beautiful theme. This is really all you need. You can buy tons of themes from other websites other than tumblr you just gotta do your research on what works best for your type of content. You do have to invest like 20 - 60$ depending on what theme you want, but thats it.

    • Anirudha
      November 17, 2016 at 6:53 am

      Hey Brayden, 22,000 is a big number, can you give some tips to how to reach at least 10% of it .