Last week, I wrote a piece for Digiday about Tumblr’s relationship with large media brands. As I mention in the article, one of the apparent reasons for the blogging platform’s rapid growth is this symbiotic relationship.
Media’s use of Tumblr has helped the service increase its user-base by bringing media outlets’ information-hungry audiences to Tumblr, where media consumers can read (and in some cases watch) news from their favorite newspapers, magazines and TV programs. Media has been able to use the Tumblr ecosystem to cultivate a community tied to their content.
I think there’s another aspect that has contributed to Tumblr’s growth: the community manager.
Community Manager is a title that emerged from the evolutionary tar pits of social media, but has its definition varies from company to company, person to person. Tumblr’s community manager/editorial director/dinosaur aficionado, Christopher Price (Topherchris), has become something of a cult hero among the Tumblr user-base, infusing his abstract design and love of experimentation into his wildly popular Tumblr blog.
He says he’s not sure what it means to be a community manager, only that he “knows how to do it the Tumblr way.” The Tumblr way is one of the reasons the site continues to grow.
Price flew up to New York a few years ago to attend a Tumblr meet up, and after two years using the service, was offered a job by David Karp, Tumblr’s CEO. “David said he wanted to hire me for editorial. Up until that moment, I thought I was going to be a programmer,” he told me while he and I (and Tumblr’s Media Evangelist Mark Coatney – whom you can read more about at Digiday) sat in a white, sunbathed conference room in Tumblr’s annexed office space on 21st street in New York City. The company recently expanded to a second floor in the building they currently occupy. When Price came on board, he quickly realized that Karp was going to allow him to experiment, to use the system in a creative way. “He just turned me loose,” Price said. “It’s really great in hindsight to look back and think, maybe that was a really smart decision.”
When comparing the other social networks, specifically the behemoth Facebook and the ubiquitous Twitter, Tumblr’s approach to community management is wildly different. Instead of a ‘how do we keep people in line’ mentality, Tumblr, and Price, take a ‘how do we challenge people’ philosophy.
“It’s not interesting to me to just make (users) laugh or entertain them,” said Price. “I want to set up little challenges and have them make things; have them go off, come back and throw it into the zeitgeist. To me, that’s what Tumblr’s about.” The ability to ‘make things’ is how Tumblr differentiates itself. Using the platform, one can be creative. “I’m hoping that what I can do is sort of trickle down and set a tone that this is a place of open, free expression. And creativity.”
While much of Tumblr’s success is this creative, community driven philosophy, it wasn’t exactly a key executive strategy. The company had very few discussions of this particular growth strategy, but fundamentally understood that in order to grow, there needed to be someone to grow and cultivate a community.
“None of this was on any kind of roadmap,” said Price. “It was just, like, let’s just turn me loose. I’m so lucky to have the freedom. David just trusts what I’m thinking, which is crazy.”
Price’s role as community manager is rooted in what makes social media, well, social: the idea that engagement with an audience, the ability to cultivate a community, will lead to users, advertisers and investors.