I Gained 900,000 Social Media Followers But I Can’t Show You How

Best practices aren't enough to ensure popularity on social media, even if there are plenty of tips for improvement.

In April 2013 I launched a Tumblr for science fiction art from the 70s. I had no social or mobile presence, I had no marketing experience, and no one knew who I was on the site.

A few months ago, 70s Sci-Fi Art passed 350,000 followers, right around the time my art book on retro science fiction book cover illustration, Worlds Beyond Time, launched. Across all my social media accounts, I’m inching closer to a million followers, with around 900,000.

These days, with traffic on Twitter/X continuing a steady decline, many of the most internet-poisoned among us are reconsidering our approach to social media. Should we even bother finding another platform to doom-scroll through, allowing its engagement-optimized algorithm to bombard us with contextless emotion-ridden content?

There’s another way: Pick a quieter social platform, and reach for success with a sustainable, less frenetic environment. Start a Tumblr blog.

Flashback to the Mid-2010s: Another Era in Social Media

In 2015, 70s Sci-Fi Art reached 50,000 followers after growing steadily for two years. Tumblr was possibly 2015’s hottest social network, although this is something that I don’t recall many people highlighting at the time.

But just look at the numbers: Tumblr topped 100 billion posts on January 3rd of 2015; it was Buzzfeed’s biggest source of content (Remember The Dress? That was in 2015, and they found it from Tumblr); and over 70% of Tumblr’s audience fell into the coveted 16–34 demographic.

Despite Tumblr’s obvious worth, it was (and still is) often overlooked by brands with the requisite accounts on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, and Instagram. Tumblr has a problem: it’s insular.

Anyone can start a Tumblr blog in five minutes, but they’ll have no followers. They can’t import any from Facebook or Google; they must either tag their posts and hope someone randomly searches Tumblr for them, or they must like and reblog others in the hope that those users will notice them. The operative word here? “Hope.”

Sure, regular and high quality content will always grow a Tumblr, just as quality works on any platform. But even then, growth is slow, with more small niches than large blogs.

Some specialty Tumblrs have taken off quickly, but a trajectory that takes a user   from zero to 50,000 followers in two years  is very rare. Tumblr doesn’t release statistics on individual blogs, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it usually takes years for a moderately popular Tumblr user to break 1,000 followers.

My journey that started with Tumblr ten years ago, has led to the publication of my book, Worlds Beyond Time.

It’s Tumblr’s lack of traffic-driving infrastructure that deters marketing professionals.

But in 2023, we’re all tired of nonstop news feeds: Tumblr’s insularity is starting to look a lot more like a feature than a bug. And you can still go viral on the platform, even if that looks different.

A Few Tips for Blogging Success on Tumblr

Now, as you can tell from the title, this isn’t a guide to success on Tumblr.

I could write one. Post between seven and ten times a day, emphasize images, keep a 50/50 ratio of reblogged to original content, and use the ‘queue’ feature extensively. But those are only best practices. I didn’t become a success by following any of them.

The truth is, I can’t tell anyone how to replicate my success… and that’s a problem for anyone who wants to explore Tumblr.

That doesn’t mean I can’t shed some light, though. Here’s my attempt to break down the nebulous secret to true popularity among specialty Tumblrs.

1. Winning concept

I know, right? This isn’t actionable at all. You need a concept that everyone wants to see, but no one else has invented yet. Good luck!

For my Tumblr, a couple factors worked in my favor: a hint of nostalgia and eye-catching visuals. More importantly, no one else had recognized my exact niche.

I probably wouldn’t have picked up speed as fast if I had focused on “retro” instead of “70s” art. The added specificity creates curiosity, and since I care about the difference between the two, I was able to prove that 70s sci-fi art deserves its own venue.

One more note: all the reasons my concept worked were the same as the reasons I wanted to start it in the first place. Make sure you’re as passionate as you hope your audience will be.

2. Digestible format

Whatever your concept, it must be clear, and I mean crystal clear. I didn’t name my url “spaceandstarships” or “thefutureofyesterday.” Keywords are a must.

This is most important on social media even when compared to related forms of writing. My art book has a less clear title, Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art Of The 1970s, although that subtitle includes the same keywords.

For a time, 70s Sci-Fi Art was the first result for a Google search of “sci-fi art” (It’s currently in the top five), and I wouldn’t have gotten that with a less specific name.

Users need to be able to instantly understand what your Tumblr does, either from the url or from the first post they see.

3. Branch out

Sticking with one social media platform is putting all your eggs in a single basket. And you never know when a weird billionare will buy that basket for $40 billion and make a bunch of bad business decisions with it.

I added Facebook and Twitter in 2015, using an IFTTT app to auto-post from my Tumblr. I’ve since added Instagram and even Pinterest, although I have switched away from IFTTT as their free tier was pared down, and I now use a full-blown social media management service to handle it all, complete with image alt text.

Having a big audience on one platform makes it a lot easier to grow an audience on another. I now have over 900,000 followers across all platforms, and all without much more work than I would have done for one platform. That audience helped me sell my art collection: Publishers are looking for safe bets now more than ever.

And that’s all my advice. It’s vague and slightly recursive, but hey, I told you that I couldn’t show you exactly how to shoot to the top.

Follow those three rules perfectly, add the best Tumblr practices you can find elsewhere, and you have truly done all you can.

You may never take off, but if you have a fun idea and a little spare time one evening, I’d recommend giving it a try anyway. You don’t need to have dozens of thousands of followers to enjoy running a bizarre Tumblr about, say, rejected newspaper headline puns.

This article is an expanded, updated version of an article that first ran on Medium in 2015.

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Written by:
Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and his art history book on 1970s sci-fi, 'Worlds Beyond Time,' is out from Abrams Books in July 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.
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