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Social Media in Youth Ministry: Tumblr

This post is part of the series on Social Media in Youth Ministry. As I wrote in an earlier post on Social Media in Youth Ministry: Blogging, the microblogging platform Tumblr is growing rapidly. Interesting, its biggest growth is amongst young people: At this point, 20.3% of the Tumblr users are in the 12-17 group and 29.3% are in the 18-24 group.

That may be a very good reason for you to look into becoming active on Tumblr with your youth ministry. In this post we’ll have a look at some key characteristics of Tumblr and we’ll discuss what a good and effective Tumblr strategy could look like.


What is Tumblr?

Tumblr is known as a microblogging platform. It’s meant to encourage a multi-media mix of blogging and posting all kinds of media, like pics, videos and more. What everyone raves about is how easy it is to post stuff, no technical knowledge is necessary.

Tumblr is far more ‘social’ than most blogging platforms. What’s a defining feature compared to popular blogging platforms like WordPress or Blogger, is that the principle of ‘following’ is used. You can follow people you like and they will show up on your dashboard where you can easily re-blog their posts, far easier than on other blogging platforms. You can also ‘like’ what others have posted. This can all be shown in ‘Notes’ under a post for instance like this:

Tumblr can be easily connected to Facebook and/or Twitter so you can share whatever you post there as well or feed your Twitter updates into your Tumblr site.

You can tag your posts like in WordPress, so people can find your blog when they search on keywords.

Keep in mind that Tumblr is by default an ‘open’ platform, so anyone can see what you write, post, etc. You can create a private Tumblr account, but it’s a bit of a hassle because you have to open a second account. For some reason your main account can’t be private.

Some disadvantages

Tumblr certainly has a lot of cool things, the relative ease and the ‘social’ aspect being just two of them. But is also has some distinct disadvantages you need to be aware of:

  • It doesn’t rank nearly as well in search engines (mainly Google) as for instance WordPress, so if search engine optimization is something you’re focused on, you may have to wait with joining Tumblr till Google has solved this
  • You have far less options for customization, eg in design or in ‘widgets’. This can be an advantage as well, especially if you don’t need much or aren’t that tech savvy.
  • Comments aren’t automatically installed, you’ll need to use Disqus to be able to allow comments on your posts
  • You cannot self-host a Tumblr blog, it’s always hosted by Tumblr itself. You can use your own customized URL however. But if self-hosting is important to you, Tumblr is not your thing.
  • Tumblr only knows one author (with the corresponding password), so it’s not possible to set up multiple admins or authors. You can however create a secondary blog which you can turn into a group Tumblr.

Using Tumblr in youth ministry

How can you use Tumblr effectively in youth ministry? I’d say in pretty much the same way that you’re using a Facebook page or blog, namely by posting a consistent stream of diverse attractive multi-media content, like pictures, videos, quotes, etc. Just keep in mind that in general, posts on Tumblr are a lot shorter than on traditional blogging platforms. But other than that the options are endless. You could use it for daily devotionals, reports on events, a training blog for youth leaders, or whatever you like. Be sure to use the community-aspect to your advantage, by liking or reblogging posts from others.

What’s cool about Tumblr is that if your students are on it too, they can easily share your content. Becoming a witness to their friends becomes very easy when all they have to do is re-post something you have posted on your youth ministry’s Tumblr blog.

Some people are using Tumblr in youth ministry already. Check out what Ryan Pugh is doing with his Open Door Student Ministry on Tumblr. His main reason for using Tumblr was the easy way you can post updates, photos, videos, etc. He’s using Tumblr to record the journey his ministry is making. He’s also using Facebook and that’s still the place ‘where social discipleship and connection’ happens.

Another early Tumblr adopter is Russ Cantu, who’s doing his own site through Tumblr. He uses it mainly to connect with parents and for staff development (and as he says ‘miscellaneous musing’). His main social medium is still Facebook however.

And then there’s what has to be the kind of social media in youth ministry: Chad Swanzy. He has no less than five Tumblr blogs, two WordPress blogs, two Facebook pages, four Twitter accounts and he subscribes to about 150 blogs. He switched from Blogger to Tumblr a few years back, mainly because of the Tumblr dashboard and the community. He calls the Tumbl community ‘very creative, loyal, and community driven’. And a big plus: Tumblr gives him the opportunity to listen to voices outside of youth ministry’.  Be sure to check out how beautiful and attractive his archive looks…makes you want to jump right in and start reading!

To get an idea for all that you can do with Tumblr, just check out this post with 33 great Tumblr blogs.

Why would you want to use Tumblr for youth ministry?

My best answer would be: because young people are going here in big numbers. Facebook’s popularity amongst teens and students is declining and while Twitter is growing, it’s not there yet. Tumblr seems like ‘the next big thing’ and is perceived as being cool (that;s probably also because their parents and grandparents aren’t there!). That combined with the fact that it’s quick and easy to use and has a lot of options for offering a diverse social media content may be all the reason you need to get active here. Of course, that may be completely different a year from now, but in the meantime it might be something you could use for your youth ministry.

However, as all of the above examples show: you’ll probably need to maintain a Facebook presence as well. First of all because even though Tumblr is growing, it’s not by far as popular as Facebook. Secondly because Facebook has certain options (like the groups) that offer specific advantages to Tumblr. It seems therefore that Tumblr can function very well as an extra platform…but as of yet not as the one and only main platform to connect with youth.

Are you on Tumblr? Why do you use it and what do you see as its unique features?

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Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer as on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son. You can visit Rachel at www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com