FACT: One of the most popular Tumblr blogs of 2013 was a photo collection of cats on yachts. It’s not just famous. It’s Tumblr famous.
Last week, Yahoo! announced that YachtCats and nine other sites were among the “10 most viral” Tumblr blogs in 2013. While your first reaction might be concern for future of the human race, fight it. The world’s web fascinations aren’t all doom and gloom. Let’s see what kinds of lessons we can glean from the content on those sites.
Lesson 1: Tell a Story
If you randomly encountered a blog titled, “The Red Button: Our Newest Product Feature!” would you click to read it? Probably not. Even if you were fascinated by red buttons. (Who isn’t?) If you stumbled on a blog post titled, “How SnapChat, a Dog and a Trip to the E.R. Taught Us that Our Product Really Needed a Red Button,” wouldn’t you be a little more likely to click? That’s because humans love to hear, read and (even better) share STORIES. We don’t want to know the plot of a new movie. We want to watch the story unfold.
If the only thing you saw when you opened the YachtCats Tumblr blog I linked to earlier in this post was the photo content, you missed the good stuff. I’m talking about the prosaic stories that the blogger writes for each and every photo of a YachtCat posted to the site. Yes, people love looking at images of cats on the internet. No surprise there. But the stories make this Tumblr blog different and unique. In my mind, they’re likely the reason why this blog was more popular than thousands of other cat-related Tumblr blogs online in 2013.
Lesson 2: Reveal a New Perspective
If it is a given that relevance is an important ingredient in good content marketing, then the potential misstep is being relevant but unoriginal. To be sure, these things are not mutually exclusive. One of the easiest ways to think about building content that is both relevant and original is to challenge yourself to find a new perspective on a relevant topic. Then, make that perspective crystal clear to your audience while requiring as little effort from them as possible.
Here’s a great example of finding a new perspective in a relevant topic: The Tumblr blog called Hot-Dog Legs. If you ever check Facebook on a summer weekend, you’re bound to recognize the perspective found in every photo on the site—typically a pair of legs or knees outstretched in front of a scenic vista. But have you ever noticed how many of these photos look like a pair of hot dogs outstretched in front of a scenic vista? Maybe not. This site has fun with that perspective, and many of the photos are actually hot dogs, not legs. It’s a great example of combining the comfort of familiarity and relevance with a fresh perspective.
Lesson 3: Commit to Your Audience
Around the Roberts Communications office, we have a saying, which I’m sure originated someplace else but we’ve adopted it as our own. The saying goes like this, Don’t Celine Dion your content. The idea behind “Celine Dion-ing” content is simple. If you make content that everyone might like, you’ll likely create content that nobody in particular loves. In our office, Celine Dion is an example of a failed attempt to appeal to everyone. The truth is, not much in the world appeals to everyone. Sure, Celine Dion’s content might not offend anyone, but it’s not likely to create a passionate army of fans and followers, either.
Every seasoned Tumblr addict is familiar with This Charming Charlie, which draws a clear line in the sand about who it’s for while also appealing to a much larger group. By borrowing graphics from the Charlie Brown comic, it hinges on something very familiar to most of the internet-viewing public. But the words in the comic have been swapped with lyrics from the cult favorite band The Smiths. This is a blog for fans of The Smiths, but rather than being exclusively for fans of the band, it acts as an entry point into the band’s music for anyone who finds it interesting, thoughtful or otherwise compelling. It’s committed to its audience without alienating others. That combo is harder to pull off than Celine Dion’s approach, but boy is it powerful.
Lesson 4: Challenge Expectations
One problem that hamstrings many content marketing efforts, preventing them from reaching their full potential, is a marked lack of differentiation between the brand being marketed and its competitors. Put simply, if you could take your company’s blog or any of its social media channels and sell them to a competitor without that competitor thinking, This is all wrong for us, then you have a content strategy problem. If the content you share doesn’t challenge the expectations of your market, then you’re not differentiating yourself; you’re simply marketing your industry.
The Tumblr famous blog Brides Throwing Cats challenges expectations in a fun and funny way. By taking the photo content people know and recognize—brides throwing bouquets—and adding something fun and unique—replacing the bouquets with cats, this blog takes something expected and gives it a memorable twist. With all the bride and wedding blogs out there doing similar things, it’s no wonder that this stands out.
Lesson 5: Tap into Shared Feelings
One thing every great story and most great content marketing strategies take advantage of is the unifying force of the shared feeling. It might be love, happiness or even frustration. But whatever shared feeling your content is meant to tap into, it will likely serve the same purpose: Shared feelings bring people together and create a common ground that facilitates communication. Think about why fans of the same band always treat each other like neighbors, even when concerts events get bigger than whole cities. It’s because there’s an assumption that the music makes you feel the same, and that creates a powerful bond.
One of my favorite Tumblr blogs, as a would-be father and a 30-something guy who’s watching many of his friends have kids, is called Reasons My Son is Crying. The blogger who runs the site regularly posts photos of toddlers crying, each with a short explanation of what’s caused the distress—it’s always something silly. “Because we ran out of cake,” or “because my foot was on the shelf,” are recent examples from around the world. The temper tantrums of young children aren’t funny, typically, but the shared feeling of frustration and the total absurdity of parenthood at this stage are universal feelings. The blog does an awesome job of helping people share those feelings.
Inspiration is Everywhere
If there’s anything these popular Tumblr blogs have to teach us, it’s that creativity is worth pursing because it’s still appreciated. Today, “Miley Cyrus” will be typed into Google an average of 78 times per minute. That’s not going to change, except when some other celebrity becomes the new “it” thing to read about online. Of course your business will likely never get as internet-famous as Miley, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find inspiration in the simple human behavior that drives people to be interested in her. Many of the most popular Tumblr blogs of the last few years have done just that.
As long as there has been an internet, there have been things distracting your customers and prospects on it. Popular Tumblr blogs constitute just one category of distraction. Yet some of the most influential brands and businesses online are finding growth by engaging their audiences with solid content strategies.
Inspiration is everywhere. (Yes, even on Tumblr.) Great content creators don’t get frustrated. They get inspired.