Tumblr, audience, and engagement

The success of The Watercolor Gallery thus far has been extremely gratifying. I really enjoy the effort it takes (and believe me it is an effort) to find art to feature, to dig for the details of a painting or an artist online, and to describe what inspires me about it.And so far that effort has really paid dividends for me and my art.

Since the few enormous inflection points a few months ago (such as being featured on Tumblr’s official Tumblr Tuesday) growth of the gallery’s audience has ceased. A few more Tumblr followers trickle in each week, a few more people “Like” the gallery on Facebook, and follow @h2ocolor on Twitter – but it appears that the same number of people that come in also walk back out of the door. This could easily be because, like Twitter, a huge number of accounts on Tumblr are spam or bots or junk accounts and they will, inevitably go inactive or be deleted. But I can’t be sure of that so I’ll just have to assume that a Tumblr follow is about as loyal a connection as reused, wet tape.

I try not to focus too much on statistics but also engagement. For me the best way to know if people are finding the gallery useful or enjoyable is how they interact and use the information on the site.For the most part, every single painting that gets featured on the gallery gets some sort of attention from the audience on Tumblr. Tumblr allows people to quickly “like” or to “reblog” a post to their own blogs. The viral nature of these two features make growing a new site fairly quick and easy. But it also creates, what would seem to be, a false sense of the level of engagement from the community.

It is so easy to like and reblog posts that anything above and beyond those two interactions is seemingly difficult to get from the Tumblr audience. Perhaps they are spoiled (and I mean this in a nice way) and they don’t need to do any more than that. If it takes more than a few seconds to decide what they are going do with a post they simply will move onto the next one. And believe me, there is a ‘next one’ waiting.

Tumblr’s staggering growth is fairly well known at this point. The amount of content flooding into the system, especially for those that follow dozens or hundreds of Tumblr-powered sites, must be completely overwhelming. A quick reload of one’s Tumblr Dashboard would probably reveal 10 new posts every few minutes or even seconds. Scrolling through that list and quickly clicking like or reblog has probably become a habit for many Tumblr addicts. As an example of this; for about three months straight a single Tumblr account was liking every single one of The Watercolor Gallery’s posts almost immediately after the post was published. My guess is that this person was wholly addicted to Tumblr’s Dashboard and sat on the site for the better part of the day clicking “like” on anything that rushed passed their nose. I can’t know for sure, but the patterns that I’ve seen – like the one described, certainly lend themselves to the idea that the Tumblr audience is chocked full of happy clickers.

A good example of this is the Artist Interview series on the site. By far the hardest posts to craft are the interviews of these artists. These posts are also the least liked and reblogged. I’d also wager that 90% of the people that follow the gallery on Tumblr don’t even read the interviews. Far more traffic comes from the artist linking to the interview and Google than it does from the Tumblr Dashboard. Obviously, one can’t be sure of what is read and not read on the Dashboard – since there are no stats for that – but if someone took the time to read the entire interview I’d have to assume they’d take the time to click “like”. I don’t think it is that the interviews aren’t good or that they aren’t valuable. As a watercolorist myself I find them extremely valuable and I’m sure that most other watercolorists would too (if not simply interesting or entertaining). I think the Tumblr audience simply skips the interviews on their Dashboard and move onto the next photo/video/easily-digestable post.

If I would have started with a WordPress-powered blog it is doubtful The Watercolor Gallery would have seen the amazingly quick growth that it did. However, would the growth have continued? Would the engagement with the community been greater? I don’t know. I don’t regret my decision to use Tumblr to power the gallery and it is a decision that I’m going to stick with for the foreseeable future. I just hope to put in some effort into growing the gallery’s audience even more and gaining a loyal, active audience that will appreciate everything the gallery offers.