The New Tumblrite’s Guide To The Modern Hellsite
(Or: So You’re New In Town, Here’s What You Need To Know)
This post aims to be a guide for the new user to help them understand the tumblr culture. Don’t worry, new user—we’ll have you blogging like a native in no time!
I’m putting the rest of this post under what’s known as a “readmore” (because you have to click to read more, and it says so), which had a few benefits and drawbacks. It prevents the post from being extremely long on people’s dashboards, and any edits will be consistent across all versions because it will link to the post on my own blog, but because it’s on my blog, it will break if I ever change my url (barring an update that changes or has changed this—it can be hard to keep up with the actual mechanics of the site sometimes)
Table of Contents:
1. First Steps — what you should do immediately on making your blog
2. Reblogs — the most important part of using tumblr
2a. Reposting vs Reblogging — yes, these are different
3. Likes — what they are and aren’t for
4. Asks, Replies, and Reblogging With Comment — the different ways of engaging with other users
5. Tags — how to use them like a true tumblrina
6. The Prev Tags Schism — how and why to peer review properly, whether or not you use “prev tags”
7. Blockable Offenses — a list of things not to do
8. Best Practices — various tips and/or tricks to get the most out of your tumblr experience
1: First Steps
So you’ve just created a tumblr! Welcome! I’m sure you want to follow some people, but let’s take a moment to get things in order first. You wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a bot and get blocked, right?
The very first thing you’ll want to do is customize your blog. Start with an avatar—lots of people use picrew, or screenshots/edits of their favorite characters. DON’T use a photo of yourself! This is what we call “Bot Behavior”—bots often use pictures of random people, so any real person icon not immediately recognizable as a celebrity is a red flag; if you want to put yourself in your icon, the picrew route or other artwork communicates that a real person put some effort into creating the blog.
You’ll also probably want to give your blog a title, a header image, and a bio. Don’t give out identifying information in your bio! A first name for people to refer to you is fine, but lots of people use fake names or go by their URL (or a shortening of it). You don’t need to give your age, and you definitely shouldn’t be giving your exact location. One of the main draws of tumblr is anonymity, and you always have the opportunity to give specific people more information, but you never have the opportunity to take information away from people.
Next, feel free to go through the settings to do things like turning off things like “best stuff first” so that your dashboard is always in chronological order, turn on sensitive content, and disable showing your likes and what blogs you follow, if you don’t want people to be able to see that. Most people don’t display those, and it can be seen as Bot Behavior if you do, but not to the extent that an un-customized blog is.
Speaking of, make sure your URL isn’t just four words smashed together—that seems to be the current trend for bots, so you’re likely to get autoblocked.
Finally, start following AND REBLOGGING. Reblogging will be covered more in depth in the next section, but it really is the MOST important part of using tumblr! If you enjoy a post, reblog it! Likes serve a different purpose, and blogs without any posts or reblogs are HUGE red flags for Bot Behavior, especially if they follow more than a few blogs.
Reblogging! The most important feature of tumblr! You would think it would be posting but actually? Not so much. Reblogging will be the main thing you do on tumblr, and you’ll probably be doing a lot of it.
Okay, so here’s the deal: tumblr does not (and hopefully never will) have an omnipresent algorithm that governs what you do and do not see. Instead you see 1) the things that the people you follow post and reblog, in chronological order, and 2) recommended posts, unless you turn then off. Recommended posts come from either tags you follow (more on that later) or occasionally tumblr will try a “based on your likes” system that doesn’t work and everybody turns off. Oh, and there’s featured posts but that’s a thing tumblr the corporation is specifically posting/boosting for everyone to see, it’s not algorithmically generated for you specifically based on your usage of the site.
THIS MEANS!! If you are not reblogging, you are not contributing to the tumblr ecosystem!! People who follow you will ONLY get something from that IF you are reblogging and/or posting original content!!
If you like something, reblog it! That’s the only way you have of sharing it with other people and getting more eyes on it. Likes do not work for this. Likes are something else entirely.
When you reblog a post, here is what happens:
1) the original poster sees in their activity that it was reblogged by you, and anything you said on the post itself or in the tags
2) the person you reblogged it from sees in their activity that it was reblogged by you, and anything you said on the post itself or in the tags
3) it shows up on your blog and on your followers’ dashboards, with anything you added to the post itself or in the tags
4) anybody who looks at the notes of the post can see that you reblogged it, your addition to the post if any, and your tags if any, but it’s really hard to find someone specific in here on big posts and these things aren’t always in the same place as each other
5) the number of notes on the post increments by one
When you reblog a post (or when it is reblogged from you), comments on the post itself stay attached to the post, but tags do not. We’ll get more into when and when not to Reblog With Comment in section 4, but for now it’s enough to know how reblogs work.
Oh, and of you see someone tag a post with something like “dnr” or “do not reblog” then you SHOULD NOT reblog it! Sometimes people post things that they don’t want to go beyond their immediate followers, like vent posts or unfinished art they don’t want overshadowing the finished piece.
Finally, don’t worry about the age of a post when you reblog it, or if you’ve reblogged it before. Tumblr has lots of “classic posts” or “always reblog” posts from years and years ago that are still circulating, and that’s fine! The culture here encourages reblogging older posts, and there’s no limit on the number of times you can reblog a post. Many of the more recent popular memes have originated from posts that were made years ago, and only got popular after they’d been around for a while!
2a: Reposting vs Reblogging
Reblogging is very very good, but reposting is very very bad. What’s the difference?
When you reblog a post, you are using tumblr’s built in functionality to give somebody else’s post more visibility.
Reposting, by contrast, is when you take somebody else’s post and create a new post on your own blog using that content. Saving an artist’s work and creating a new post so that it originated on your blog is reposting, as is taking a screenshot of a text post and making a new post using that.
If you repost an artist’s work, for example, people can’t find that artist very easily, and the artist doesn’t see the user engagement from their post. If you reblog their posts instead, you help that artist build a following, and you still get to have cool art on your blog. Win-win.
Reposting also includes posting things from one website onto another—stealing from an artist’s twitter for your tumblr, or from their tumblr for your twitted.
Most of my reposting examples are about artists because that’s the field that is most commonly reposted, especially without credit.
It’s bad, it sucks, nobody likes reposters. Just use the reblog button instead.
You’ll see some posts where tweets or reddit posts are reposted, but even those should include usernames and links to the page they were taken from, and do not represent the work as their own. It’s still iffy, though—you’re getting notes off of somebody else’s funny thought or idea or story.
Generally, pointing and laughing at a twitter user’s incredibly bad take is accepted, in which case usernames are usually blocked out to prevent harassment.
Likes mean almost nothing here. People use them in a couple of different ways, but they’re far, FAR less significant than reblogs. Liking a post can mean that you enjoyed it, or that you wanted to look at it later (by going through your Liked Posts), or that you wanted to remind yourself that you’ve already seen it when it inevitably pops up on your dash again in two months. It can be a way of silently sending emotional support on somebody’s vent post, or indicating that you’re interested in hearing more when somebody says “3 likes and I’ll post about this thing”. What Likes AREN’T is a way to show a post to anybody else.
When you Like a post, here is what happens:
1) the original poster can see in their activity that you liked the post
2) if you clicked Like on somebody else’s reblog of that post, they can also see it
3) the number of notes on the post increments by one
Unlike reblogs, Liking is a binary state: either a post is Liked by you, or it isn’t, meaning that a Like can only ever add one note to a post. In contrast, every time you reblog a post it adds another note to that post, AND it puts it in front of other people who can then like and reblog it.
Finally, reblogged posts can be searched for on your blog using the search function (questionably useful) or by going through an organizational tag (very useful), while Liked posts are not (to my knowledge) something you can search through—you’d have to scroll manually with no filtering system.
As you can see, reblogs are superior to likes in almost every situation, unless the post is something the person would not want reblogged.
4: Asks, Replies, and Reblogging with Comment
Now, there are several ways to interact with other tumblr user, and they’re each good for different things.
The first is Asks. Tumblr users can control whether or not people are allowed to send them asks, and whether or not people are allowed to do so anonymously. Do not be an asshole. Do not be the reason someone has to turn off anon or close their askbox.
Asks are the most acceptable and widely used form of direct communication on tumblr, for several reasons. First, if somebody’s askbox is open, it is implied that they are willing to receive an ask. Second, asks can be answered publicly or privately, if you have not sent anonymously, giving the recipient maximum control over how they respond, if they choose to do so. Third, asks don’t create a conversation the way a direct message does, so if you say something and they never respond, it isn’t hanging there in the message thread like a neon sign proclaiming your shame the next time you go to message them. Unless they never deleted it out of their askbox. Usually that’s their shame, though—a lot of people simply forget to answer asks until it’s been long enough that they feel awkward about it.
When you send an ask, the recipient will receive a notification to check their inbox, at which point they will see your url, message, and the option to respond. If they respond, and you did not message them anonymously, YOU will receive a notification on your activity page that they did so, although the notification won’t link directly to their response if they answered publically, only to their blog.
Only “main” blogs (the first one you create, as opposed to “side” blogs on the same account) can send asks, but any blog can receive and respond to asks, publicly or privately.
Next are Replies. THIS ONE IS IMPORTANT. YOU WILL ALMOST NEVER USE REPLIES. IF YOU ARE USING REPLIES ALL THE TIME, STOP USING REPLIES. There IS a time for replies but they are a sometimes tool.
When you reply to a post, here is what happens:
1) the original poster receives a notification in their activity that you replied, and a partial view of what the reply is, but must go to the post and search through the notes to find the whole thing, which can be difficult to find on a large post
2) if you are replying to a reblog of the post, the reblogger also receives the notification and also has to go to the post and hunt for the reply, same as above
3) if either of them have email notifications on for replies, you are blowing their emails up constantly. Each reply sends a separate, unthreaded email notification, if they have those enabled. Although at the very least the email contains the full reply
4) the only other people who see replies are people specifically looking in the notes of the post—your followers do not see them and they do not show up on the dashboard or attach to a specific reblog chain.
5) if you are reblogging to an addition to the post, nobody will be able to tell because, again, replies do not attach to a specific reblog chain. They’re just loose in the notes. Sometimes people will @ mention each other in the notes to have a conversation but this is very inefficient and, again, absolutely blows up the notifications of the original poster and also the person who reblogged the version you are replying to.
Replies do have a function, but it’s very limited in scope:
1) when you want to send something directly to the original poster, usually because they’ve asked a question that you are responding to or you are attempting to start a conversation about the specific subject of the post. DO THIS ON THE ORIGINAL POST, and don’t bother on massive posts with lots of notes
2) if you are replying to the person who reblogged the post but sending them an ask or DM isn’t a viable option for some reason
Also, keep in mind that for someone who is not the OP or reblogger, you need to @ mention them—if someone replies to your post starting a conversation, you should reply to them by going to your own post, start with “@[their url]” and select them so that they receive a notification, and then type your message. This ensures that only the people who need to be notified get notified.
Oh, and if you see a post that says “tag yourself”, DON’T reply to it! It says tag for a reason—that goes in the tags of your reblog! It’s a way to talk about yourself to your followers, not something for you to send directly to the original poster or the person who put it on your dashboard.
99% of the time, though, you’ll either be talking in the tags or reblogging with comment.
Speaking of which, Reblogging with Comment! This is like regular reblogging, but you’re also adding your own words to the post. Most of the time, you’ll add anything you have to say to the tags, where it will need to pass peer review, but if you feel passionately about something or feel like you have something to add, you can.
Before you do, though, you should know that 1) people can and will go to the person you reblogged from and reblog it from them instead if they don’t like your addition (this is a feature and not a bug), 2) both the original poster and the person you reblogged from will see your addition, and 3) this is best done sparingly. Use your best judgement as to whether you really want to bypass the peer review process and add something, and don’t forget that tumblr is a pvp enabled zone.
If you reblog with comment, you will not get notifications on that post unless it is reblogged or liked from you. This means that you will have no idea when or if your addition goes viral until you see it on your dashboard. It also means you don’t have to deal with any of the notifications unless somebody @ mentions you. This is, honestly, the ideal way to go viral if you’re going to do it, because the notifications on a viral post are a fucking nightmare and everybody hates it. That said, don’t try to go viral. There’s literally no benefit to going viral on this site, tumblr clout isn’t real, there are no sponsorships and you cannot try to sell anything without being torn apart like a cartoon cow by a school of cartoon piranhas. It will take seconds and there won’t even be bones left. Some people make it work but it’s almost always something that happens to them instead of being on purpose.
Also, at least some and probably many of the back-and-forth posts you see are staged by people who know each other, and you’ll generally have better luck if you’re adding on to the posts of people you at least kind of know, either as mutuals or through sending asks and reblogging with tags.
Tags!!! Tags are great. Tags are your best fucking friend on this hellsite and they serve a couple of purposes:
First and foremost, we use them not as intended but as a way of adding to a post in a quiet, less intrusive way. If reblogging with comment is shouting from the rooftops, tagging is chatting with your friends. Tags used to be only visible when directly viewing your reblog of a post, but then tumblr updated so that the original poster and the person you reblogged from can see them in their activity page, and people can look at them on the notes. Nevertheless, they remain the most polite and unobtrusive way to comment on something. You can also put a frankly ridiculous number of tags on a post, which is great.
Second, tags can AND SHOULD be used for organizational and filtering purposes. Many people tag for things like fandoms, characters, common trigger/content warnings, and safety concerns.
When you use tags for organizational and filtering purposes, is important that you spell them correctly and use a consistent tag; if you spell a tag incorrectly, it will be useless for searching and tumblr’s filtering won’t catch it. If you use inconsistent versions of it, you won’t be able to find things easily, and people will have a harder time knowing what to filter.
For example! If you want to have a way to find all your posts about (for example) power rangers, you would go to the tags portion of the reblog window and type something like “power rangers,” (the comma is what closes the tag, so it would then look like “#power rangers”). Then, to find all the posts with that tag, you would go to “[your url].tumblr.com/tagged/power rangers” (yes, with the space—tumblr used to use dashes instead of spaces but it can now recognize spaces in tags and your URL bar should autofill the correct symbol. Unless it tries to google search, in which case you need to put the actual symbol, which is something like %20 I think? So it would be “/tagged/power%20rangers”. But that’s way more difficult and easy to fuck up than just putting a space).
Tag filtering allows tumblr to see a tag and automatically hide the post from you, with an option to open it anyway. If you absolutely HATED power rangers, you could filter the tag “#power rangers” and any post tagged with that would show up saying it was hidden because it contained the tag #power rangers, and that you can click to open it if you want. A lot of people use this to avoid spoilers for things.
If you tag something as “#power ranger” instead, it WILL NOT show up when you go to your power rangers tag, because you forgot the S, and it WILL NOT be filtered for anyone who blocked #power rangers, for the same reason!
Because of this IT IS VITAL THAT YOU DO NOT CENSOR CONTENT OR TRIGGER WARNING TAGS. If someone is trying to avoid triggering content, and you use a bunch of random asterisks and slashes to censor it, their filter will not pick it up. You will be doing the OPPOSITE of keeping your followers safe and providing a comfortable space.
Censoring tags is usually done with the purpose of “keeping hate out of the tags”—ie, if I am saying something negative about power rangers, I might write it as “p*wer r*ngers” instead to prevent tumblr’s search function from serving my post to people looking for power rangers content. When doing this, censor in both the content of the post and the tags, and it’s still good to be consistent in your method of censorship.
Tumblr does have a search function—you can search for tags, and will find posts that are tagged with the tag you’ve searched for. You can also “follow” a tag, which will make tumblr periodically put posts from that tag on your dashboard as recommended posts. DO NOT TRY TO GAME THE SYSTEM BY USING A BUNCH OF UNRELATED TAGS. That’s a fast track to being blocked not just for Bot Behavior but also because it’s annoying. There’s no real algorithm to game, here—just keep blogging and people will either decide they like your content and follow you or they don’t and they won’t.
Speaking of Bot Behavior and how to avoid it, talking in the tags is the absolute best way to let people know you’re a human. Bots can use tags, but they use them like bots, not like humans—talk away in the tags and it’ll be clear you’re a real person.
Finally, I mentioned “peer review” earlier. “Peer review” is a term we use for a phenomenon similar to “stealing tags”, which is actually a GOOD thing. If your follower or the original poster reads and enjoys your tags, they may choose to copy and paste them into a reblog with comment (or use a screenshot, although that isn’t as screen-reader friendly). When doing this, it is common courtesy to append “(via @[the tagger’s url])” so that people can easily tell who wrote the tags.
If you enjoy the tags but don’t want to add them as a comment (especially if you want to reply to them), you can “steal” them instead. When stealing tags, it’s important to let people know they aren’t yours! a quick “#these tags ->” before and “<-[comment goes here]” after are my go to (you can make the arrows by using a < or > combined with a -). This gives credit to the person who made the tags, rather than looking like you’re trying to pass off their jokes/ideas as your own.
Speaking of peer review and stealing tags, that brings me to our next section:
6: The Prev Tags Schism
Okay, here’s the deal. Some people, when reblogging, will simply tag “prev tags” as a clue for their followers to go to the previous reblog and look at that poster’s tags. I can understand the draw—it’s low effort, it’s unobtrusive, and it gives credit to the tagger.
On the other hand, tags can be edited or deleted, which means the thing you’re endorsing may be changed or even outright gone when your followers go to check what you’re talking about. It also tends to create “chains” where someone will have to go through many, many posts to find the tags being talked about, and often the chain will be broken by a deleted post, rendering the referenced tags either gone or unreachable. In addition, you have to scroll to the top of a post to go to the previous reblog, which is annoying on longer posts.
I’m not going to take a moral stance on the issue, but I will say that it’s a recent shift in behavior and that it is not tumblr native behavior—and you’re here to blog like a tumblr native, right?
I get the appeal. I’ve almost done it myself a couple of times. But I don’t, because if I have to sit through one more 10 minute session of going through a bunch of posts that just say “prev tags so true” until I reach a version tagged only with “hannibal” or some bullshit I’m going to lose my fucking mind. The post wasn’t even that good. It was not so true, besties.
Anyway you can use prev tags if you want, it’s your blog, I just wanted to get that off my chest.
But also it’s literally SO easy to just tap on the tag to copy it if you’re on mobile or copy/paste if you’re on desktop, it’s really, really, really not hard. I promise.
7: Blockable Offenses
Okay listen. People are probably going to block you. Don’t take it personally. However, this is a non-comprehensive list of things you can avoid to minimize being blocked, and things you might block people over. Some, but not all, of the things on this list also fall under Bot Behavior.
Blog suspiciously empty and un-customized
Only reblogs porn gifs
Says some absolute rude dumbass shit on your post, especially if it’s clear they have no reading comprehension
Likes a media/character/ship you don’t like
Clearly an attempt at boosting a company’s search engine optimization
Clearly a multilevel marketing scheme
Clearly a cryptocurrency scam
Your mutual doesn’t like them for some reason
Constantly involved in drama and you don’t want to get dragged into it if they reblog your post
They like your favorite media/character/ship, but they’re doing it wrong and you hate seeing their shit ass takes
They reblog unmarked spoilers for something you’re trying not to see spoilers about
They don’t tag for triggers/content warnings and you need to not interact with them
They sent you a rude ask, with their url attached
They sent you a rude ask, anonymously (yes, you can block anonymous askers, but be careful because you can’t UNblock them)
You thought it would be funny
Their vibes are simply rancid
Their vibes are not rancid but you just have kind of a weird feeling about them like you don’t have proof but ehhhhh idk better safe than sorry
You have IRL beef, petty or otherwise
You know them IRL and you don’t have beef but you still want to keep your blog private from them
They stole your tags without crediting you or noting that they were copied
Literally any reason
So there you go! Some reasons you might block or get blocked by someone!
It’s also SUPER important to block bots—they feed off of your real-human-behavior legitimacy to appear more human and less like a bot to moderation systems, and if they get caught then YOUR blog could get flagged as a bot by association! When you block someone, it cuts their ability to interact with your blog, and means you don’t have to see anything they say either.
If, for some reason, you want to unblock someone, you can always go to your blocked tumblrs list in your settings and unblock them there.
8: Best Practices
This is a place for tips, tricks, and hashtag pro strats. Little things that will make you look and feel like a tumblr native in no time. Some of them will be repeats from earlier sections, put here in condensed form for easy reference.
Reblog things if you enjoy them
Customize your blog, and don’t use a default avatar or a photo of yourself
Talk in the tags, that’s what they’re there for
“Tag yourself” means IN THE TAGS OF A REBLOG, and NOT in a reply! It’s about sharing lore with your followers, not starting a conversation with the OP or the last person to reblog
People genuinely love it when you go through their blog and like and reblog a bunch of stuff all at once—it means you enjoy their blog!
Reblog, don’t repost.
Replies are a sometimes tool, don’t overuse them
Curate your space. Don’t follow people if you don’t like their blog. Block people who annoy you.
Nobody knows if you’ve seen a post or not; you can always scroll by without interacting with it
If you use the queue function, also use a special tag that you apply to queued posts (with the word queue somewhere in it) so that people know they’re queued
The apostrophe key on mobile and desktop read as different characters when you’re creating/searching a tag, it’s really annoying
If you use quotation marks in a tag, it puts whatever was in quotes at the very beginning of all of your tags, which is very confusing—use apostrophes instead (ie: say ‘thing’ instead of “thing”)
Find people whose takes you enjoy and then stay out of the search function, it’ll save you from a lot of aggravation
Don’t get involved in fandom drama, just stay in your lane
DO NOT POST PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE INFORMATION. Seriously, you do not want to get doxxed. It’s easier to track people down than you think.
If you copy somebody else’s tags, note that you’ve done so! Also, don’t use an extension that automatically copies people’s tags when you reblog from them. It’s a blockable offense.
I may or may not update this, but I’ll try and keep a “last updated on: [date]” tag if I do