Tumblr opens doors to government agencies

Chelsea Whyte Contributor
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The popular blogging platform, Tumblr, has a new set of adopters. Government agencies, from the State Department to the National Archives, are using the microblogging site to give people a look at their inner-workings.

Amber Smigiel, the online content and social media maven for the Peace Corps, said Tumblr lets her share experiences from volunteers in 77 countries. “We were looking for the next step to take so we have a place to tell these stories.”

And a lot of people are paying attention.

“We have 980 followers in about a week,” said Smigiel. Like any other blogger, she admits, “I like to
refresh and see how many new followers we have.”

The Peace Corps is one of the latest agencies to follow in the footsteps of the General Services Administration, which set up the Tumblog in March. “I started the conversation between Tumblr and the government,” said Jed Sundwall of MeasuredVoice, a social media contractor for and “We had to negotiate a different terms of service for government employees. By doing that, we opened the door for the State Department, and the Peace Corps, and the National Archives to come in and do their thing.”

The General Services Administration negotiates terms of service with all social media sites for the government. They require record keeping of all public communication, which had to be confirmed with Tumblr, said Mark Coatney, media evangelist for the blogging site, which is based in New York City.

He said he assured the government that the server auditing technology used by Tumblr is at the level required to store public documents. (FEC approves Colbert’s super-PAC)The Tumblr staff is excited to have the government on board. “We love it!” said Coatney. “What I like about them is that they really use it in a Tumblr-native way. Tumblr is a visually-rewarding platform. For instance, the Peace Corps blogs a lot of archival photography to bring you in. I think they do that really well.” Adoption of Tumblr by celebrities and publications has given the platform more visibility and users are growing rapidly. “In the last year, Tumblr’s seen a real acceleration in growth,” Coatney said. “Right now there are 21 million Tumblr blogs. At this time last year, there were about 6 million.” About 60 percent of Tumblr users are based outside of the United States, giving government blogs like the Peace Corps and the State Department a worldwide audience. The National Archives runs several Tumblr blogs including one for current exhibits, a blog devoted to U.S. presidents, and a daily document showcase. Hilary Parkinson, writer and editor for National Archives Office of Communications and Public Affairs, credits the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, with the recent push to join Tumblr. “Our new archivist is really into social media, so about a year ago when he came on board, that was really the big push. He really encourages things like Tumblr and Twitter,” Parkinson said. Ferriero even has his own Tumblr blog which follows his activities as the 10th Archivist of the United States. The administration has also set the tone for an openness that lends itself to Tumblr. President Barack Obama famously used social media heavily in his 2008 campaign. “The White House Open Gov Initiative really opened the possibilities for the National Archives and many other agencies to get involved in social media,” said Rebecca Martin, volunteer tour coordinator and blogger on the U.S. National Archives Exhibits Tumblr. “There are plenty of creative people working in the government,” Tumblr’s Coatney saids, “and we want Tumblr to be the best place for creative output on the web.” Martin and colleagues at the National Archives have taken that to heart. Part of their mission is to make available all the records the government holds, and the National Archives Tumblr team has found social networking to be a fun way to share more than they have ever been able to before. “It turns out it’s a lot of stuff,” Martin said. “It’s billions of documents, and photographs, and motion pictures, and electronic records.” “When you’ve got billions of records, you have some amazingly cool stuff,” she said. “And Tumblr is one way that we can help people know about some of the wonderful, or shocking, or just silly stuff that people had no idea we had here.” Watch:

Tumblr opens doors to government agencies from Medill Washington on Vimeo.

Video by David Charns, Medill News Service