Why Oversharing Can Help Startups

Blip.tv's new New York offices, via Annie Tsai.

I know an awful lot about the folks at Blip.tv. I know their sales team regularly visits Detroit. I know their director of West Coast sales went on vacation last month. I know they’re moving into shiny new New York offices this May, and I know they have frequent Nerf (s has) weapon battles on both coasts. But I don’t know any of this because I’m a cunning reporter. I know it because I follow many Blip execs and employees on the Tumblr blogging service.

What’s fascinating about Blip’s presence in the blogosphere isn’t that it exists, but how open and frank it is about life at the “next generation television network.” It’s a company culture that has evolved organically since its founding in 2005, and become a unique example of how corporate communications can incorporate social media.

In one sense, Tumblr serves as a form of interoffice communication; employees in the Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit offices, for example, have only seen the new New York offices through photos posted, and inside jokes spread like wildfire between the various operations thanks to the service.

But in addition, according to CEO Mike Hudack, Tumblr is the company’s primary means of engaging with the outside world. Not only does the service host the official Blip blog, but 28 of Blip’s 42 employees are active users of the service. This includes Hudack, who currently has over 7,000 people reading his updates. “I got [a Tumblr blog] a long time ago, because I used to properly blog, but didn’t have time for it anymore. But Tumblr is super-easy and low effort,” he said via phone. “It does a lot to humanize the company and show that we’re real people. I think it’s a really good thing — it helps us not be a faceless corporation.”

Blip’s over-sharing does have a more formal outlet — the video series Blip on Blip. Currently co-produced by Annie Tsai and Kelly Sutton, the series highlights shows using Blip distribution and features execs at the company chatting about their work, giving the independent producers who use the platform insight into the internal workings of the company.

But the “Blip Tumblr mafia,” as Sutton referred to it via phone, is for anyone online. While there’s no official company blogging policy, there are two basic rules for what employees aren’t allowed to reference: any Blip projects currently in development, and how much shows using Blip for distribution earn through advertising. Hudack could only recall one example of an employee’s post getting close to crossing that line — and it was quickly removed. Otherwise, he said, “Everyone kind of gets it and it’s very straightforward. If something feels like it’s confidential, it probably is.”

And every other topic is fair game, something Hudack adheres to himself — his Tumblr use doesn’t shy away from potentially controversial topics, including political discussion. “The political material hasn’t been a problem in terms of our relationships, though our politics aren’t terribly radical in the first place,” Hudack said. “Sharing stuff like that makes us into three-dimensional beings, and shows people that you’re dealing with a real person, not a cardboard cutout.”

While the content Hudack blogs isn’t an issue, the frequency of his posting (on March 24, he reblogged 16 different posts onto his personal account) can be. When asked if potential clients or partners ever bring up how much time he spends on Tumblr, Hudack answered “all the time”; his answer to those people, though, is that his Tumbling most often takes place during ten-minute breaks in his daily schedule, when nothing else is going on and nothing really productive gets accomplished. “It gives us an activity to fill empty times of the day, and leads to camaraderie within the office,” he said.

“A lot of people have made that joke before,” Sutton said about the company’s reputation for blogging. “But it would only be a problem if we weren’t pushing out products and getting results.”

Tsai participates regularly in Tumblr's gratuitous-picture-of-yourself-Wednesday tradition, with help from other Blip employees.

An additional benefit is a public understanding of what Blip does and what its message is, which is helpful as a recruiting tool and screening mechanism for new employees. Tsai cited as one example the recent hire of junior designer Brandon Werner, who learned about the job opportunity through Tumblr. “He totally fits with the Blip culture. We wanted someone who personality-wise is a good match for us — Tumblr folk are those folk,” she said.

“Everyone here really believes in what we’re doing,” Tsai said, “And the turnover rate is very low. We’re a family here, everyone’s a part of what we’re trying to accomplish, and there’s a certain sort of camaraderie that results.”

“The company that Tumblrs together stays together,” she said, with a laugh.

Is this approach one that would work for other start-ups? Hudack says it depends on the start-up. “For companies that are naturally secretive and want to control their message, it wouldn’t work. But we have a very simple thing we want to communicate and what we’re saying internally isn’t any different from what we say externally,” he said.

“For companies with a big divide between those two things, those cracks will probably start to show. But as long as you’re not afraid of what your employees will say about you publicly, go for it. As long as there’s no disconnect, and if you have a set of smart people, there’s no downside.”

“It does make you less mysterious — if you want that, it’s a bad idea,” he added.