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A marketer's guide to Reddit

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Try a little experiment before you read this article. Find a story on the Reddit homepage that strikes your fancy -- any safe-for-work content will do. At your next staff meeting, mention the story and be sure to tell the team that you saw it on Reddit. After the meeting is over, give this question some thought: Did anyone in the meeting seem to discount the story because you said it had come from Reddit?

OK, you might not actually be able to answer that question because, let's face it, you can't read minds. And to be honest, this isn't really a scientific experiment, is it? But there is something unique about the place Reddit occupies in our culture, something that makes it possible for Reddit to be incredibly well-known and, at the same time, horribly misunderstood.

So what is Reddit exactly?
Reddit is the front page of the internet.

OK, you've heard that before. Heck, it's the Reddit tagline. But it's also an incredibly apt description because, like the rest of the internet, Reddit is as infinite as humanity itself. Seriously.

Can you be more specific?
Yes! Reddit is all about specificity. Think of the site as a patchwork of every single community you could possibly find on the internet. Each community is called a Subreddit.

How specific do those communities get?
Well, consider the internet's favorite animal -- the house cat. Sure, there's r/cats, but there's also r/Startled Cats, and even r/CatsStandingUp.

The point is, these subreddits go deep. Very deep.

Wow, that is specific! So there's probably one for our brand, right?
Maybe. Popular consumer brands often have their own subreddits, although it's important to mention that independent users run those subreddits. In other words, Reddit isn't like Twitter or Facebook, both which offer brands the ability to run verified accounts. In all likelihood, if your brand has a subreddit, it's being run by fans (or haters) for fans (or haters).

What does a brand subreddit look like?
There are lots of examples, but r/Subway is pretty much on point. A quick scan of the posts reveals a hodgepodge of content.

One Redditor asks about heating up roasted chicken patties.

Another Redditor, who appears to be a store manager, poses a career advice question to the crowd.

And finally, several Redditors use the forum to celebrate National Sub Day, which apparently is a thing.

Like most subreddits, there are rules about posting, naturally. And like most subreddits some of those rules -- like don't be a "jabroni" -- illustrate the fact that every subreddit, like all communities on Earth, has its own culture and etiquette. So if you're going to engage, you'll want to read the rules and learn the culture before joining the conversation.

All right, I get it (sort of). But why should marketers care about Reddit?
For starters, Reddit is a great place to learn and ask questions. After all, a successful marketer is a curious human, right? Unlike other online forums, Reddit is anonymous, and while that can sometimes bring out the worst in people, anonymity also gives Redditors the intellectual freedom to explore any topic from any angle.

You could visit, for example, r/programmatic to gain insight into a really complex topic. Or you could take a deep dive into r/BigData. The point is that Reddit is a great place for research, but you don't have to limit your research to marketing topics.

Suppose you want to know more about Millennials, for example. Well, you could read yet another dry study on the topic, or you could ask your intern to be a non-scientific proxy for their entire generation, or you could go looking for subreddits that are most likely to appeal to millennials for a little qualitative research. Hint: You probably won't learn much at r/millennials because that Subreddit isn't very popular. But this is Reddit, where it pays to explore.

But what about our brand? Is there something we can do with our brand on Reddit?
Yes, plenty of brands have engaged with a community on Reddit, but it's important to keep in mind that there's a history of aversion to advertising on Reddit, and that each brand experience is going to vary, depending on the how the brand is perceived and how the brand approaches engagement on the site.

That said, Toyota pulled of a great Reddit engagement with a promoted thread that asked the community to name three people they'd choose to live with, if they had to spend a year on Mars. The question was a tie-in to a commercial for the Rav4.

The lesson: If your brand is transparent about the reason for engaging with Reddit, you'll most likely get a genuine response.

Of course, it's important to remember that once a brand chooses to engage on Reddit, the response is beyond their control. Consider what happened with REI, which had its CEO, Jerry Stritzke, participate in an Ask Me Anything to promote its #OptOutside campaign. Things started out well for the brand, but soon enough the conversation started to go in a direction that didn't cast REI in the best light.

The lesson: If you're going to do an AMA, be prepared to face tough questions.

And then there's the case of Axe, which probably never intended to engage with Reddit at all. But after running a campaign called Shower Thoughts, allegations of appropriation emerged from a Subreddit called -- wait for it -- Shower Thoughts.

The lesson: Reddit is watching. Always.

Sounds like Reddit is a tricky place to do business. Can you just break down some best practices for me, so I can tell my boss I've got Reddit covered?
Sure! In fact, Fitz Maro did that two years ago! And you know what? His great advice still holds up. So read up and get your Reddit on.

Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, Bankrate.com, and California Lawyer Magazine. But you can also find his byline across the Web (and sometimes in print) at Digiday, Fast...

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