After I went home to the Philly suburbs a few weekends ago, I returned back to NYC with a new perspective on a website I've been using frequently for years.
That recent weekend home -- away from my digitally savvy and hyper-connected friends that I live, work, and hang out with in the city -- I realized that to many, Reddit is similar to a distant, foreign nation. Not unlike, say, Russia, India, or China, Reddit is a massive and very foreign world to those who haven't spent time in it. And much in the same way these far-away nations are often misunderstood, misrepresented, and, as a result, avoided all together, so too is Reddit. Especially when it comes to marketers and brands, which I frankly think is a damn shame.
Today, Reddit serves a variety of roles in my life: entertainment, research, news, dialogue, humor, escape, education, and more. And if Reddit's monthly average of 130 million users with an average time of 14-plus minutes per session is any indication, I'm not alone.
In this article, I'll be giving an overview of what Reddit is and how it works, best practices for brands interested in properly utilizing it, and, finally, some examples of brand wins and fails on the site.
What it is and how it works
Though it might seem like an impossible statement to own, Reddit's tagline of "The front page of the internet" is probably the best way to describe it. For millions, Reddit is the go-to source for everything interesting happening on the internet right now.
Though I can't stress enough that the best way to truly understand Reddit is by signing up and using the site, here's a broad-strokes overview of how it works, broken down into a few categories, for ease of understanding.
Reddit is a site where anonymous users submit links -- articles, videos, GIFs, tweets, anything that's linkable -- and then other users vote on those links with an "upvote" or "downvote." Each link gets a score that is calculated through its votes; every link starts at one and can go up or down based on voting. This unique method of sorting is how the site determines what content is interesting or worthwhile -- the most up-voted by the community -- and what isn't.
The aforementioned sorting process takes place across the site's many topic-specific pages, officially known as "subreddits," thus providing the best stuff online in any interest-space a user may have. There are literally thousands of active subreddits out there for virtually any interest. On the off chance there isn't a subreddit for your interest, with one click you can create a new sub that caters to that interest. Users customize their Reddit experience by subscribing and unsubscribing from various subreddits, thereby making the site's experience entirely unique for each user. If you're interested in seeing some of the most popular subreddits, check out this list and read the "sidebar" on the right hand side of the subreddit to see what it's all about.
Since Reddit doesn't have editors, you'll never know exactly what you're going to come across, but you can be sure it'll be something worth checking out because hundreds or thousands of other Redditors have already voted that it's something to see. I love the analogy that my favorite YouTuber, CGP Grey, uses to describe this unique facet of the site: "Think of it this way: If Google is where people go to search for things, then Reddit is where you go to see the things that people have found."
With this fact in mind, it's not hard to see that there may sometimes be questionable content that floats around the more obscure corners and subreddits on the site, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. While Reddit can be weird, it's not because Reddit is inherently weird, but because people are weird.
The true heart of Reddit lies in discussions section related to each link shared on the site. Since most Redditors choose to remain anonymous (though not all do) the discussions around those links usually contain way more interesting and honest dialogue than on any other social network.
Using a similar method of ranking to the one that determines what content is interesting, and what isn't, comments themselves are also vote-able, too. Thus, the most interesting comments in a discussion float to the top. Finally, the structure of commenting on Reddit encourages discourse, as replying to any comment is possible. This sorting and threading of discussions leads to conversations that are usually just as or even more interesting than the link being discussed.
There are entire subreddits that leverage this great discussion format, most notably the "AMA" subreddit, which stands for "ask me anything." People from all walks of life have performed an AMA on Reddit -- from the seemingly mundane ("I am a Vacuum Repair Technician, AMA") to the prestigious ("I am Barak Obama, President of the United States -- AMA"). This particular subreddit has gotten so popular that earlier this month, Reddit released its first owned-app: Ask Me Anything (iOS, Android).
Brand best practices
A few months ago, I wrote a much shorter piece titled "5 Things Brands Should Know about Advertising on Reddit" after working with some amazing folks at Reddit. While those haven't changed drastically, I'd like to expound on the four most important:
Be transparent and honest
Whether it's increasing engagement, generating traffic, or boosting brand awareness, marketers by nature have an agenda. That isn't intrinsically at odds with the Reddit community. What is, though, is when a brand is disingenuous and not transparent with the community about their intentions. Recognize the community aspect; while Reddit ads are a great place for self-promotion that can help achieve all of the aforementioned goals, no one on Reddit wants to feel deceived. Show the community what value you can offer and help guide them in what you'd like them to do with that information.
Know your audience
Remember those subreddits we discussed earlier? Those sub-communities that appeal to a unique interest? Well, right this second, there are more than 8,000 active ones, subs where someone has posted in the past 24 hours. Every single one of these subreddits has its own culture, and if you plan to speak to them with any marketing communications, you need to understand that sub's unique identity and culture. Good ads recognize the makeup, content, and camaraderie of users both on Reddit at large and within specific communities.
By and large, Reddit is a pretty considerate community -- one that is generally willing to give people and brands alike opportunities. But much like the real world, not everyone is going to agree with you (especially if you make a bad impression). Disagreement is OK, though! Going along with the fundamental value of Reddit and its discussions, disagreements usually lead to a healthy debate. Sales won't slump because someone disagrees; it's not a lost customer. More times than not, these people would say the same thing in the real world. But like all social media, digital has given them a chance to amplify their voice. Companies need to humanize their voice on Reddit, speak to the community like people, not "targets," and expect to see both positive and, likely, some negative responses -- just like in real life.
Have a conversation
By allowing customers to speak directly to brands, you'll see that there is an expectation on the site for dialogue, much in the same way people converse with brands on other social networks. Maintain an ownable, authentic brand voice, point of view, and tone. Being direct is best. If you'd like to discuss something specific, just ask!
Brand wins and fails
Win: Marriott -- #GetTeleported
Marriott's recent initiative on Reddit was built around its "Travel Brilliantly" campaign, a piece of which has been using the futuristic Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset. Its goals seem to be clear: to generate conversation and engagement around the program and, thus far, it looks to be very successful. The brand ran ads on Reddit, complete with banner creative that spoke to the Reddit community (see: cute cats), asking the community "Want to Get Teleported? Tell us why you should be one of the first to experience virtual travel." If you ask Redditors to do something with substance, politely and with a purpose, they are usually willing to do so.
Although GameStop's recent campaign isn't nearly as creative as Marriott's, it comes with the caveat that it likely had much different goals. While Marriott's was clearly about engagement, GameStop's goals seem to be more about awareness and CTRs. The videogame retailer ran homepage and subreddit specific ads advertising its relatively unknown cash-for-devices program.
Although a financial services and insurance company seems like an unlikely brand to fit into Reddit, Transamerica understood and spoke to the community, offering some great advice along the way. The brand wrote, "We have some Redditors here at Transamerica and we'd like to help out. What are some things about money or finance you wish they had done a better job of teaching you in school?...nothing is off limits!" The subsequent conversation that unfolded ranged from mutual funds to 401k; in the following weeks, Transamerica posted expert answers to the best questions on its blog.
Fail: Woody Harrelson
The True Detective star deserves honorable mention for one of the most epic fails in the history of Reddit for either brands or personal brands. In an effort to promote his new movie "RAMPART," Mr. Harrelson hosted an AMA that violated nearly every rule in the AMA rulebook. He refused to answer questions unrelated to the movie, gave miserable answers when he did, and experienced the displeasure of a frustrated and deceived audience -- something, I should note, that happens so rarely that I was only able to find two examples of brand fails. As Reddit user sleepybandit put it, "This whole AMA is a good example of how not to use the internet for marketing. It seems clear that the whole post was an attempt to market a movie that no one knew about or was excited to begin with. Hopefully someone in PR or marketing learned today that you can't simply bend the desires or interests of the internet"
Fail: Taco Bell
In a rare misstep by the fast food giant, Taco Bell's CEO hosted a painfully forced AMA from its President, Brian Niccol. The whole AMA was an overt and downright shameless promotion for the brand's new breakfast launch that could have been so much more than it was. Unfortunately, Niccol and surely his team of PR millennial minds did their best to romance the Reddit audience while hawking Taco Bell at every opportunity. Taco Bell had part of the formula right, but it severely missed the mark in the transparency department. While its team may chalk it up as a win, the idea could have been executed so much better.
We've covered a lot of info in this article, but I hope you were able to keep up. Reddit's vast and sometimes foreign world is one that every internet user should experience and one that every marketer should be considering. I encourage you to go sign up, explore the site, and experience the community. If you feel that you'd like to make the jump into advertising on Reddit, check out its advertising page and reach out to its amazing team. It's a rock-star group who will work with you to help achieve your brand's goals in the best way possible.
Big shout out and thanks to Mike Cole, of Reddit's sales director, brand strategy, for his assistance and time.