Of all the communities at a social marketer's disposal, Reddit may be the most enigmatic and difficult to understand. As a combination link-aggregator, forum board and social network, Reddit is the "front page of the Internet" for many people, serving as a news outlet, discussion board, recipe book, support network, and many other functions that merge interesting content with constructive (and sometimes not-so-constructive) interaction.
Despite a fairly unified demographic, the site is extremely diverse, giving birth to numerous trends and facilitating colorful subcultures that are often passionate or controversial. From the outside, Reddit has an image problem: it's complex, impenetrable, mired in scandals and media attention. Site-fueled excitement can elevate brands or destroy them. For this reason, some marketers play it safe and stay far away. For the most part, Reddit likes it that way.
But others see Reddit as an untapped goldmine of opportunity well-worth the risk. And for those who play their cards right, it can be.
Risk and Opportunity
Reddit's main advantage is also its greatest danger: the site has a vibrant community with complex social values and protocols, some written down, some unspoken. Redditors who violate these rules receive swift judgment in the form of bans or downvotes. On the flip side, those who play by them have a good chance of gaining exposure and reputation.
In theory, this protocol is encapsulated by "Reddiquette," an informal list of injunctions, lingo and generally-good-advice compiled by users and site admins. For marketers and promoters, there is a simple message: Reddit comes first, and your brand comes second. Learn this dance, and you will be rewarded; fail, and you will be shunned.
A FAQ for self-promotion explains it well:
"Subreddits are like your next door neighbor's kid's birthday party that you've been invited to. The reason you're all there is to celebrate a birthday and have cake. It would be completely inappropriate to give your elevator pitch and business card to everyone there - your host would likely ask you to leave or not invite you back again. Meet people, participate in discussion about the reason you're there, and make some new friends instead of trying to promote yourself and you'll have a much better time."
Simply bearing this rule and its implications in mind will actually eliminate the vast majority of danger to a brand. Here are the most common mistakes:
We all know what "SPAM" is, and content marketers are reasonably good at dodging it. Creating relevant information with relevant titles and submitting it to relevant subreddits seems like a good idea, and it's how most people first try their wings on Reddit.
This is a mistake. Reddit has a much broader definition of SPAM, and no matter how good your content, it will likely be shunned, downvoted or removed if you commit the following crimes
- Only sharing content from your own site. Redditors check an account's history if they suspect it of being promotional. As the site's rules stipulate, "If your contributions to Reddit consist primarily of links to a business that you run, own, or otherwise benefit from, tread carefully"
- Repeatedly posting the same content on the same subreddit - this seems like a good idea to some people, since links can quickly disappear. But most subreddits frown on frequent reposting, and best practice is never to repost a link within a period of 2-3 weeks.
- Using URL shorteners: Reddit is not Twitter, and there's no character limit for links. Shortened URLs (bit.ly, goo.gl, etc.) are viewed with extreme suspicion, as they can be used to dupe or otherwise defraud users.
All the business of sharing links on Reddit occurs in subreddits. These are devoted to a particular topic, hobby, interest, or community. Marketers often target the largest subreddits because they have a high and active user base (r/funny, r/videos, r/aww). Not only is this unproductive due to the high competition, but it often requires shoe-horning a brand into a category where it just doesn’t belong.
Subreddits are generally well-moderated and posting something irrelevant will probably marshal the swift attention of administrators if it does not first attract ire from the community. In general, it is not difficult to find subreddits where your content will be on-topic and very welcome: employ due diligence in seeking out a niche and build value there. A maker of eye-strain glasses for PC users found great success in submitting his product to r/takemymoney.
Not Following Simple Rules
Reddiquette is taken seriously, but it is easy to violate. Rules range from proper formatting of posts (be descriptive, avoid personal opinions, etc.), to manners (be constructive, avoid harassment/flaming) to stipulating that all edits to a post should be explained. Some of these are obvious, but a new Reddit user should always refer to the rules to ensure compliance.
In addition to site-wide rules, subreddits often have their own rules for submissions which must be followed carefully. Usually these can be found in the sidebar of a subreddit, but when in doubt, search carefully to avoid breaking them. It can also be helpful to browse a subreddit of interest to see what’s considered normal before making a submission.
Being “Cute” or “Salesy”
Reddit’s userbase is savvy. There are entire subreddits which lambast corporations and advertisers for trying to be “cool” or “groovy”. This marketing approach – if it is ever effective in the real world – is not effective on Reddit. Trying to ride trends or hijack popular memes will backfire in almost all cases.
At the same time, the site is equally antagonistic towards “salesy” or overly promotional language, and there are subreddits dedicated to lambasting this as well. It may seem like there’s no way to please Redditors, but that’s not true: promotional posts should be honest, descriptive, and to the point.
Avoiding the common mistakes listed above will save you a lot of trouble as a Reddit marketer. With that out of the way, you need an actual strategy, and there are several good ones.
The best and most common way to use Reddit is as an extension of a content marketing scheme. Ideally, your brand will produce genuinely useful articles, infographics, polls, videos, studies or tutorials that you can share with the Reddit community.
You already know the wrong way to do it. Here’s the right way:
- Participate in subreddits relevant to your niche. Share content from other sites, comment on other user posts, and establish yourself as a member of the community. There’s no way to “fake” this part; participation is the difference between being credible and being a spammer.
- Occasionally submit your own content where it is appropriate to do so. Reddit marketer Si Quan Ong suggests a ratio of one promotional post per page of participation.
- Include reasonable portions of your content in the post itself. Mere links will generally not bring in upvotes, because unless the post contains useful content, it is not a useful post.
- Be available to discuss the content you have shared. Redditors appreciate the opportunity to interact with a post’s originator; be ready to answer questions, clarify points, and even to field legitimate criticism if it is offered.
While sharing content on Reddit, bear the following slogan in mind: “It’s perfectly fine to be a Redditor with a website, it’s not okay to be a website with a reddit account.”
PR and Engagement
While Redditors are not keen on flagrant self-promotion, the community takes a stronger liking to brands which interact on user-generated content regarding the brand itself. Depending on your profile and industry, there may already be some discussion of your company on Reddit. Following these discussions and chiming in with feedback, clarification or support is an excellent idea.
Some brands have gone so far as to introduce themselves on Reddit, offering free services or advice. Because this is extremely straightforward and honest, this approach is generally well-received provided a sufficient value proposition. Four years back, TransAmerica put Redditors in touch with financial professionals to answer questions and offer feedback on an AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread.
This may seem like a lot of effort, but it goes a long way in providing value to the community and establishing your brand as a member of Reddit, not merely as a promotional entity. Offering coupons specifically Reddit readers is a simpler way to engage and build loyalty.
At the end of the day, the simplest way for a brand to build an audience with Reddit is using ads native to the platform. Here, ordinary Reddit rules do not apply: it’s okay to be salesy and promotional with an ad, because you have already given back to the community by paying for it.
There is controversy about how effective sponsored content is as opposed to organic posts; however, there are also numerous case studies which show that brands and startups can get a tremendous amount of exposure by leveraging it correctly.
One Redditor used promoted content as a way to advertise his soccer training program to soccer-related subreddits. Although the initial flow of traffic was low, progressive iterations of the ad brought in a 7500% increase in conversion rates. This shows that A/B testing a very good method to use on the platform, and when taking the Sponsored route, bring in your ad team to make sure that every dollar counts.
Although Reddit is different from other parts of the web, it is not fundamentally mysterious or impossible to leverage correctly. The central theme behind all successful Reddit campaigns is this: “build value”. A brand that is solely concerned with its image will not thrive on Reddit; a brand that is able and willing to make legitimate contributions will.
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