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Confessions From a Reddit Junkie and Why You Should Care

Reddit-McDermott-CoverAs a backwoods hiker, I have a morbid interest in bear attacks, and that’s how I first heard about reddit. I stumbled on excerpts from an account by Allena Hansen who was mauled by a bear and managed to drive herself down a rutted mountain road with, as she put it, her “face hanging off.” (Apologies for the goriest opener in the history of CMI.)

Reddit is a little hard to describe to the unfamiliar, but Wikipedia does it well: “Reddit is an entertainment, social networking, and news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links.”

Hansen participated in what’s called a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). On the reddit AMA, people, both famous and not-so-famous, participate in live question-and-answer sessions. The Ask-Me-Anything format means nothing is off limits – a rule that has snagged some less-than-forthcoming celebrities.

While AMAs might be the most well-known side of reddit, the site is so much more. There are thousands of active subreddits – specialized channels to which you can subscribe or even create. They range from the interesting (AskHistorians answers unusual history questions) to the funny (ShowerThoughts aggregates inane-but-strangely-interesting philosophical tidbits) to the macabre (no example needed).

Many prospective visitors are scared off by reddit’s sometimes well-deserved reputation for rumor mongering, such as the massive reddit-led witchhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, which implicated an innocent bystander who reddit contributors said “looked guilty” in photos from the scene. Awful examples aside, if you’re willing to invest time subscribing to great subreddits, and unsubscribing from those you find distasteful, the site can be a great tool.

I’m still surprised by how many marketers aren’t familiar with reddit. If that describes you, I’m here to help. If you count yourself any kind of marketer, digital content creator, or tech savant, you should consider at least listening on reddit. (We’ll get to marketing on reddit in a bit. That can be treacherous, to say the least.)

Why bother?

First, reddit is unbelievably popular. It ranks as the No. 10 website in the United States and No. 27 in the world. It reports almost 160 million unique visitors a month and 7 billion page views per month. It also involves significant engagement. Reddit reveals that 1.8 million users cast almost 24 million votes in a single month. Roughly 6% of U.S. adults visit reddit, and approximately 15% of men ages 18-29 use the site. (Think of it as Pinterest for men!) Most astounding: The average redditor spends 85 minutes on the site, according to Alexa.

Here’s why you should bother:

  1. Reddit is the front page of the Internet. Lots of content you see on BuzzFeed and other viral content channels comes from reddit. It’s the perfect place to scoop stories (as redditors put it, “you’ll see this on Facebook in three days”). When you see a funny picture or video on your local news station, there’s a good chance it began on reddit or first became popular from a post on reddit linked to imgur (site with most viral images on web), YouTube, or another content-hosting site. (If you don’t believe me, this simple faux BuzzFeed job application sums it up.) If you’re a content marketer who wants to scoop viral stories, reddit may be your most important stop.


  1. Reddit is full of inside jokes that eventually make it into popular culture. Reddit is a crash course in how digital natives interact online. Internet memes are often born on reddit – including Carter, the banana boy, and Overly Attached Girlfriend. What does this have to do with content marketing? Be patient, young grasshopper.
  1. There’s a subreddit for every passion, hobby, and weird fascination. Do you love fountain pens? There’s a subreddit just for you. Enjoy goofy humor? /r/DadJokes is for you. Like BMX bikes? Check out /r/BMX.

Reddit claims that over 500 new subs are created every day. And for every seedy and downright hideous sub on the site (for you newbies out there, an NSFW flag on a subreddit post means Not Safe for Work), there are five more that are awesomely specialized and fun.

You will find subreddits that apply to your brand. The question is, will you only listen or will you participate?

Where do brands fit?

First, let’s talk about what brands shouldn’t do by offering an object lesson:

In 2014, Bill Gates hosted an entertaining and informative AMA in which he answered questions openly and honestly, generating goodwill among redditors who do not tolerate b.s. The PR folks at Intel likely got word of Gates’ successful reddit Q&A and convinced their CEO, Brian Krzanich, to participate in a friendly AMA.

What followed was ugly. Krzanich either was not told or did not care that AMAs are defined as “ask me anything.” Within minutes, he was in hot water for addressing only those questions that allowed him to spin a positive Intel message and ignoring more challenging questions. His behavior incited the reddit mob. Krzanich lost control of the crowd. Questions about the National Security Administration and the company’s decision to hire musician as director of creative innovation went unanswered by Krzanich but opened large discussion threads among redditors. Intel’s AMA should be a clear warning to other brand leaders who may think they want to connect with an audience on reddit: Be prepared to answer anything. (For a full list of AMA crash-and-burns, consult Mashable’s Worst Reddit AMAs.)

AMAs, however, are not the only place where brand promoters trip up on reddit. Pilot recently tried to be hip by posting a meme about its G2 pen, calling it “the only pen that matters.” The response was swift and fierce, and the hilarity spilled over into the pen’s Amazon reviews. (In fact, the Pilot G2 remains a permanent inside joke on reddit.)

Brands do have a place on Reddit, but tread lightly. The obvious place to start is a subreddit channel devoted to what your company offers.

To see how a brand uses reddit for good, check out this conversation from late last year. A reddit user (/u/TweektheGeek) logged on to get advice about replacing his Samsung Galaxy S4, which burned and melted while he was sleeping. He reported that while Samsung initially seemed helpful and promised a new phone, the device never arrived.

What followed was classic reddit magic. A representative from HTC, a Samsung competitor, chimed in with an offer to send him a new HTC phone, saying if he eventually received his Samsung he could donate the HTC phone to a worthy cause. The unsolicited help from a rival brand sparked an outpouring of support from fellow redditors, many of whom said they would switch companies based on the actions of HTC. As one reader pointed out, “Congratulations on some of the best advertising you can buy, HTC girl.” This type of brand intervention is commonplace on networks like Twitter and Facebook, but is still so new on reddit that when it’s done well, brands win.

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How should you get started on reddit?

  1. Subscribe to relevant subreddits. Absent intervention from you, reddit will choose the subreddits to show on your main page after you subscribe. Included in that list are some great choices (e.g. /r/AskReddit) and some pretty awful ones (e.g. /r/aww, which will show you endless cute pet photos … not my thing). To get the best experience, you must unsubscribe from annoying subs, and find those that match your interests best.

Subreddits can be a great place to find out what people are talking about in your industry or product genre. If you do it correctly, you can get a jump on trends before your competition does. If, on the other hand, you’re not intentional about the information you’re gathering, you might just end up looking at cat pictures for hours.

One of the most informative subs for content marketers on reddit is /r/socialmedia. You’ll find smart discussions about the challenges brand marketers face getting seen on social, such as this exchange about improving Facebook engagement.

  1. Listen. Spend some time lurking on the site before getting active. As AdAge recently quipped, reddit hates marketing. If you break reddit’s unspoken rules, as the Pilot pen marketers did, you’ll rue the day I ever told you about the site. Instead, listen in on subreddits that are relevant to your brand. Find out what your customers are saying and what information they need.
  1. Ask yourself if you belong. To be honest, most brands should never move past the listening stage on reddit. Permanent lurking on reddit is fine. Better to lurk than to trip up painfully.
  1. Participate sparingly. Still want to move beyond lurking? Read and reread reddit’s guidelines on self-promotion. Among the most important lessons: Do not begin by posting links. When you do post a link, be sure you’re not just posting links to your own company. Reddit will ban you. Also, be sure you check out the possibly even stricter rules of each subreddit you follow. Then, when you’re ready to post, gut-check what you’re going to say. Is it self-serving? Abort! Is it aimed at helping a fellow redditor? Give it a try.

If you can somehow get others to post on your behalf, with a clever meme or unique act, this can be a great way to gain good publicity. (See this story about how Josh Wise improbably got into the NASCAR all-star race in part because of reddit fans.) Of course, don’t try to game the system. Everything you do on reddit is public and redditors can be quite persistent in their efforts to squash commercial intrusion.

  1. Don’t overlook reddit ads. While not exactly a content marketing play, reddit ads offer brands a way to market on reddit without feeling like you’re crashing a private party. For brands looking to reach young men in particular, it’s a no-brainer. Just make sure your hook doesn’t make you look like In The Way Guy.

If you’re still not convinced about reddit’s value, consider this: Reddit will make you seem in-the-know with your kids. Just yesterday I was in the car with my 18-year-old daughter who leaned over and showed me a funny picture of Leonardo DiCaprio. “Have you seen this?” she asked. “Yes,” I told her. “I saw it on reddit three days ago.”

Find more tips for using Reddit and other platforms to increase the impact of your content. Read our Content Marketer’s Guide to Social Media Survival: 50+ Tips.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute