Reddit is one of the largest Internet communities not centered around one specific niche. With thousands of subreddits dedicated to any topic imaginable, it seems like a gold mine to any savvy marketer. The thing is, Reddit hates marketers. They have rules against using their platform for marketing. They will downvote your promotional posts into oblivion if you let them, and you run the risk of earning yourself a ban if you’re persistent.
Still, if you’re clever, subtle and tenacious, you can use Reddit to your advantage. Just as you suspect, it’s a powerful platform for finding engaged users. You just have to approach it properly.
If there are so many barriers to entry, and no good tools to automate your marketing efforts, why would you want to spend the time on Reddit?
First, consider the size of the audience. There are over 12,000 active subreddits – Reddit forums dedicated to a given subject, broad or narrow – with over 100 active users. The site receives millions of unique views every month. It’s primarily populated by users in the sub-34 age range, mostly male.
Second, consider the market segmentation that’s baked in to Reddit. Want to market specifically to people who love discussing a particular model of train? You can find a subreddit dedicated to that train and dive in. Or, on a more practical level, you can find users discussing your industry, products or problems in your niche, or even your brand itself if you’re large enough.
How can you connect with this audience in a way that doesn’t out you as a marketer, and how can you avoid the pitfalls that catch inexperienced businesses on the site?
Reddit, despite having a massive audience in a wide range of interests, is really comprised of a surprisingly small demographic range. If you’re looking for middle-aged women, you won’t find much traction on Reddit. Even if you’re squarely in the interest range of Reddit users, you’re going to need to fit a particular mold. If you have a history of social media snafus or a critical flaw in your product you refuse to address publicly, expect Reddit to call you out on it, loudly and repeatedly. They will zero in on your weaknesses and they will exploit them until you either deal with them, own up to them or go away.
Meme culture online – Reddit, Tumblr and a few other sites center around them – is incredibly difficult for a brand to grasp if the business isn’t already made up of the types of people immersed in the culture already. Memes begin, evolve and die quickly. Trying to create one to force a marketing message is doomed to fail from the start. Trying to hijack one might have a minor chance at success, but a much larger chance at failure. Very few brands can dive into that kind of culture and succeed, and it takes a very specific brand of insanity.
Reddit is even more sensitive, in part because a significant portion of the memes that circulate widely are created and popularized on the site. If you dive in trying to force the creation of an unfunny, branded meme, you’re going to have it turned around and used against you.
Reddit’s culture is unique, and it’s impossible to just jump in and wing it until you get it. Unlike other social platforms, where activity is the key to success, Reddit benefits from creating an account and lurking around for a while before attempting to post.
While you’re lurking to learn the lay of the land, take the time to leverage your keyword research. Run Reddit searches for keywords and identify active subreddits that may have an audience receptive to your message. Make a list of those and subscribe to them, watch them to see who the influential users are, what sort of messages make the top of the list, what tends to be downvoted and where you can come in.
You should also take the time to learn Reddit’s guidelines and etiquette.
Reddit Karma is a measure of your contribution to the site. When you write compelling posts and interesting comments that receive thumbs ups from the subreddit readers, your karma increases. When you write terrible marketing posts and inflame the community, you’ll be downvoted off the front page and your karma drops. The lower your karma, the less tolerance users will have for your promotions.
In addition to karma, you’ll want to establish honesty. If you’re a brand manager for a company, don’t try to hide it and spring marketing material on users later. No amount of karma will protect you from the backlash that would follow.
Instead, work to become a legitimate Reddit user. Take your list of useful subreddits and start reading, watching, voting and posting. Don’t worry if your posts don’t take off; most people’s don’t. Don’t try to dive into marketing material, just contribute. In some respects, it’s very much like a LinkedIn group; you need to establish a reputation as a quality user before you can broach the subject of your product.
If you’re more analytically focused, you can examine the time, frequency and popularity levels of various posts on the site. You’ll probably want to focus on mid-size subreddits; the largest have too much competition, while the smallest provide too little benefit.
There are a lot of warning signs and pitfalls you can encounter that set your marketing efforts back.
One of the most famous features of Reddit is the AMA; Ask Me Anything. Essentially, it’s an open question forum for users to ask anything they like of the person or entity hosting the AMA. Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Bill Murray, Ken Jennings and Jerry Seinfeld have all hosted them. Other, less famous people with interesting jobs or interesting perspectives on the world will set themselves up to answer questions.
The AMA is a double-edged sword. Users can and will ask anything, even ridiculous, out of line, off-topic questions. You’re free to ignore or answer them as you will, but sometimes you can’t avoid the pressing issues. Even some Internet superstars faced chilling defeat on the battlegrounds of Reddit.
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