What is the deal about Reddit? The land of memes, trolls, karma points and a set of rules that seemed to be miles away from the grown-up world and completely forbidden to self-promotion and commercialization. Brands have tried to reach the younger generations that reign this platform and failed, like when in 2012 Businessweek and The Atlantic were banned for posting what was considered spam and often hiding under pseudonyms, trying to pass original content for something else. Users, as they often do, could see through that. And they were not happy.
But Reddit has gone a long way from that, adapting its policies and approaching companies in an attempt to gain a more powerful status in an ever changing digital advertising market. Today, there are quite a few cases of those who have ventured into this community and survived to tell the story— a successful one, full of entertainment, engagement and upvotes.
In the following lines, we will give some context of how Reddit transformed itself to provide more support for publishers and also detail some newsrooms that avoided the mistakes of the past and included Reddit in their strategy. We will see that when players understand the rules and are eager to play the game, getting to the finish line is not impossible.
Why the importance of Reddit for Newsrooms?
The feature that changed everything was the introduction of profile pages for content creators in 2017. Reddit had been releasing other improvements that made it more appealing to journalists, like the ability to credit and source Reddit discussions by embedding posts on external websites or the integration with CrowdTangle, a tool that allows digital media professionals discover trending content and monitor the reach of their own articles.
This is in tune with the strategy designed by Alexandra Riccomini, Reddit’s first director of business development and media partnerships, who has encouraged journalists to interact with the platform. Reddit’s media partnerships team has even participated in the Online News Association Conference, so that newsrooms could learn about them and how to use it for reporting.
Besides the different features and interest that Reddit has for news organizations, it is good to keep in mind the opportunities they offer in terms of the audience they reach. With over 330 million monthly active users, (for which about 80 percent of whom are between the age of 18 and 34), it is the fifth-most popular site in the U.S and their members keep extremely high levels of engagement, spending on average more than 13 minutes per day there.
Now that we understand why Reddit is so attractive, let’s learn what some important players have been doing.
The Washington Post
If there is a newspaper that got what Reddit was really all about, it’s The Washington Post, who has managed to build a great reputation in the community and became one of the most-shared news organizations on the site. They get it so well that they have even customized the slogan adopted following the election of Trump in 2017, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”, to a language more suitable to this audience: “Democracy Dies in Dankness”.
Behind this success is the work of social media editor Gene Park, who perfectly understands Reddit and is a huge fan of the platform. He is familiar with the transparency Reddit expects from its users and that is rewarded with great engagement levels (and karma points, the most valuable thing on Reddit). Self-promotion is out of the picture. One tactic has been to contribute with links that add context and information in the comments of relevant posts or content that was shared organically. Park is also very active and happy to reply to requests from the other Redditors and stay alert at possible stories that can be worth reporting.
The Washington Post understands that most of the young demographic that loves Reddit does not probably read newspapers, so they take the opportunity to provide explanations about the reporting process and, by that, position the media company as a trusted news source. For example, they have explained why the Post included a curse word in its title when it covered Trump calling some African countries “shithole” countries, something that was very welcome by members.
Reporters identify themselves while covering a specific story and encourage the community to reach out and ask questions with the popular AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions. They have conducted a few with their national security team, foreign correspondents from North Korea and Russia and the team that investigated Roy Moore’s campaign.
Another example of great results with AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions is National Geographic. They have gotten high levels of engagement with journalists that worked in topics featured by the magazine, like healthy sleeping or how to reduce plastic bags, but also with professionals that work in areas related to wild life, like when a veterinarian at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium shared her experience working with animals.
National Geographic has kept their spirit in the specific areas they choose to engage conversation with their audience. That’s why it makes completely sense that Nat Geo photographers talked about their challenges at work for World Photography Day. This session had special value to their audience because of how candid the conversation was and because they shared exclusive information, like advice on pitching to Nat Geo.
Other successful initiatives have included to encourage Redditors to propose new story ideas and rewarding them with sneak peeks at content before releasing it publicly. It’s all about creating a connection and provide value to users.
As one of the first publishers to create a profile page on Reddit after the feature was launched, Time Magazine was wise enough to understand where the platform was going and see how that could be aligned with their goal of growing digital audiences.
Their strategy to look for different partners to create collaborations was a match with what Reddit’s team was looking for, so they joined efforts in an Editorial Partnership that could be beneficial for both parties involved.
Reddit has position itself in the news ecosystem as an incredible source for authentic user-generated content. Time found a place to search entertaining and current stories that were easy to digest by their readers. In 2017, they used that base to create a weekly roundup with a selection of stories featured on their site. At the same time, they cultivated their Reddit presence with AMA series and other threads that were relevant for the Reddit community.
Is there an actual way of doing journalism on Reddit? Well, staff from The Boston Globe have been doing just that. The newspaper has been known for its work in investigative journalism and for the talent of their reporters. While they have their official Reddit profile, the focus should be put on the individual activity of some of their writers.
The perfect example is Dan Adams, who was an active user and often participated on threads. He identified as a reporter for the Globe and asked questions and provided additional information to other Redditors, like the time he followed up when someone complained about their credit card information being leaked. Journalists can provide a valuable service in checking sources and providing context for topics that the community is following.
The interest in participating often translates into people ready to help journalists with the information they have. Reddit can be an incommensurable place to find direct sources, like when Adams asked directly for help for a piece that a colleague was working on. Users were thrilled that a major newspaper was addressing something that concerned them and provided first-hand testimonies.
The Boston Globe has had some wins with their own AMA sessions and by participating in a special Spotlight on Journalism along other newsrooms, but the most interesting outtake is how journalists can personally engage with the community and use that to nourish their work.
How to make Reddit work for Newsrooms
After years of conflict between brands and Redditors, there is a truce. The platform has opened its arms to newsmaking organizations who are looking for ways to connect with a younger demographic. Venturing in can be exciting and fun, and those who are up to the task can keep an eye on few pieces of advice that can be helpful:
- Understand the rules
Remember that the major audience of Reddit is young, extremely active and, mostly, ready to viciously defend their space from outsiders that just want to sell them something. If your editorial or social media team is not familiar with it, it’s a good idea to start by reading some of their rules, like the Reddiquette, their official Content policy and, most important, the Rules on self-promotion. If you respect what this community has created to share, they will respect you.
- Keep it real and be honest
There is no need to pose as someone you are not or to try to imitate a particular slang that might appeal to teenagers. Set an official profile page and encourage your journalists to identify themselves and explain their work if they want to participate. This is a place that celebrates authenticity and loathes self-promotion: be who you are. Reddit users are cautious about links from outside, so provide a context of why you are posting a particular story or commenting on a specific thread. Do not lose sight of what the goal is by participating in Reddit, which can be summarized in…
- Don’t promote, but engage with the community
It would be a major mistake to see Reddit as a site to just paste links to your articles and promote traffic to your publication. It is about joining or starting a conversation and allow users to actively participate in topics that are relevant for you too. Provide a space for exchanging comments, sources, ideas and experiences and work along with others. Forget the idea of thinking about a campaign for this platform: other Redditors need to be your priority.
- Acknowledge the value of collaboration
The Boston Globe is a clear example that the community is eager to collaborate with journalists that address issues that concern them. They can be a fantastic source. Encourage participation and ask for help when you need it. If you use information provided by a fellow member, mention them in your story. The possibilities for article ideas are endless.
- Focus on what you can bring to the table
There is a reason why series like the AMA have such high engagement levels: users value the experience and knowledge that a professional journalist has and the unique insights and inspiration they can provide to the community. Be genuine and think about what topics could you offer to help with, and encourage your team to participate with honesty. Have fun while doing so, this is the place for it. And think about what you can do for other Redditors, not the other way around.
Are you ready to become a Redditor?
Reddit is filled with potential and opportunities, but only those who put the effort in understanding the site’s rules and how users react to content can truly benefit from it. More than a space where people share memes and internet slang, this is a place to experiment and have fun with the enthusiasm that the community puts every day.
The golden rule is to be honest and open. Newsrooms are now welcome to the front page of the internet. And they should make the most of it by taking care of the trust that has been placed on them.