Do Brands and Reddit Mix?

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Reddit fancies itself the front page of the Internet, by which it means if there’s something going on, its Redditors will find it and bubble it to the top with up-votes. Broken down into countless "sub-reddit pages," Reddit acts like a self-organizing and crowd-sourcing collator of all things happening in the present tense.

It has huge traffic numbers too - 37 billion page views in 2012 - so it's clearly something that resonates, and that should give marketers a reason to take note. Reddit’s current top traffic-getter is its r/funny sub-reddit, with 6.5 million page views a day. It’s currently being sponsored by RetailMeNot.com, with a landing page that is Reddit-centric. Just behind r/funny is r/pics with 3.2 million daily page views; its current sponsor is the About.com’s political humor page.

Marketers and brand managers have to be very delicate with how they approach Reddit, as it plays by its own rules; it is not for the brand that might have a delicate self-image or thin skin. Reddit is not a one-way street where a marketer can expect to dictate the means of communication between the brand and its potential customers. If you’re promoting a product that some might not like, then expect to hear about it on Reddit.

Reddit has taken such care to keep its site user focused that every piece of content on the site has a comments section and enabled up/down voting -- including ads. With a hyperlink asking users to “Reddit this ad,” redditors can be viscous or friendly, depending on their mood.

Ask Me Anything

The feature that Reddit is best known for is its Ask Me Anything, or AMA, which can produce great buzz for a person or it could be a complete disaster, depending on who is asking what to whom. Of the Top 500 AMA’s, only 30 were business or entrepreneurial in nature, but still include some good ones from a marketer’s prospective, like the creator of Imgur; the founder of 4chan; the founder of Google X; or the Google Maps team.

Sometimes a celebrity with his/her own brand can withstand an AMA like Mark Cuban and Bill Gates, but this AMA of Woody Harrelson is a case study in the pitfalls of the genre. Due to the occasionally brand-unfriendly and NSFW nature of AMA’s, Reddit does sometimes allow the rare AMAA, or Ask Me Almost Anything, which was the option chosen here by the GM of the Microsoft Surface, for obvious reasons.

No Thin Skins

One clear piece of advice: Avoid advertising on Reddit entirely if you think your brand cannot withstand the scrutiny that Redditors may flood you with - because it's that criticism that might then go viral instead of your branded content.

If you’re brave enough to try, one option is to respond to every comment made by every redditor, as this self-published author did. Another option is to be confident enough in your branded content that you unleash it on Reddit with the rest of the chum and watch it get up-voted naturally as redditors enjoy and share the content.

But be warned, this is not an advertising platform for everyone. Brands that want to wade into Reddit must do so with the eternal watchword that the reader is king (or queen, as the case may be). Brands must bow down to the power of Reddit’s crowd-sourcing model and work within it without trying to skew its results.

Good luck out there.