RedditIf you handle PR for any business or not-for-profit organization, social media is sure to be a big part of it. This blog has often written about the “big 4” of social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.  But did you know that there are other social media sites that can generate substantial traffic if you add them to your social media outreach?

Reddit is one of those sites. Over the past three years, it’s become one of the top 5 referral sites to this blog, but when we tell people that we actively target Reddit for our social media outreach the reaction can be a mixture of horrified shock and surprise that it’s possible to use Reddit as part of a social media marketing campaign.

It’s not hard to understand why. Reddit’s reputation as the capitol of no-holds barred anonymous comments scares many marketers, but if you take the time to understand how the site works — and what makes it different from other social media networks — it can be a valuable addition to a social media strategy. But it isn’t for everyone. 

Reddit isn’t a site where “cookie-cutter” social media posts work – and the simple design and free-for-all Wild West approach to content can be intimidating. With billions of page views every month, it’s one of the Internet’s most visited destinations, and its users’ collective power to make or break a company’s reputation can’t be underestimated.

What is Reddit?  

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, has said that Reddit isn’t a social media site. “ is a message board and online community where users post links and photos, people comment, and (sometimes rowdy) discussion ensues,” Ohanian said in an interview last year.

The former owner of the site (Reddit was sold in 2006, and is now owned by Condé Nast’s parent company, Advance Publications) went on to say that treating Reddit as “just another social media site” is what gets a lot of marketing and PR people into hot water there.

Reddit Home Page 2_12_14
A spot on Reddit’s home page can result in a social media tidal wave that delivers huge traffic to the link.

Popular Reddit posts with a lot of comments and “up votes” rise to the homepage, which calls itself “the front page of the internet”. Appearing on Reddit’s home page can result in a huge traffic spike. Even if your post never makes it there, a link to your website or blog on Reddit can generate steady traffic over a long period of time.

Within the site, there are thousands of subreddits or categories that are set up and moderated by users. Looking for a category for cute pictures? That’s marked r/aww. One for collectible pens? That’s r/fountainpens. Science fiction and fantasy novels or conventions are in r/fantasy, history and archaeology are in r/history, and you can find a subreddit for nearly any topic you can think of – or start a new one if you can’t find one where your interests fall.

The Most Democratic Site on the Internet?

Reddit is big on democracy, allowing users to collectively elevate or bury posts.  Users who like what they see can click the “up” arrow, while those who are annoyed or disgusted can click the “down” arrow.

PR people and marketers who make the mistake of posting press releases and “marketing hype” on Reddit can quickly find themselves the brunt of the “redditors” wrath. Reddit users call themselves “redditors”, because they edit the site’s content with their comments and votes. Reddit got its name because the founders thought people would say that they “read it” on Reddit, and they liked the way it sounded.

Five Things to Know Before Your First Reddit Post 

  1. Reddit Users are Anonymous. While other social networks require real names, users don’t even have to provide an e-mail address to be a member. Anonymity is treasured by Reddit users, and it is part of the “wild west” atmosphere on the site, where users aren’t shy about sharing their real feelings, using language that might make a Facebook user uncomfortable because it appears under his or her real name.
  2. Your Community Credit Score is Public. Reddit users call it “link karma”. When you post something people like, you get “link karma”. When you add a comment that people think is valuable, you get “comment karma”. And the numbers for each appear next to your username as a measure of your Reddit community credit. Low or negative numbers hurt your posts.
  3. It’s a Men’s Club – And Not Necessarily a Gentleman’s Club. The Pew Research Center says that six percent of the Internet traffic on any given day goes to Reddit – and men are twice as likely as women to use the site. The locker room atmosphere on Reddit can be a shock to first-time visitors, and there are subreddits with a misogynistic hive mind. There’s nudity, profanity and lots of comments that may make you blush. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great place for some kinds of products and companies. That goofy meme or oddball infographic you saw bouncing around Facebook and Twitter? Chances are it started or gained momentum on Reddit.
  4. Acronyms Rule on Reddit. Learn the acronyms quickly. Here are some essentials: like NSFW (not safe for work) is the key to avoiding photos you don’t want to see. OP (original poster) helps you follow a discussion. Other common acronyms include: CMV = change my view TIL = today I learned ELI5 = explain it like I’m 5 years old and tl;dr = too long; didn’t read. One of the ones to look for is IMA…AMA.  It means “I am a…ask me anything.”  This is where celebrities, businesses, and regular people with interesting jobs can field all kinds of questions from users. (It’s a great way for a business to gather questions that can become part of its content marketing effort. It’s also becoming an important stop for celebrities and politicians who offer “AMA’s” on Reddit as part of their promotions for movies or music, or as part of an election campaign. President Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Morgan Freeman, and many others have offered “AMA’s” in recent months.) The FAQ page on Reddit will help you learn how to navigate the alphabet soup acronyms.
  5. Generosity Abounds. Reddit can be a goldmine for not-for-profit groups – especially those that help children or animals – who are launching fund-raising campaigns. When redditors throw their support behind a cause, the money flows. A Minneapolis nonprofit raised more than $80,000 for a Kenyan orphanage in 2012 by posting a plea on Reddit. A Texas sanctuary for abused animals received over 10,000 pounds of food after posting an appeal. There are entire subreddits devoted to being nice. For instance: r/Random-Acts-Of-Pizza, on which those in need ask for pizza and other redditors deliver. Also, there’s a worldwide gift exchange r/SecretSanta that benefits anyone who might otherwise be left out.

Five Reddiquette Rules for PR People Using Reddit

PR Subreddit
There are subreddits (categories) for everything — including one on why Reddit hates PR people. (With great tips on how to use Reddit in PR.)

The code of behavior on Reddit is ruthless – and redditors are ruthless in calling out posters who ignore the rules of “reddiquette”. So the first step for any PR person thinking of adding Reddit to their social media plan is the Reddiquette FAQ.

Even after you’ve read that, here are five good rules to keep near the top of your mind when you post on Reddit.

  1. Be Honest.  If you sign up for an AMA (ask me anything), expect readers to be relentless in their demand for honest answers. Actor Woody Harrelson got virtually shouted down during an AMA when he stuck to his movie promotion script instead of answering general questions. The Federal Trade Commission requires that you disclose your affiliation with a company – even if you’re posting anonymously – and so do redditors. It’s ok to post links to your own content – but say so. “Thought you might be interested in a blog post I wrote on my company’s blog about…” is fine.  But post the same link with a comment about how great it is – and don’t disclose – and you’ll be the target of no end of nasty comments if it comes out later that you were posting your own content.
  2. Don’t Spam Reddit.  It’s ok to post your content link in more than one subreddit – but don’t flood the site with multiple copies of the same link. Doing that can result in the site administrators (or the administrator of the subreddit) tagging your account with a “shadow ban” – that means you’ll be able to see your posts, but no one else will. It’s their way of banning you without letting you know you’ve been banned (so you don’t just create a different account). In general, Reddit views spammers harshly – the guidelines say that if more than 10% of your posts on the site link to your own content, or a site that you “benefit from” (i.e. a client), then you are a spammer.
  3. Don’t Ask for Votes. You see it on Facebook all the time: “Help me get to 1,000 likes!”. On Reddit, phrases like “Vote this up to spread the word!” or asking for votes can get you banned. Here’s a link to the rules on asking for votes or vote manipulation.
  4. Don’t Try to Sell Products on Reddit.  Follow the Reddit guidelines for promotions on Reddit. They are online at this link. Reddit is different from other social media sites where people routinely post promotions, coupons, and special offers. Think of it like the difference between a networking event where it would be appropriate to give an elevator pitch and exchange business cards with others and a party at your neighbor’s house where self-promotion is inappropriate.
  5. Don’t Be Thin-Skinned.  If your feelings get hurt when people question your motives, say negative things about your posts, or consistently vote your posts down, then Reddit may not be the right place for you.

If the rules for using Reddit – especially the bit about not selling products there – make it sound harder than Facebook or Twitter, you may be wondering whether it’s worth it or not. The answer is that it’s worth it for a brand, organization, or individual who is willing to take the time to become part of the Reddit community.

The potential benefit in traffic, awareness, sharing around the web, and long-term goodwill that comes from a popular post on Reddit is enormous. So is the potential for a backlash if you ignore the rules.

Should you add it to your social media plan? We did, and it’s worked well for us – but that’s a decision you’ll need to make for yourself!

Photo credit: The graphic of the Reddit alien against the clouds was offered on Flickr under a Creative Commons license. The screen captures of the Reddit home page and the PR Subreddit were taken on February 12, 2014.