Monday, October 28, 2013

The Dangers of Marketing on Reddit

Reddit is a thriving website across almost all demographics. They call themselves “the front page of the internet” and it seems that they’re correct. I, myself, often hear about major news stories and trends on Reddit before the mainstream media get on them. Not to mention all of the memes.

With so many devoted readers and contributors (over 2 million people read just the front page every day), Reddit could be a gold mine for marketers. But before you go building your marketing strategy around this social news goliath, there are some things you should know. Namely, you should know that a misstep away from the community’s ethos concerning advertising could earn 2 million dissenters in a single day. No, really.

Marketing tunnel vision in an AMA makes you the most hated person on the web.

The AMA, or “Ask Me Anything,” function of Reddit is a platform on which interesting individuals can stand and answer questions posed by the community at large. Sometimes the person with a popular thread is a celebrity and sometimes they’re a zookeeper or physicist. Anyone can post an AMA and it seems that anyone can earn a large amount of traffic by force of personality alone.

This seems like an excellent tool for marketing, does it not? That’s exactly what actor Woody Harrelson’s PR team thought. It still isn’t known if it was actually Harrelson at the keyboard, but whatever poor soul it was made a gigantic mess out of a golden opportunity. He answered around 15 questions and refused to talk about anything other than the movie he was trying to promote, enraging Redditors who engage in AMAs to learn more about people.

What you must grasp is that Reddit wields massive power to shunt web traffic, but it’s very choosey about what it considers overly-exploitative. When Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters mentions tour dates, no one seems to mind because he has taken the time to answer personal questions with serious thought. Reddit darlings like Neil deGrasse Tyson have achieved their status by displaying their genuine passion for their field and a willingness to let their readers get to know them. Personality and content are the only viable tools for getting exposure.

On the “plus side,” a botched AMA can get you a TV show.

Muddying the AMA waters is the strange case of Amy’s Baking Company. A truly horrible AMA (including the owner threatening to call the cops on mean internet commenters) made them the Disney-level villains of the week. With their threats of suing reviewers for negative Yelp reviews and their prerogative to take the tips of servers and give a flat hourly pay, they quickly garnered all the wrong sorts of attention.

Unsurprisingly, with all of the stink and drama, some TV producer naturally approached them about their own reality TV show which they naturally accepted. While this might be a happy ending for this small Arizona restaurant, it could spell very real trouble for any company that isn’t interested in a reality TV show. Hint: almost no company should want this. You don’t want to be a sideshow.

Sneaky marketing lands you on r/HailCorporate.

The existence of r/HailCorporate is a major reason why marketers must be wary of pushing content on Reddit. This sub-Reddit is a hall of shame of marketers who have been caught posting advertisements under any name that doesn’t disclose their corporate affiliation. Some of these attempts have been very subtle- and yet, the Reddit community has ferretted out hundreds of thousands of examples of marketing, even when under the guise of a cat meme.

You really, really don’t want to end up on r/HailCorporate. The negative association that comes with this type of trickery is exactly what the “Reddit Hivemind” (a derogatory term alluding to the general attitude of Reddit) disapproves of. If you have a particularly sneaky tactic caught, you could find your company name on the front page in the worst way possible.

What, so Reddit is off limits for marketers?

I didn’t exactly say that. Your best bet for using Reddit’s awesome power is to buy a legitimate banner ad and design it with a sense of humor. For your own sake, I would NOT recommend trying to make a meme ad or to be sycophantic to the Reddit sensibility- they really don’t take kindly to that. Instead, present your brand’s own sensibility in a way that Reddit can appreciate. They’re into people, not shticks.

If you’re feeling brave, however, go ahead and try your luck with an AMA session. But only the true master of brand personality and ethics should dare tread these waters. Redditors will almost always go for the throat when it comes to asking questions, from your contributions to charity to how much your CEO earns. Be honest, or you could be the next victim of Redditor sleuthing. You have been warned.

So you see, Reddit couldbe the ultimate link-sharing/social media/ crowd sourcing Valhalla that online marketers have dreamed of for years.

But it isn’t.

At least, it’s trying really hard not to be.

Benjamin Taylor is a marketing writer and consultant. He reads 4-5 pages of Reddit per day and has seen many cat pictures in the process, but very few successful marketing attempts.