When people hear the words, “social media,” they no longer only default to considering Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. There are many more options for social networking and social media platforms than ever before, and they all appeal to different types of social users. Are taking photos and videos your passion? Then you’ve got your choice of Flickr, Instagram and SocialCam to scratch that itch. If you’re a Google power user, Google+ will do the trick. Of course, one can’t forget about the dozens of forums that are available for just about every industry and interest out there. The trick for PR professionals is to determine how these tools can augment public relations programs and provide useful information and returns.
Reddit is a newer breed for social media sites. Billing itself as the front page of the Internet, it shares some of the same characteristics of other social media platforms. First, Reddit is all about sharing user-generated content or content from other sources with its varied audiences. Second, it has its own distinct language. For example, understanding the terms TIL (Today I Learned…), AMA (Ask Me Anything) and OP (Original Poster) aren’t that different from the uninitiated trying to understand a retweet and when to use a hashtag in Twitter. Reddit also has a system for showing users and viewers what they will see on the Reddit homepage through a combination of upvotes, downvotes and the age of the post. The more upvotes, the fewer downvotes and the newer the post, the higher up on the page the post will be. As a registered user, anyone can vote on a post. Users can also generate and submit their own content in any of thousands of different subreddits, or category pages, which cover many topics. The interface can be a little confusing or even intimidating (as it was for me the first time I visited the site). But that initial confusion can be overcome with a little legwork and time spent on the site. Mashable has a great Reddit Beginners Guide, which I think is the best place to start to learn more about the site whose front page is constantly changing and that sees billions (with a “b”) of pageviews each month.
Reddit is very efficient in how the site is monitored and policed. Reddit’s moderators are passionate about combing their subreddits and remove spam, fake posts, and yes, submissions from marketers. Does that mean that PR people shouldn’t use Reddit? Absolutely not. In fact, when used correctly, it can be a hugely successful PR tool. In August, President Barack Obama participated in an AMA session in which visitors are literally invited to “Ask Me Anything.” Hundreds of thousands of people participated by sending in questions and commenting on his answers. The president didn’t have time to answer every question, but he answered a lot of them, and he reached and interacted with voters directly. Additionally, hundreds of traditional and online outlets covered his participation in the AMA session. Most PR people dream of that sort of engagement and resulting positive media coverage, and the goodwill he generated in the Reddit community was significant.
Of course, simply showing up and starting an AMA doesn’t guarantee success. One must truly be prepared and open to answer any question. Earlier this year, Woody Harrelson started an AMA but was really only doing it to promote his new movie. He wasn’t planning to answer any questions about other topics and he deflected unrelated queries. The community turned on him quickly and with a vengeance. The general consensus was that the session hurt his overall reputation rather than helping him (or his movie) in any way. (The Reddit community does not like to be fooled, and moderators are even more zealous in protecting their own – a recent Gawker article exposing the site’s most controversial moderator has caused many subreddits to ban links to Gawker sites. The site certainly has its own culture so it’s important to understand as much as you can before you jump in.)
But these lessons are true for any PR professional engaging in social media initiatives, right? If one is open, honest, transparent and educated, the initiative will generally create more goodwill with target communities. If one chooses to be closed off and waste the time of the community, even if it’s through ignorance, there will be backlash. Furthermore, if Mr. Harrelson (or his handlers) had spent some time on the site and observed some other AMAs, he (they) might have known that it would be extremely risky to host such a focused AMA. The general rules for using Reddit are the same for any other social media site – know the audience, participate, be honest, and do some research to make sure you’re engaging the community correctly.
Maybe now isn’t the right time to urge your clients to jump into Reddit. Maybe you need to do a little more research, or register and participate in some interesting subreddits before introducing it as a social media tool for a client. That’s fine. But don’t let that little Reddit alien logo intimidate you. It’s a great place to be, as long as you are open to learning about the community and exercising a little common sense.