Reddit is “the front page of the internet” – a customized aggregator of all the latest news and entertainment about the topics that interest you the most. The social aggregation site is currently the 5th most visited website in the US (17th globally). So why is it never talked about among the most influential sites? And with that kind of traffic, why are they not among the big players in the marketing world alongside Google and Facebook?
This Reddit marketing guide will give you a complete rundown of the site, as well as how and where smart marketers can find opportunities for growth.
For those unfamiliar, Reddit is a site where users can post various content – pictures, videos, links, text. Once posted, other users can view and comment to continue the conversation.
Posts and comments can rise or fall through upvotes and downvotes. Popular content will rise to the top of the page, and unpopular posts will be “downvoted to oblivion,” sinking towards the bottom, often hidden from the community. Upvotes and downvotes are tallied into karma, essentially meaningless “internet points” that indicate how often a user’s posts or comments have been upvoted or downvoted.
Reddit is organized into subreddits, which are communities for different topics of discussion. Volunteer mods are in charge of keeping the discussion on topic and ensuring everyone plays nice and follows the subreddits rules. These topics can vary drastically from the extremely broad (/r/videos), to memes (/r/AdviceAnimals), to popular hobbies (/r/nfl), to advice-based (/r/selfimprovement), to the just plain weird (/r/BreadStapledToTrees).
There are currently over 2.2 million subreddits, so odds are there is something for every niche interest. But on the off-chance there isn’t, any user is free to create their own new subreddit.
Why Market On Reddit?
As mentioned above, Reddit is the 17th most visited site in the world. To put that into context, Reddit has over 430 million monthly active users, and over 30 Billion page views per month.
An audience that size clearly goes across demographics, but it tends to skew younger, reaching over 20% of Americans aged 18-29.
Reddit is also famous for being a “black hole,” where users can get drawn into content and spend hours going down various rabbit holes. The average Reddit visit lasts roughly 10 minutes, where users visit over seven pages each.
The case for Reddit is simple – it’s a wildly popular platform with a very engaged audience. Users come to Reddit not only looking for entertainment but often for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. Smart marketers can use this to their advantage, learning about their audience and using these insights to help guide marketing messaging and product development.
So Why Is Reddit Not More Popular For Brands?
As much fun as the site can be, Reddit can be a scary place for brands.
Redditors, as a whole, are pretty anti-advertising, and that’s putting it lightly. They even have a subreddit of ~200K subscribers called /r/hailcorporate, where Redditors try to identify and document brand placements across the site (a smart marketer could use this sub for inspiration, but I digress).
For some historical context, Reddit had a competitor in the social news aggregation space called Digg, which was actually the more popular at the time. In 2010 however, Digg revised their interface, which removed some popular features and loaded the site with ads. As a result, Digg lost 50% of its traffic nearly overnight (mostly to Reddit), had to lay off 40% of its staff a few months later. They now exist mainly as a cautionary tale. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian commented, “this new version of Digg reeks of VC meddling.” Thus, they’ve been timid to make any radical changes to the site that could potentially upset the user base.
As such, the user base has a lot of power on the site, and that level playing field is also scary to brands. If a brand were to post something unpopular on Twitter, their worst-case scenario is that it either gets ignored or gets replied to by people with much smaller followings, so the damage is minimal. Reddit, on the other hand, gives users the power to respond in real-time, as well as upvote/downvote power to dictate what they like and what they don’t like, and the brand just has to accept the results.
Marketing On Reddit
Like most social sites, there are essentially two tactics one can take to gain Reddit’s attention: organic and paid. Reddit, however, isn’t like social networks because brands and/or people aren’t the stars – the communities are. This power-shift presents some challenges but not impossible ones.
Unlike other social networks, the goal is not to gain followers but instead to engage within the community, sharing content that is either helpful or entertaining. Accounts are generally anonymous, and usernames, while visible on all posts and comments, aren’t the most noticeable or recognizable element on the page. People follow communities, not people, so the only way to make an impact is to truly engage.
Find the Right Subreddits
Think about your customer persona. What are their unique interests, and which communities within Reddit over-index for that persona? There are over 130K active subreddits, so there is likely to be something for every brand.
Finding the right subreddits is a bit like SEO keyword research. While it may be tempting to go after the most popular subreddits, the riches are in the niches. Say, for example, your brand makes kitchen tools. Making an impact on /r/food and their 20 million subscribers will be a difficult task. However, impacting a smaller but still active community like /r/bachelorchef and their ~10K subscribers is a lot more feasible.
Once you’ve interacted with people and built some credibility, then you can start testing some of the larger subs, as well as posting your own content. Be sure to keep a balance of comment and posts, though. Too much posting and not enough engaging, and you’ll be seen as spamming your content – wanting the clicks and traffic without wanting to be a part of the community. Once this social contract is broken, it can be very tough to repair your image. In fact, many subreddits even have strict rules against self-promotion, which can lead to temporary or even lifetime bans. Reddit holds grudges.
Engage with the Community
The biggest takeaway of this entire article is this: your engagement with the community needs to be humble and genuine. Especially within niche communities, people will see through the BS, and because Redditors have the power of the downvote, you will be punished for it.
The most downvoted comment of all time actually belongs to the video game brand, EA. After Star Wars Battlefront was released, a user took to the game-specific subreddit (/r/StarWarsBattlefront) to complain that they either needed to log an excessive amount of playing hours or pay to unlock their favorite character. EA attempted to respond and stand up for its product, but Redditors saw right through the PR response, and the comment was downvoted over 668,000 times.
Instead, see this community engagement as an opportunity to learn about your potential customers. What problems are they consistently having, and how can you help solve them? A famous example of this was imgur, the image hosting site that’s in the top 100 most visited sites in the world. Back in 2009, it was created by a Redditor as a gift for Reddit, since users were constantly complaining about glitchy tools like imageshack and photobucket. The creator was still a college student at the time, and this was just a side project for him. But imgur ultimately blew up into a bonafide startup that has raised $60 million because he understood a community and solved their problem.
Consider an AMA
A Reddit AMA (short for “Ask Me Anything”) is a thread of questions host by a person who declares, “I am _______, ask me anything.” From there, Reddit users respond with the type of questions that you’d never see on your standard PR tour. While politicians like Barack Obama or celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay will often make appearances to help promote their campaign or project, a popular AMA can just as likely come from someone with an interesting story to tell, such as this guy who walked every single block in NYC.
As with all things Reddit, humble and honest answers are required. While some questions will be related to the newest project or topic, many will not be, so participants need to be prepared and not expect this experience to be strict promotion. Woody Harrelson once infamously got annoyed with any questions not related to his new movie released, and felt the backlash from the community as a result. While timing AMAs with a release can undoubtedly help, see it as an opportunity to engage with a community rather than a sales pitch.
An example of this done right is Ivan Kutskir, creator of Photopea, a free version of Photoshop. With Reddit being a very tech-friendly community, he answers many questions about coding and development, but also about his business plans and what’s changed in his life as the tool has gotten more popular. He’s made multiple appearances in AMAs and reports that his downloads and income doubles each time. However, he gets the benefit of the doubt from the Reddit community because he’s an active member throughout the year, not just during his AMAs.
Don’t have a physical product to sell? AMAs can still work for people who thrive on knowledge and expertise. Famous food writer and restauranteur J Kenji Lopez-Alt hosts the occasional AMA just to answer people’s questions about food and cooking. He’s not selling anything – only offering advice and entertainment. By doing this, he becomes more popular and credible within the community, so when he wants to promote something (such as a new book or restaurant opening), he’s not seen as spamming because he’s a consistent contributor to the community. He’s even started his own subreddit (/r/seriouseats) where users discuss and post pictures of the recipes from his site, which has over 272K subscribers!
If you’re just getting started on Reddit, an AMA without any sales pitch can be a great way to introduce yourself to the community and begin building credibility quickly.
Paid Advertising on Reddit
Organic engagement requires a long term strategy and a consistent time commitment. However, sometimes brands need a short-term boost of brand awareness or want to maintain a presence but lack the bandwidth to participate on a regular basis. Reddit’s ad products, while a bit nascent, can be a possible solution.
Promoted Posts – Reddit’s primary ad offering are native posts (content or video) that look and feel like standard posts, including upvotes, downvotes, and comment threads. The only real difference is that ads maintain a presence for the duration of your campaign, unlike posts that fade from the page after 24 hours. That said, Redditors are accustomed to seeing fresh content, so consider varying your ads or rotating them somewhat more frequently.
Because commenting is so natural on Reddit, advertisers have the benefit of getting some real-time feedback on their ads or brand, plus they can quickly answer any questions in the discussion that follows. Video ads have the added benefit of being embedded into the page to be viewed without clicking to a new page, as well as the option of a custom CTA.
These units are available on auction through Reddit Ads Dashboard, and can be priced on a CPM, CPC, or CPV (for video ads).
Takeovers – For when brands want to make a short term splash, takeovers can be an excellent opportunity for widespread or niche brand awareness.
Category Takeovers offer the opportunity to own some of the top communities of your choosing for 24 hours. For widespread, takeover options include Front Page (Home and Popular), Trending (Popular and Search), or both in a full Reddit takeover.
Because these ads are little more than standard display plus a native post, a brand will typically only see success in one of two ways. The first is if the brand is already well-liked by the Reddit community. In that case, the ads are more seen as reminders, such as for an upcoming movie or video game release. The second way is for the ads to somehow acknowledge the Reddit community. Reddit is a place with many in-jokes and memes, so leaning into this can help a brand break through the clutter and make the community feel seen. Budweiser made good use of this tactic, adapting their “Real Men of Genius” ads to acknowledge and joke about people within Reddit.
Without the extensive data collection of Facebook or other social media, targeting on Reddit can be a bit tricky, particularly when you consider the fact that most accounts are completely anonymous. However, the niche interests of Reddit do create some exciting and potentially valuable audience segments.
Community Targeting – Using community targeting means you’ll pick the specific subreddits who most closely align with your target audience. This strategy looks at a user’s engagements (subscription, visits, comments, and upvotes) with a community, as well as views of community content via an aggregated feed (or listing pages). Once a user enters your targeting pool, ads can be served to them throughout Reddit – not necessarily on the specific subreddits.
Interest Targeting – Similar to community targeting, this strategy groups users based on the topics they interact with on Reddit. Reddit has broken down interest targeting into 15 different groups. While these tend to be broader than specific community targeting, Reddit does allow certain exclusions to help you hone in more granularly. For example, Gaming is a popular topic across Reddit and is one of the potential interests you can select. However, Reddit gives you the option of specifying PC Gaming vs. Video Games to ensure you’re only targeting your most likely potential customers.
Custom Audiences – These audiences are the most granular within Reddit, allowing you to target specific people based on email addresses or mobile app ID (MAID, IDFA for iOS, and GAID for Android). Emails can be a bit tricky, as Reddit users aren’t required to provide an email address to create an account. Marketers either need to have an extensive email list, or at the very least, know in advance that their match rate might be a bit low. Once you have your list uploaded, you can provide additional layering or exclusions to hone in even further, such as Community, Interest, Keyword Exclusion, Device, or Location.
Reddit Marketing Takeaway
Overall, Reddit remains an underutilized resource for marketers, mainly because rather than the plug-and-play tactics of sites like Google or Facebook, Reddit requires genuine engagement and long term vision. However, the payoff can be worth it to smart brands and marketers who are willing to put in the time.
While their ad products still may need some further refinement, Reddit’s collection of highly engaged communities contain countless valuable insights and people looking for solutions. Be the brand that steps up and helps solve problems, and you won’t just have extra traffic to your site; you’ll have an entire community behind you.
If you’re looking for a growth partner with extensive Reddit experience we’d love to talk strategy to help your brand grow and achieve your goals!