How Companies Can Ethically Engage on Reddit
But just like other niche online communities, these subreddits can be very beneficial to businesses – if they participate in the right way. If you’re sloppy or fail to account for the community norms, you could do substantial damage to your reputation. This episode features David DiGiovanni. He helps companies and individuals tap into the power of Reddit in an ethical way. Plus:
- How to host a successful Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything)
- Should companies launch and manage their own subreddits?
- What tactics does the Reddit community frown upon?
“People see Reddit as this one homogeneous thing. They have this certain idea of who the average redditor is and obviously that’s true to some degree but when you look at it closely, and you actually know how Reddit works, each community is different. There’s communities that are almost 100% female when the platform as a whole is 50%-60% male. Each subreddit has its own demographics, and then it has its own rules based on the nature of the content being discussed. You have to take the time to understand what are the rules of this community and how is this community unique. That will give you a big clue as to what the voice of the community is and how you can really be a part of that and not be seen as an outsider.” -@DavidDiGiovanni
“[The worst thing you can do during an AMA is not] answer a question that the community clearly wants an answer to. It’s perceived as a lack of transparency. … And when Reddit sees that, the community will jump on that, and they’ll start asking that same question in as many varieties as they can.” -@DavidDiGiovanni
“You can do an AMA anywhere on Reddit … you don’t have to do it in the big AMA subreddit. If you’re in a niche the average redditor doesn’t care about, then go find that subreddit that is related to your niche and do the AMA there. Talk to the moderators there, because they don’t have AMAs coming through every day, so you want to kind of plan it out ahead of time with them and say, ‘Hey, this is my background, this is what I do. I want to answer questions here. Do you think this would work?’ And they’ll usually give you the thumbs up and let you do it.” -@DavidDiGiovanni
“[On Reddit,] there is value in the namespace. If you start a subreddit with the namespace ‘news,’ people expect that to be a subreddit dedicated to news. And if you take that subreddit off the rails, you’ve just ruined that namespace for the entire overall Reddit community. So there is this expectation that the community is bigger than the moderator, because there’s value in the namespace, and it needs to be protected and kind of stay on topic and not be dictated away by somebody with their own special interest.” -@DavidDiGiovanni
“As we see the decentralization of things like politics and business, online communities seem to be that perfect solution to give a little more power back to regular people.” -@DavidDiGiovanni
About David DiGiovanni
David started his professional career as a web developer in 2009, building websites as a freelancer for marketing agencies and small businesses. Since then, he started GroupSRC, a consulting firm, with his twin brother Paul, that focuses on community engagement (helping brands engage online communities). They have mostly focused on Reddit, where they help businesses conduct ethical marketing campaigns that put a premium on the value of the communities they engage.
In addition to working directly with clients on Reddit, David and Paul also publish a blog at MarketersGuideToReddit.com, which is dedicated to helping businesses use Reddit for marketing purposes.
In order of reference:
- Community Signal on Google Play
- Please consider reviewing Community Signal on iTunes
- FTC Endorsement Guides
- I Am A subreddit
- AMAs Aren’t Just for Reddit by Patrick
- President Barack Obama’s AMA
- Jennifer Briney
- Congressional Dish
- Jennifer Briney’s AMA
- How Jen Briney Got Her AMA to the Frontpage of Reddit
- Paul DiGiovanni
- The Marketer’s Guide to Reddit AMAs by Paul and David DiGiovanni
- Tangentially Speaking
- Christopher Ryan
- Tangentially Speaking subreddit
- Sam Harris
- Sam Harris subreddit
- The Attack Pile subreddit
- Kevin Pereira
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #communitysignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:20 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome to Community Signal. This is episode number 31 and we’ve been going at it for a good seven months now, and I feel like we’re really getting into that groove. Thank you to everyone who supported this show and has helped spread the word thus far. Community Signal is now available on Google Play Music, open your Google Play Music app and search Community Signal. You can also find this show on iTunes and Stitcher, subscribe via email at communitysignal.com/email and add the RSS feed to your podcast app of choice at communitysignal.com/feed. Are there any other platforms that you’d like this show to be on? If so, please let me know on Twitter @communitysignal or through the contact page on communitysignal.com.
00:57 Patrick O’Keefe: Our guest on today’s show is David DiGiovanni. David started his professional career as a web developer in 2009, building websites as a freelancer for marketing agencies and small businesses. Since then, he started GroupSRC, a consulting firm, with his twin brother, Paul, that focuses on community engagement or helping brands engage online communities. They have mostly focused on Reddit, where they help businesses conduct ethical marketing campaigns that put a premium on the value of the communities they engage. In addition to working directly with clients on Reddit, David and Paul also publish a blog at MarketersGuideToReddit.com, which is dedicated to helping businesses use Reddit for marketing purposes. David, welcome!
01:32 David DiGiovanni: Hey, Patrick, thanks for having me.
01:34 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure to have you, you were the first person to review Community Signal on iTunes, so thank you for that.
01:39 David DiGiovanni: Oh yeah, put that right on my to-do list when I saw the podcast coming out.
01:43 Patrick O’Keefe: [chuckle] Thanks, David. So we’re gonna talk about Reddit, and I’ll be honest, and listeners know this, a lot of the time that I’ve mentioned Reddit on the show, it has been negative, because I have been pretty critical of Reddit leadership and their approach to numerous issues. I don’t really believe that from a top management perspective, Reddit is a really great example of community management and I cautioned people from holding up their founders as examples as such. But my criticism isn’t of the people who use Reddit or moderate subreddits. Even if Reddit is not an example of great community management from a corporate perspective, in my opinion, obviously, Reddit is an example of online community. And within Reddit, there are plenty of subreddits or sections of Reddit where, thanks to volunteer moderators and dedicated members, a great community is happening, and where great community happens, obviously, there can be an opportunity for companies to create a presence.
02:34 Patrick O’Keefe: And that’s really the focus of our conversation today and also the focus of David’s work, which I’m a fan of. And the bio I just read says that, you help companies conduct ethical marketing campaigns on Reddit, what does that look like? What are the options for an ethical marketing campaign on Reddit?
02:49 David DiGiovanni: Yeah, so I’ll tell you right off what it doesn’t look like and what a lot of companies are trying to do on Reddit, which is primarily either, (a.) buy upvotes or buy some type of service that helps them game the Reddit system. So Reddit, if anybody hasn’t visited the platform or understand how it works, every subreddit or kind of… That’s kind of what a community is on Reddit, people submit posts there, those posts are voted up and down. If you get a lot of upvotes, your post gets seen by more people. So, it’s a very basic democratization of an online community. And a lot of companies, what they do is, they buy upvotes or they buy a service that helps them game that system and gets their post to what some people call the front page of Reddit, which is an abstract concept but it basically means that, if they post to a given subreddit and a user is subscribed to that subreddit, they’ll see that post when they log onto Reddit.com, right there in front of them without even having to go to that community. That’s the worst black hat thing that people are doing on Reddit right now.
03:53 Patrick O’Keefe: Where there are numbers, people will sell them, right? Or they’ll try to sell them.
03:55 David DiGiovanni: Yeah.
03:56 Patrick O’Keefe: I guess, whether it be followers or likes or upvotes on Reddit. It’s one of those things where no reputable organization wants to get caught. [chuckle]
04:04 David DiGiovanni: Exactly.
04:05 Patrick O’Keefe: ‘Cause even if there’s this opportunity for gain, you can covertly spam anything. You can covertly spam forums, you can covertly spam Twitter, or Facebook, or Reddit, or any platform. And maybe, yes, some people get away with it, but no one who’s legitimate wants to run the risk of being the person or one of those companies that gets identified because when it happens, it’s very ugly, and of course, the internet is forever.
04:29 David DiGiovanni: It’s hard to dissuade companies who do this. We have a lot of companies that approach us, they say, “Hey, we have this content, we want you to post it under your account.” This is the next level of… There is the black hat, like blatantly breaking the rules. And then there’s this gray area where some marketers will just post on behalf of companies, under accounts that they’ve established and have a history that redditors trust, and they’ll post that content and they’ll get it out to the front page that way. So, it’s just hard to dissuade because the instances where people get caught do happen, but it’s very rare. So I think, the message is that, we stick with is, this stuff is against the rules [chuckle] and it’s clearly not ethical according to Reddit. If you’re willing to do this, what else are you going to do? I think that’s the message that I try to say to clients is, “What principles is your business built on?” If they’re built on honesty, and accessibility, transparency, this is not a marketing type that you wanna be a part of.
05:28 Patrick O’Keefe: Right. Yeah, I think that makes sense. And in the case of someone posting from their own account, obviously, you have to disclose that legally. And that’s not to say everyone does, but it’s pretty clear that if you’re getting paid to post something, the FTC guidelines, the blogger guidelines, the review guidelines, they would apply to someone posting on Reddit. So, if you post something and you don’t disclose the relationship, certainly it’s possible. I’m not saying it’s likely but it’s certainly possible to open yourself up to that sort of legal issue, especially if you get caught or it’s like, “Why is this person, every so often, posting something that’s unrelated to what they actually usually post about,” or whatever it may be.
06:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Even if you seek out, people are sneaky. They’ll seek out the expert in this subreddit, the person who have the authority within the specific topic and their link meets with that topic and they’ll just send them some money to post it. I’m sure that happens probably more than you know [chuckle], since I’m not in the Reddit community. I’m sure it happens all the time to those redditors out there, who are making some bank off of the reputation they’ve built on Reddit. Let’s bring it around. Ethical marketing campaigns on Reddit, what is that? You can buy ads, obviously, but what’s the ethical way to market on Reddit, in your opinion? What are the options?
06:31 David DiGiovanni: Advertising, you mentioned that, so Reddit does have a native advertising platform, a self-service platform. We have not seen the results with it that we’d like to see with any clients, so we’ve tried things and just haven’t had a great success, so that’s something we really don’t push for anymore with clients. Not to say that it can’t be successful and that companies aren’t doing it right, probably we wanna look at somebody that has a really big budget to do an advertising campaign on Reddit. So outside of advertising, there is the low-hanging fruit. So, if you’re a business or your brand has a lot of notoriety then you can do something that’s called an AMA, which stands for Ask Me Anything. There’s a community on Reddit called IAmA, it has millions of subscribers, and everyday you will find experts, celebrities of all kinds, businesses, owners of businesses, CEOs, just famous people going on there and basically saying like, “Hey, I am this person, ask me any questions. Oh, and I’m promoting this certain project right now.”
07:29 David DiGiovanni: So that’s, the quid pro quo there is that, you get to promote your thing but you have to answer questions that Reddit asks. You really have to answer any type of questions they ask, so it can’t just be about your project or about your business. It could be about what’s your favorite color or what’s your favorite movie, and that’s the deal that Reddit has set up for businesses and brands to market on the platform. That’s the one that’s been around for the longest, everybody on the internet mostly knows about AMAs, they’ve heard about it, Barack Obama did an AMA.
08:00 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s Reddit’s claim to fame, you could say?
08:01 David DiGiovanni: Yeah, exactly. When Barack Obama does AMA, I mean the traffic that day was a huge spike for Reddit that day. So, that’s the real, the basic one that a lot of people know about. And then to stick with companies that kinda fit into this bubble where people know about them and they use their products and things like that, you can do a lot of things on Reddit where you can just go into a community and say, “Hey, we’re the maker of this product. What do you think about it?” And you can get tons of great feedback from a community while generating some awareness about your product and your brand. So there is definitely a bunch of things that certain companies can do but most companies can’t because they’re a start up, they’re new, they’re just trying to make their way.
08:40 David DiGiovanni: So a lot of the companies we work with are these newer companies that are trying to figure out a way to get their name out there to do things on Reddit. And what we recommend always starting with is doing some basic research on the platform; so is there anybody talking about your brand on Reddit and if so, that’s great because you’re basically doing market research and you’re finding instances of customers or potential customers talking about what you do. And we think it’s really important to listen to those conversations and see what people have said because there might be something in there that you can bring back to your business to help you make a decision. So that’s kinda like the basic market research step and once you’ve done that, then you can look at monitoring ongoing conversations about your business. So now that you know people are talking about them, maybe it’s not directly about your business but it’s about something related.
09:30 David DiGiovanni: So if you produce fishing reels, you wanna be listening to all the conversations about fishing and fishing reels out there in the internet. They might not be talking about your fishing reel but they’re talking about why they like or dislike another product or what they wish a product would have, a feature maybe. So it’s about monitoring those conversations on a regular basis and then jumping in and providing value through comments when appropriate. So it’s not about saying, “Hey, I am the owner of this fishing reel company, check us out, I think you’ll like it.”
10:00 Patrick O’Keefe: There is that relevance. [chuckle]
10:01 David DiGiovanni: Yeah, It’s about having some honest participation in the community and becoming a real community member. And that’s one thing we stress with all our clients is you have to take the time to become that true community member because you can’t fake it. You can fake it and people do but it usually catches up with them at some point. If you’re in this for the long term and you wanna have a sustainable strategy that you can execute on a regular basis. It starts with becoming a real member of the community, talking like them and learning about them and then from that point, once you’ve established that and you’re really a part of the community, then so just looking at the community, looking at the needs of the community, what are they missing, what are they asking for and how can you provide that under your name. So it’s not about saying, “Oh, so I’ve been in here for a while, why don’t you guys buy my product.” It’s about saying, “Oh, I’ve been in here for awhile, I hear everybody complaining about this, I created this awesome piece of content that solves this problem for you guys, here it is.” My username is obviously the name of my company. And it’s about generating awareness that way.
11:03 Patrick O’Keefe: So let’s walk through some of these. You touched on outreach to Reddit and really subreddits are just like individual forums, just like individual communities. Every online community is its own country, different norms, different laws, different ideas of what’s acceptable. Subreddit to subreddit, totally different. That’s why before you post anything regarding your work or company you are affiliated with, just like with a forum [chuckle], you better be sure it meets with the guidelines and fits with the norms and if ever in doubt, ask a moderator or member of staff and then respect their answer. When it comes to doing Reddit outreach, a subreddit should pretty much be viewed similarly to just any old individual online community, shouldn’t they?
11:38 David DiGiovanni: Yeah. I agree and another thing we stress with our clients is that, not just with our clients but all of our writing and things that we do about Reddit. People see Reddit as this one homogeneous thing, they have this certain idea of what the average redditor is and obviously that’s true to some degree but when you look at it closely and you actually know how Reddit works, each community is different. There’s communities that are almost 100% female when the platform as a whole is 50%-60% male. So you have to… And the age groups obviously differ. And each subreddit just has its own demographics, and then it has its own rules based on the nature of the content being discussed. So you have to take the time to understand what are the rules of this community and how is this community unique, and that will give you a big clue as to what the voice of the community is and how you can really be a part of that and not be seen as an outsider.
12:33 Patrick O’Keefe: You talked about AMAs, Ask Me Anythings. Celebrities, politicians, like you mentioned, Barack Obama, personalities, experts and otherwise interesting people post on Reddit and they open themselves up to Q&A with the community. And the context for Community Signal is that AMAs represent an opportunity to grow your own community by exposing yourself to Reddit’s community. And I also think there are some things to learn here about adapting the AMA concept into your own community because Reddit certainly didn’t invent the idea of live Q&A and it’s an idea that would have worked well on many communities. And one of the things that you and your brother do, again, is help people to host a successful AMA because while there are some great AMA success stories out there, some really well-read AMAs for, I guess, the right reasons, when an AMA backfires it also gets a lot of attention and for the wrong reasons. What can go wrong with an AMA? What have you seen go wrong?
13:27 David DiGiovanni: The main thing is that… It’s typically a company, and sometimes a celebrity too, I guess. They just don’t wanna answer a question that the community clearly wants an answer to. It’s perceived as a lack of transparency and saying, “Hey, we’re asking you about this specific problem and you’re either giving us an answer that doesn’t really mean anything or you’re just ignoring it.” And when Reddit sees that, the community will jump on that and they’ll start asking that same question in as many varieties as they can. And before you know it, you have this AMA that maybe it has a lot of upvotes because of your name and now it’s being seen by the whole community, and when they go there they’d see the top 10 questions are questions that you’re not really answering. And it just looks bad. It looks like you have something to hide. It looks like you’re doing something wrong, and it’s a fertile ground for bad publicity. So yeah, that’s the number one thing we see.
14:20 David DiGiovanni: Outside of that, I think people bringing the wrong tone to their AMA. So maybe they’re being adversarial with redditors or they’re even just providing bad information. That’s another thing that happens a lot. So you’ll see an expert in a field that redditors are skeptical of, and they’ll bring information in their AMA that they don’t have real evidence to back it up. And Reddit is very good at jumping all over that as well.
14:48 Patrick O’Keefe: So ignoring the elephant in the room is a bad idea.
14:50 David DiGiovanni: Exactly.
14:52 Patrick O’Keefe: ‘Cause the elephant just gets bigger. And it seems clear that some people just shouldn’t have an AMA not because they don’t speak the right way or because they don’t get Reddit but because they have such a big elephant issue in their past that, unless they wanna be asked about it and they’re prepared to answer it, that they should just stay away from the AMAs.
15:10 David DiGiovanni: Exactly. And that’s a key part of every process that we go through with our clients, is we go through any possible controversies in their past. So we say, “Hey, these people might ask you anything about your business and about you as a person. Is there anything out there? We’ve already done a Google search.”
15:27 Patrick O’Keefe: I got the skeletons. Where are the skeletons at?
15:29 David DiGiovanni: Yeah. It’s either, “Hey, we’ve done a Google search and we’ve found these things and we wanna talk to you about them and hear your responses to them,” or “Is there anything out there that’s not easily found on Google that somebody might know about and might bring to your AMA? You need to be ready.” We prepare them to answer those questions. And if it’s something that they can’t talk about or that they refuse to say anything about, then it’s like, “Alright, maybe an AMA isn’t right for you.” We will discourage them from doing it.
15:56 Patrick O’Keefe: You consulted with Jen Briney, host of the Congressional Dish podcast. She did an AMA that was really successful and it was featured on the homepage of the main IAmA subreddit, the main area for Ask Me Anythings, and it led to 800 new Twitter followers, almost $1,000 in donations, 12 new paying subscribers and tens of thousands of podcast downloads. So that was a very successful AMA. You were a part of it. You helped make it happen. What’s the recipe for a successful AMA?
16:25 David DiGiovanni: The big thing with Jen is that she had a great headline. I don’t know exactly what it was but it was something like, “I’m the host of this Congressional Dish podcast. I’ve read over 200 bills that have went through Congress in the past year. Ask me anything.” So right from the start, she’s saying, “I’ve done something that almost nobody else has done and I’ve obviously gained a bunch of knowledge from it. Now you can pick my brain about what I’ve done.”
16:50 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. Her title was, “In the past two years, I’ve read 245 US Congressional bills and reported on a staggering amount of corporate political influence. AMA.”
16:58 David DiGiovanni: Yeah. So it’s the title that we helped her with and we’re very proud of that title because I think it was absolutely critical for the success of her AMA.
17:06 Patrick O’Keefe: Right, because she’s not a celebrity, right, in a conventional sense. She doesn’t have that audience, so for people who don’t have that level of audience, you’re not Justin Bieber or Puff Daddy, you really have to sell whatever your uniqueness is. And it sounds like the headline is the most important area to do that.
17:23 David DiGiovanni: A lot of people and brands are really fixed on the uniqueness of their vision instead of the uniqueness of what they’ve done. So what Jen has done at that point was read 245 Congressional bills. Another title we could have used with Jen would be, “I’m Jen Briney. I wanna end political corruption in Congress. AMA.” And that would have not done well at all because Reddit doesn’t care about what you wanna do. They might care about what you wanna do if you’re a notable person that they know has done important things in the past. But if you’re a no-name person, they really don’t care about your vision. They wanna know what have you done that’s cool and then we can ask you questions about. That’s a key mistake that we see a lot of people making it, just on a regular basis, people that are just doing their own AMAs without any help and it’s another mistake that we’ve made with clients in the past, and just one that clients often… They wanna go in that direction because they’re really excited about this new thing that they’re doing or they’re trying to do. They’re just forgetting that they need to prove to the community that they have some type of value that they’re bringing there.
18:30 Patrick O’Keefe: So you have that headline which obviously is a big deal. It’s like the title of an article. It seems like even more important though on Reddit, there’s just so much noise and so much competing that you have to lock people in right away and once you have them, what comes next? What are the other steps to be hosting a successful AMA?
18:46 David DiGiovanni: Yeah, so along with that headline you have a body of the AMA, so that’s more copy that you need to write. Not as important as the headline because a lot of redditors might not even read it or might not read the whole thing but you need to tell a little bit more about yourself, expound on what you’ve done, this is where you can include a link to your website or some other project that you’re working on, and you can talk a little bit more about your vision as well. So you can get into the things that you’re interested in and what you’re trying to do. But that’s important just really to give redditors a background for asking questions. So, give them a little bit… Yeah, obviously, they can ask you anything about anything but you kinda steer them in the right direction by giving them more information about who you are. That’s key just to kinda focus the conversation on your expertise. Obviously, like I said, you’re not saying, “Let’s only talk about this,” but you’re saying, “Here’s what I know and here’s what I’m bringing to the table.” So that’s another good way to start the AMA, and then really the key after that is just putting the effort into answering the questions.
19:43 David DiGiovanni: So if the headline works and you’re getting a lot of upvotes and you’re getting a lot of questions, now it’s time to do the work and just honestly respond to what people are asking. And that can take hours out of your day. Jen was really smart, she dedicated that whole day to her AMA. Once it kind of blew up she said, “Alright, I plan on doing this for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the afternoon, and an hour at night. I’m gonna be answering questions all day today,” and she spent 10 hours answering questions. So that was huge for her AMA as well. Just showing that dedication, people see that, they see you’re answering every question, they wanna ask more questions that adds more comments. When somebody gets their question answered, if they haven’t already upvoted the AMA they’re gonna upvote it now and it just puts more material from you out into Reddit and remember that Reddit is a website that gets searched by Google, so when you search Jen Briney’s name, her AMA is one of the top results. That’s gonna be there forever assuming Reddit sticks around. So, you wanna recognize that this is something that’s gonna be around for a long time. “I’m gonna put the effort in today because I know it’s a good investment of my time.”
20:48 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s not unlike forum posts, we talk about forum posts that you can search for a question on Google and you’ll find something from 20 years ago sometimes because it’s still the best answer because that’s where the most passionate people hang out. The same is true for Reddit, and those subreddits are where the most passionate people about those particular topics hang out. And with this particular example, so you’ve got someone who has an audience, right? She’s built this podcast, she has some listeners, wants to do an AMA. When you submit that, is it something you’re organizing where you were saying, “You should promote this to your audience. You should tell them you’re gonna do it and help get those people onto Reddit to ask some questions to get things going.” Because, the fact is you’re not a celebrity and saying your name means nothing, so there’s a chance that we press the button and no one responds. So you really need to get it started to track Reddit. Is that a thing? Is there a process for seeding it ethically? How do you approach that?
21:37 David DiGiovanni: There is, I’m not a big fan of it personally. Especially the smaller your audience is, the less bang for your buck you’re going to get when you try to do that.
21:46 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
21:46 David DiGiovanni: I’m not against alerting your audience and saying, “Hey, I’m doing an AMA in an hour on Reddit.” Or, “Hey, I just posted my AMA. Here’s the link to it. Please ask a question.” You never wanna ask for upvotes, that’s against the rules of Reddit and redditors will often find people asking for upvotes on Twitter or Facebook and they report that and the AMA gets removed. So you don’t wanna do that for sure. I’m just not a fan of promoting it far in advance because you don’t have a link you can share and there’s nowhere for them to go. If you wanna be fancy with it, you could setup some type of add it to your calendar kind of thing and you’ll be notified when the AMA starts. You could even setup a link on your website that redirects to the AMA once it begins. If you wanna get really crazy with it and you might want to if you have a big audience because that will make a difference. But for most people I think it’s really just pushing it out there once you start and saying, “Hey, I’m here. I’m answering questions today. Come by and ask a question and I’ll answer it.”
22:46 Patrick O’Keefe: So it’s really, in this case, on the strength of the headline.
22:48 David DiGiovanni: It really is.
22:49 Patrick O’Keefe: And the strength, the body of the headline is engaging enough where it has the right mix of things Reddit is interested in; Political corruption, political influence. The way that bills are so long you can’t read ’em. So there’s enough intrigue there to draw people in and say, “We wanna participate,” and so from there it just kind of takes off.
23:08 David DiGiovanni: I’ll add a caveat to my previous statement was that, if you have a Reddit savvy audience, then that also makes all those efforts a little more valuable. So if you know a lot of people in your audience use Reddit, then it might be smart to give them a little more heads up and get them in there. You don’t even have to ask them to upvote it. They’re going to upvote it because they understand how Reddit works and they like you presumably but at the end of the day, you are trying to reach a new audience and you’re focusing on the ways you can do that, which is the headline, which is based on your story. Which means have a good story but yeah, posting at the right time. There is a schedule on Reddit in the main AMA subreddits. So you can do an AMA anywhere on Reddit which is something that I do tell people all the time because you don’t have to do it in the big AMA subreddit. If you’re in a niche, the average redditor doesn’t care about, then go find that subreddit that is related to your niche and do the AMA there. Talk to the moderators there though because they don’t have AMAs coming through every day, so you wanna kind of plan it out ahead of time with them and say, “Hey, this is my background, this is what I do. I wanna answer questions here. Do you think this would work?” And they’ll usually give you the thumbs up and let you do it.
24:11 Patrick O’Keefe: I’m glad you mentioned the tip about posting an AMA in a subreddit that’s not the main one in a particular niche because that’s one of the things I found interesting in the great free guide that you and your brother Paul wrote, The Marketer’s Guide To Reddit AMAs, which we’ll link to in the show notes. It’s just the thought that everyone wants to rush to the main IAmA subreddit, but the chances are that you might not be a great candidate for that. You’re not maybe notable enough even with your great experience, but within a subreddit that focuses on your area of expertise you might be a wonderful candidate. You might be someone that they wanna speak to because they are really passionate about that area, that particular experience, that particular area of knowledge that maybe the general mainstream audience just wouldn’t care about.
24:56 David DiGiovanni: Yeah, exactly. If you’re a 30-year network administrator, that’s awesome experience. But me as somebody that doesn’t understand anything about network administration, I don’t care about that. But then of course there’s a subreddit dedicated to network administration on Reddit, and you can go there and say, “Hey, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. Ask me anything about the job, my experiences AMA.” And that could be a very successful AMA for you as opposed to doing it in main subreddit where… I wouldn’t be that surprised if redditors were interested in talking to a network administrator. Maybe that’s a bad example, but you get the point. It might be smarter to go to that smaller community that’s more targeted.
25:33 Patrick O’Keefe: With the example that we gave earlier of an AMA that you helped produce, the host of a podcast received X number of new Twitter followers, $1,000 in donations and 12 new paid subscribers, etcetera, etcetera. When you talk to an individual or a brand about an AMA, how do you approach the ROI conversation? How do you recommend that they measure it?
25:51 David DiGiovanni: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s a hard conversation with Reddit AMAs because… Well, it depends on the client, but they can be somewhat of a boom or bust kind of proposition. How do you price a service like that where it’s like well, for Jen Briney, she would have paid us a lot more. We did her for free, but she would’ve paid us a lot of money to help her do that AMA knowing the results that she got out of it. So the ROI would have been huge even if we charged a hefty fee. But if it hadn’t gone well, then she wouldn’t wanna pay much at all to have somebody help her do that. So we thought about this a lot and ethically we think that we need to have clients that are more committed to Reddit than just doing an AMA because we can make an AMA part of their overall strategy, which kind of mitigates the risk of the AMA and the variance in the ROI that you’re going to get from it. Does that make sense?
26:43 Patrick O’Keefe: It does. And I assume that one of the things that people would do, I host a podcast obviously as we’re talking on it right now, but if I was doing this, I know in general how many new followers I receive each day, how much of this I have, how many downloads a day I get of my podcast so I have those moving averages, and then I can see that during the time of the AMA and within let’s say the next 12 hours after, those numbers went this far above average. And so that’s my ROI, understanding that long term if the AMA was successful, it will continue to generate that sort of traffic and interest. Not at the same level, but declining over time. And so that is sort of my ROI, and I guess the fact that you can include a direct link to your thing in the body of the post on your AMA, that’s direct referral traffic you can usually track as well through your analytics program. So I guess those are kind of the couple main approaches that I see as that sort of the way that you see a lot of people measuring this when they do try to post an AMA.
27:48 David DiGiovanni: Yes. There’s the obvious ones like traffic and downloads. If you’re a client that sells a service, you’re looking for specific people contacting you. How many leads did you generate from the AMA, people can contact you through private messaging on the Reddit platform, or they might contact you through your website and say, “Hey, I heard about you through the AMA.” And it gets really interesting when you do have an AMA that does really well because then you get some of the other benefits, like a well-known podcaster contacts you to do an interview because they saw your AMA. Or you can even get crazier things like a redditor contacts you with a really great idea and you end up partnering with them and forming some new product or new business. You’re getting in touch with a lot of people when you do an AMA that does well, so the results can kind of come in a lot of different ways in addition to the standard traffic numbers.
28:39 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, much like community. You have those metrics that you can track and then you have sort of the other benefits that you have to keep track of on an individual basis, like, “This person just gave us 10 grand. They said they came from the forums.” Well, we should write that down somewhere. [laughter] It’s not that it’s in the Google analytics or it’s in our dashboard, but they said it and it’s real. So that makes a lot of sense. Talking about expanding a brand’s presence on Reddit. I’ve seen brands create and even moderate their own subreddits, and I’ve heard people express the opinion that that sort of thing is frowned upon. I was curious to hear your kind of perspective on that. How should a brand view a subreddit that’s dedicate to their products? Should it be an outpost like a Twitter profile or a Facebook page? Or should it be seen as an unofficial fan, user or customer community? Or a bit of both?
29:24 David DiGiovanni: Well, it depends on how it got started. So a lot of brand-dedicated subreddits get started by fans and customers of the product. If there’s enough people that are using that product on Reddit and basically they’re searching for a subreddit dedicated to that product because they wanna talk about it. So you’ll see that with brands like I think Verizon has their own subreddit. And there’s a lot of people complaining about Verizon in there, so as a brand, I don’t know exactly what Verizon’s doing there, but in that situation, I would consult with a brand and say, “Hey, you need to first of all be reading what people are saying here, that’s kind of your minimum action that you need to take. Because they’re saying things that are important, that matter to your business.” And then if you want to go further than that, then you can start participating and start trying to help users solve their problems, which is a little more risky, but there could be some value there in just defining your brand as somebody that wants to help their customers.
30:22 David DiGiovanni: I haven’t seen a lot of the bigger brands that actively manage their own communities, like creating, and they’re actually active moderators on the community. The one example that’s coming to my mind is GoPro has a community on Reddit, which is mostly for just enthusiasts that are sharing what they’re creating with their GoPros. They had a, I don’t know if it was a chief of marketing or what, on there as a moderator in the community, but he was playing the role that he should play. So he wasn’t removing things that were negative about GoPro, he was just being a helper and keeping the community clean, cleaning up the garbage that comes in there, and then just being a good community member.
31:03 David DiGiovanni: That’s what I would recommend. In terms of that, I’ve seen smaller brands, like podcasts, create subreddits, which I think is just a great thing to do. If you have that critical mass of audience that wants to talk about your podcast, give them a space, give them a community space to do that and you just don’t know what can come out of that. So I’ve seen, the one specifically that I had a part in kind of starting was for the podcast called Tangentially Speaking, which is hosted by Chris Ryan, he’s a PhD and author, and he just started promoting it on his podcast and on his website, and the community just kept growing and growing, and it went from having 50 people to now over 1,500 or 1,600 people in it.
31:45 David DiGiovanni: And what’s cool with that is that he participates in the community. If somebody says something negative about the podcast, like, “Oh I didn’t like what you did here,” he’s in there responding to that, and he’s listening to his audience which is great because now he can take that information and make his podcast better. And further, he’s used that community to post links, he has a Patreon-type thing going on where people are donating to him on a monthly basis, and the community’s posting links to that and it takes a lot to donate to a podcast, especially on a monthly basis, but when you add that community component, it’s like, “Alright, I’m listening to this podcast every week for an hour, and now I’m going there everyday and discussing it with other people that listen to it. I’ve invested more into this podcast now, and I’m much more comfortable donating to it.” So you’re adding this value to your listenership, you’re creating this community that really gets them more invested in your brand, in your podcast, and that can lead to more donations.
32:44 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, it seems like there’s a lot you could do there, like if you really wanted to invest in it, you could say, “I have this guest on a podcast, he’s gonna do an AMA.”
32:50 David DiGiovanni: Exactly.
32:50 Patrick O’Keefe: On a subreddit, and then, you never know. If it’s someone big enough, maybe the AMA hits some other section, or gets passed around.
32:57 David DiGiovanni: I’m glad you mentioned that because Sam Harris, who’s a popular author and atheist in philosophical circles, there’s a fan created subreddit for Sam Harris that’s very active, I think it has tens of thousands of users, and what he does is he likes to do these AMA episodes on his podcast where he answers fan questions. And he used to do it through email, I think, and he finally realized that Reddit is a much better way to do it, because he can just make a post to his own subreddit and say, “Hey, Sam Harris here. Ask me a question.” The community posts all their questions, questions get uploaded and he just looks at the top 10 or 20 questions, and he answers those on the podcast as opposed to, these posts get hundreds of comments, hundreds of questions asked, and you can imagine if you’re doing that through email, you’re reading, or you’re hiring somebody to read hundreds of emails and pick out the ones that you think the community wants to hear instead of giving them that democratic tool to tell you what they want to hear.
33:59 David DiGiovanni: How do you put a ROI on that? I don’t know. I guess you could look at the time saved by not having to go through emails and things like that, but that’s just a huge benefit. It increases the quality of the podcast, and it decreases the time it takes to produce a podcast.
34:13 Patrick O’Keefe: Coming back to creating your own subreddit, it does seem like the type of thing that a smaller organization would try to do. In those cases, do you think it should be the goal that you maybe starting it, but you eventually want to hand it off to members of the community? Is that sort of within the Reddit ethos, do you think, or if a brand came to you and said, “We want to run this subreddit forever,” what would you tell them?
34:31 David DiGiovanni: I like that idea, and I wouldn’t mind them being… On Reddit there’s a moderator hierarchy, so the person that creates the community is the top moderator, and they have the right to get rid of anyone else that becomes a moderator at some point. I would tell them it’s okay for you to remain top moderator, but as the community grows, you definitely want to take your hands off of those moderation duties. It just looks better to the community, and if there’s a problem in the community, it’s not you being a dictator, it’s you saying, “Hey, there’s four or five other moderators on this team, and I’m going to defer to their decision on this issue.” I’ve seen that with another community on Reddit, the subreddit’s called The Attack Pile, it’s for Kevin Pereira who’s a popular TV host on G4, back in the day if anybody remembers that. He has a Twitch show now, and he has a community for that Twitch show on Reddit. He’s still the top moderator in that community, but he doesn’t do very much moderation, it’s all about the hardcore fans that have stepped up and shown that they can handle moderation duties that are doing the day-to-day stuff.
35:36 Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve talked about how subreddits are comparable to just individual forums and communities out there. This might be one of the areas where they’re a little different, where you launch a forum, you launch a community and sort of expected that the person who’s hosting it, managing it will always have sort of this position of authority where maybe in Reddit, as a subreddit grows, it’s less normal within the community norms, less of a thing that people expect to see or wanna see. Is that accurate? Is that fair?
35:58 David DiGiovanni: That is fair, and the reason behind that is that, if I started a forum on my website, anybody else can start a forum on that same topic. And on Reddit, you can, obviously, multiple subreddits can exist about the same topic, but there is value in the namespace. So if you start a subreddit with the namespace “news,” people expect that to be a subreddit dedicated to news. And if you take that subreddit off the rails, well, now you’ve just ruined that namespace for the entire overall Reddit community. So there is this expectation that the community is bigger than the moderator, because there is this value in the namespace, and it needs to be protected and kind of stay on topic and not be dictated away by somebody with their own special interest.
36:42 Patrick O’Keefe: That makes sense. In other words, anyone can register a domain and start a website and launch a forum, but on Reddit, it’s like, reddit.com/r, or /news, /sports, /gaming, slash the name of a particular podcast, there’s an expectation that it’s a community space where, yes, it’s a subreddit, but it’s also part of Reddit, so there’s sort of a different expectation.
37:01 David DiGiovanni: Exactly. Take a sports team for example. If, somehow, a sports team got a hold of their subreddit and they just made it this horrible place where it’s just where they spam their lame blogposts everyday. The community would find another place to talk about that team, but they’d be doing a big disservice to the overall Reddit community by doing that, because they’re taking away that namespace that the average redditor is likely to look up. So that’s how a lot of subreddits grows organically, people are just looking up topics and keywords and they’re finding a subreddit that matches that keyword. When they get there, they expect that subreddit to be on topic. And if somebody takes that away and takes it off topic, then, that’s not good for the community.
37:43 Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve spoken about a few examples of podcasters using Reddit successfully, either as an AMA or a subreddit, so, who knows, maybe one day Community Signal will have a subreddit, and if I do that, I know the first man that I’d wanna to talk to.
37:55 David DiGiovanni: Yeah, that’d be awesome. There is no active community managers’ subreddit on Reddit at this point. That might have changed since I last looked, but I think there is a couple ones that use similar namespaces, but they’re just not something that is very active, and that’s really what me and my partner Paul are all about, is the power of communities, and we really think that they’re gonna become more and more part of our lives, and as we see kind of the decentralization of things like politics and business. Online communities seem to be that perfect solution to give a little more power back to regular people.
38:34 Patrick O’Keefe: David, it’s been a pleasure to have you on this show, thank you for sharing your Reddit knowledge with us and for supporting the program.
38:41 David DiGiovanni: Yeah man, thanks so much. It was a lot of fun talking to you.
38:44 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with David DiGiovanni of GroupSRC, visit their blog at MarketersGuideToreddit.com. For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com, Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. See you next week.
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