July 30, 2012

reddit is the elephant in the room of social media marketing

This is the first of two parts. Also see:
Don’t mess with Texas (or reddit)

Chris Abrahamreddit is the 800 pound Gorilla in the room and has been for years. No one talks about the powerful and direct influence that this quirky, impenetrable, and oddly still-underground this social sharing site is. While people are writing post-after-post about Pinterest, So.cl, Google+, Facebook, Instamatic, and Twitter, reddit’s eating everyone’s lunch – at least when it comes to authentic bottom-up self-organization.

One reason why I don’t ever discuss it when I am discussing social media marketing and PR is because I just can’t get my foot in the door. I have been submitting links since before it had corporate owners and the only up-votes I have ever garnered have been forced, never organic. None of my pieces have ever resulted in a fire storm. If you look at my submissions, you’ll see ones and twos – I have pretty much given up. And this is part of the reason why I believe we in marketing and PR ignore it.

While I wear my promotional hat by day, by night I am a reputation manager – defensive stuff. When it comes to anticipating, identifying, and even responding to a crisis online, reddit cannot be ignored.

In a world where big media is becoming even bigger under mergers and acquisitions – federated, even – it is harder and harder for dissenting voices to find purchase in a mediasphere that is getting better and better at controlling the hitherto uncontrollable chaos called social media, where anyone, anywhere can supposedly, like David, handily take down Goliath with just a little honesty, integrity, and the benefit of some variation of the humble blog. Not so anymore.

It truly takes an SEO ninja to handily do anything online these days; unless, of course, you’re able to plug yourself into a disruptively-powerful amplifier, reddit.

Unfortunately, the old adage, “if you can’t beat it, join it” is impossible for most agencies and businesses who do not invest the time, resources, and risk to infiltrate reddit in a big way over time; or who are afraid of the risk associated with trying to “turn” a reddit high priest or priestess in an environment where outing that offer publicly (on reddit) is better than actually signing that industrial non-disclosure agreement and getting that big retainer – or it is in the reddit economy, anyway.

This is the same thing going on on Wikipedia and on message boards as well; however, unlike message boards, reddit ends up being mentioned in my RSS and mainstream news feeds almost every day these days.

I will tell you how one could probably get a lot of moxie and mojo and even some clout-with-a-C from reddit – but only if you promise to use what I tell you for good and not for evil

OK, I will tell you how one could probably get a lot of moxie and mojo and even some clout-with-a-C from reddit – but only if you promise to use what I tell you for good and not for evil. Because reddit does not enforce real names – and in fact doesn’t reward using your real identity, actually – your authenticity and transparency needs to be on the honor system. That said, reddit’s rather paranoid and has the immune system of a retired janitor – they’re not afraid to Fisk you for what you are, based on your public history, which is readily-viewable. If you start ascending into high-Karma territory on reddit, there will be scads of people with Turing-class pattern-recognition skills who are going to put your nefarious dark-hearted plans together right before outing your true name, your associations, your agency, and al your clients before they summarily execute your reputation in a public square after putting you in stocks and tar-and-feathering you to within an inch of your life. And not just on reddit but also downstream in the Times and on CNN, ABC News, AdAge, and even PRNews. Consider yourself warned. Oh, and PS: in my work as reputation and crisis manager, I am the guy who is often sent to discover who you are and why you’re attacking my client’s client – and there are always enough clues for me to break your anonymity – and I’m not even that smart!

What I have yet to do (and really need to if I intend to ever influence at any level on reddit) is to give more than I take and listen more than I speak. What that means is what one really needs to do is vote and comment on 100 other reddit submissions before you ever submit your own. You need to hunker down and consume all of your news, your buzz, your rumors, your conspiracy, your conjecture, and your paranoia exclusively through either the reddit web site or the various reddit readers and reddit apps available for any and all of your mobile devices.

Learning to become influential on reddit is a good way to learn to be influential online and even in real life, interpersonally. There are some people who are naturally gifted story-tellers who can just walk into a room and immediately draw everyone in. Some call it charisma and fancy it a natural gift – and they’re only partially right. The other part is that I have yet to meet a naturally-gifted story-teller who doesn’t either spend a hell of a lot of time preparing and rehearsing or, or more often, telling lots and lots of stories to many different audiences in order to accrue the 10,000 hours of mastery. But yes, it generally does begin with a little bit of natural talent and positive feedback: laughing’s a much more positive feedback than and groans – believe me, I am groan-inducing in my pun-iness.

What’s more, I said listening. While I have not done any quantitative research, this is how I would have set up reddit if I wanted to make sure the biggest rewards went to those who contributed the most, I would have implemented attention economic indicators on each member. Each member would be rated, of course, on explicit things such as number of reddits, positive or negative, on other people’s submissions; number of reddits on other people’s comments; number of comments made associated with other’s submissions; comments associated with other’s comments; an also how many reddits, positive (good) or negative (bad) associated with your comments – that all seems pretty obvious and in the realm of explicit data: intentional votes.

Best practice on reddit: Listen way more than speak

Implicit data is less considered, which is why I said before that you should listen to what’s going on in reddit way more than you speak, and engaging is speaking even if it’s in the form of a comment response and not just in the form of being the OP: original poster (forum-speak). If I were reddit, I would not only judge your level of engagement, I would also rate your level of participation even of these is no intentional act associated with the action. We in the industry all acknowledge that 90%-99% of all your readers are lurkers. This means that only 1%-10% of all of your members (and guests – those readers who have either never registered or are reading while logged out or veiled in their own private privacy bubble) ever reddit up, down, comment, or submit anything!

So, what I think that reddit does – or should do – is follow Google’s model: give credit to someone for any and all unintentional interaction with the reddit site, whether or not that person is in the mood to engage or participate. So, if a member is logged in, he or she should get partial credit for just spending time on reddit in lurk or browse or stumble-mode. The hearty 1% who rigorously engage, reddit, comment, or submit should get partial karma for click throughs and page views and time on page and time on comment – anything associated with any action, no matter how incidental – that results in additional page views (and ad dollars, if that’s what floats your boat – call it profit-sharing or karma-sharing).

And, you know, reddit (and Google, et al) don’t even have to share this “credit score” with you. This implicit attention equity garnered from attention data in the attention economy can be simple internal bookkeeping – and also a way of monitoring for fraud as well. (Just based on the impatience of clients and campaigns and the cost of infiltrating, moles tend to do the least amount of work that result in the biggest reputation benefit. They also tend to participate in during working hours and via PC instead of mobile – there are so many tells! Their IP, their lack of IP, their association with an anonymizer service, their popping between different logins – all are suspicious; unfortunately, the top legitimate participants, especially those associated with the Anonymous movement, behave highly suspiciously but this is because of something much cooler than political operators and marketing infiltrator trying to reddit up or down a leaked or place story, this has to with global disruption and universal (forced) transparency, which is what the kids these days love, love love!)

So, just assume that you’re constantly being observed, under the omnipresent eyes of reddit’s panopticon and just play nice. If you’re transparent enough, you’re welcome to vote up (or down, but be careful) stuff that flatters your interests, you’re welcome to engage on the often-heated threads, sub-threads and all levels of nested conversations, and you’re even welcome to submit news, but just realize that once your behavior triggers the defensive measure that reddit employs (in the form of the “you have submitted too many links, please come back in an hour;” the natural immune-defenses of reddit activist community members, and in the form of the equity you have formed (or depleted) from both your explicit and implicit interactions with the reddit platform.)

If you can follow that advice, then hard work will take you the rest of the way–but reddit has its quirks also. Next week, I’ll give you a few more tips on the good and the bad with reddit. Stay tuned.Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

  • jdlasica

    I haven’t paid a lot of attention to reddit over the past year or so, Chris, so thanks for the reality check and the reminder of opportunities in unexpected places. 

    • http://ahllc.eu Chris Abraham

      I have been seeing my fellow influencers writing about reddit recently — but I do believe I have influenced the influencers!