I'll admit it: when people have asked me how brands could engage effectively on Reddit, the super-popular link-sharing social network, I've usually rolled my eyes and said, "They can't."
But I'll admit I may have been wrong, especially after President Obama answered questions from members of the network last week. In light of the success of that event, people are asking once again if brands and nonprofits can use Reddit effectively. And the answer is..."maybe."
What's wrong with Reddit
Here's the problem with Reddit, at least from my personal experience. While its 33 million users range all over the map and self-divide into "Subreddits" based on interests (everything from funny pictures to philosophy to religion), the most popular areas of the site tend to be populated by people who delight in expressing cynical, misogynist, and often bigoted viewpoints (see video below for more info on the culture of Reddit). For someone trying to build passion around a particular cause or issue, it can be a humbling experience.
What's right with Reddit
But amid all the bad stuff, you'll find some ridiculously generous human beings on Reddit.
Take, for example, RedditGifts: a platform for "Secret Santa"-type exchanges that happen throughout the year. Thousands of strangers buy and ship each other gifts, and you never know what you're going to get (you may even get connected with a celebrity). Some of the exchanges are used to get supplies and gifts delivered to the troops or teachers in need, and these exchanges are wildly successful, even though participants get nothing in return beyond "warm fuzzies."
And then there was the time earlier this year when a Redditor ran a campaign to raise money for a bullied bus driver, so she could take a vacation. The generosity of Redditors ultimately raised $700,000 for her.
In fact, nonprofits should note that fundraising has become so popular on the site that Reddit just launched their own fundraising tool.
Why it's difficult for brands - particularly nonprofits - to engage
Yes, Obama's Q&A drew a lot of positive attention from both members of the site and from the media. But as a recent blog post pointed out, Obama is uniquely positioned. There's decidedly more interest to engage with him as a consumer/voter than the head of almost any other particular brand.
Engaging on the platform can be tricky because of the nature of it: it's a site where people "upvote," "downvote" or comment on, largely, links to content on the Internet (much like Digg was). So to gain traction, your content has to be incredibly "sticky" (in the marketing sense) and posted in the correct Subreddit. Brand pages do not exist - only personal profiles. And the crowd is very quick to call out anyone who is masquerading as a member of the community while attempting to shill for a company or organization. Even ads are fairly minimalist.
Ways nonprofits can engage
But there are ways to engage in an authentic, non-obnoxious way that the community will accept and that will benefit your organization. The first, and most obvious, method is to purchase the aforementioned, minimalist advertising on the network. Ads and sponsored links are available, though they are very no-frills. Here's a guide to advertising on Reddit.
The other method is the way Obama did it: The IAMA Subreddit. If you have a particularly compelling person working for or with your organization (for example, someone from the population you serve), this may be a good opportunity.
And you may be able to have a staff member engage on particular Subreddits, joining in the conversation on something related to your cause. But that person must be careful, and very transparent, about who they are and who they represent.
Has your nonprofit had any success with Reddit? Post your thoughts and ideas in the comments!