After a pandemic delay, Reddit’s British ad offensive has finally landed, alongside a new sales team. Jen Wong, chief operating officer of Reddit, argues that it is more brand-safe than other user-generated content platforms and should be a ‘real‘ cornerstone of any media plan.
Reddit was once described as a “dystopian Craigslist” by its chief executive, Steve Huffman, in a candid 2017 Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with users and moderators. As the go-to place for communities to gather and speak freely, it became one of the world’s most visited web portals. And it cultivated friendships, fandoms, hobbies and niche interests under the same roof as hatred, incitement to violence and harassment, like many of its rivals in the world of user-generated content (UGC).
But in recent years, efforts to tame the so-called ‘wild west of the web’ have progressed.
In tandem with tech, moderators and community, Reddit is pitching its 130,000 active communities and 430m active users to brands.
Reddit in 2020
Last year, the platform’s vice-president of brand partnerships, Zubair Jandali admitted that Reddit suffers from a brand safety perception issue, not a brand safety issue. “Once brands have worked with us for the first time their full attention is on the opportunity, not the perceived risk,“ said Jandali.
One year later, after a pandemic-related delay, Reddit’s expanding to its second-largest market. It is launching a sales team in Holborn, London after UK subreddits saw 70% year-on-year organic traffic growth across interests as varied as panel shows, the Premier League, gardening and the Great British Bake Off.
“Other social media platforms start with profile and personally identifiable information, we start with passions and interests – beyond the scale, it is the verticals where we have an interest.”
Since subreddits are organized by interest, all content is relevant to said interest, unlike the sprawling context-less newsfeeds of social media rivals. The audience is more engaged in the topics before them. You don‘t need a user‘s entire web history to contextually pair relevant brands with them.
Reddit‘s seconding selling point is that buyers can reach an audience that isn’t necessarily using many social platforms.
Its research claims that 26% of UK Redditors aren’t on Instagram, and 53% are not on Snapchat. 68% are aged between 18 to 34 and they spend an average of 33 minutes a day on there. Reddit gets around 430m visitors a month – around half are from beyond the US.
These very same users help police the site too.
Wong said: “We moderate and filter content. Then there’s community moderation, with like upvotes, downvotes [as well as reporting tools and user bans]. Moderators control what sits on top of each subreddit. Advertisers have controls over targeting and now also inventory types.”
So now, Reddit’s on a charm offensive with a trio of new inventory options crafted with brand safety specifically in mind. ‘Wild West no more‘ is the message.
For years, marketers have been able to buy promoted posts and AMA threads. Text, video, whatever a Reddit user can post, a brand can, and then boost. And there‘s always a choice to turn off comments.
That used to reach the ‘standard inventory’, a handpicked range of subreddits balancing “reach and protection”.
New options open up either side of the standard. Next, there is ‘expanded inventory’ – opening up 20% more communities to targeting (but still within Reddit’s content standards). This is for those convinced, or unconcerned, by Reddit’s brand safety policing.
For the brand safety conscious, there is the ‘limited inventory’. In partnership with Oracle Data Cloud, marketers can implement an added layer of third-party brand safety verification. Contextual analysis of the site, matching blocklists with the content, will further protect brands. For those keen to dip their toes into Reddit, this is the safest starting point.
All three inventories have been tested by more than 30 partners over the last year.
Safety in the real world
Brand safety is an ideal hard to realise in a world occupied by humans. And for better or worse, as chief executive Huffman puts it: “Reddit is the most human place on the internet.”
According to Wong, Reddit is a place where brands go to interact with real people. Feedback, even critical, is valuable. To get started on the platform she said: “We always start with listening, if you‘re a brand, I guarantee you people are on Reddit talking about your products.
“This insight informs the creative. It doesn't have to be flashy, it has to be authentic. It can just be text or an existing video, you don‘t need a rich asset to engage our community.”
A perfect example might be sandwich chain Jimmy John‘s announcement at the beginning of the pandemic that it was open for delivery with an MS paint scrawl. Meanwhile, Netflix has fostered a community around lockdown TV habits. It has been more than happy to post recommendations about other platforms.
In any given vertical, the heavy Reddit user likely leverages influence over a wider web of non-Reddit users. Brands therefore have the opportunities to influence the influencers – but they better walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Wong said: “Reddit users are really smart. I always tell brands and advertisers to treat them as smart people.”
In other words, Redditors are quick to sniff out bullshit. Amusing sub-reddit R/fellowkids has been snarling at brand attempts to get down with the youth for years. More broadly, Reddit is where consumers mock or canonize marketing campaigns, forming attitudes which spill onto Twitter and the rest of the media.
Wong said: “There‘s nothing you'll see on Reddit that isn‘t real or isn’t true. It is real, and if I were a brand, I would want to know what people really think about my product. It is not a perfectly washed, photo-controlled world like other platforms, but the amount of the depth of the conversation that you can have and the way you can change hearts and minds is so much more profound.
“Because everything goes through communities, it means that there‘s a lot more ability to have nuance.”
Where Facebook’s always tried to push the emphasis of moderation onto the user, on Reddit, moderation is second nature to the forum boards.
Wong explained: “We share responsibility for the safety, and the health of the platform with moderators and users. We hold them responsible, and they hold us responsible. That’s scalable because as a global organization you have to deal within local contexts. I think creates actually really positive behaviour.”
OMD UK chief planning officer Vicky Fox also weighed in that Reddit is more about engaging in consumer interests rather than mass reach.
“It is genuine knowledge sharing rather than ‘this is my Instagram look at the day’. It’s just people actually helping each other”.
“You have to look at the channels and for what they do for the brand rather than just as a reach number.”