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‘We’re not a zeitgeist, viral, follow me platform’: Reddit COO on non-English expansion

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

November 11, 2021 | 8 min read

As Reddit makes its first big push into non-English speaking countries, its next job is convincing native brands that the ‘front page of the internet’ is the place for them. The Drum questions chief operating officer Jen Wong on this expansion.

Brett Jordan

Reddit’s COO Jen Wong explains why the community platform has huge opportunities to expand

Reddit’s German audience has grown 47% year-on-year – an impressive figure when you realize that it has yet to truly cater for non-English speaking audiences.

Its chief operating officer Jen Wong tells The Drum that the community platform’s ambassador program is designed to address that opportunity. “[The ambassadors] think about what communities are white spaces for us, and they recruit other people to think about topic content that is highly engaging, and often start with either, you know, curation of maybe a link and then a discussion, or might start with taking an idea from a global subreddit and translating into the local language.

“So if you take some of the things from r/askreddit, they’re really great. They’re amazing prompts that would work all over the world. But they’re not in German, or they’re not in local languages. Moving into a local language sparks the same level of conversation that you would see in English.”

English-speaking countries, she says, still have room to grow audiences and interaction on the platform organically. Germany – and the other territories into which it is looking to expand – require a more proactive approach. She believes that such expansion is based not just on commercial considerations but also on how different audiences consume content on the platform.

Wong cites South American audiences as being very video-driven, for example. Some countries are more ‘content-forward,’ while others have a greater proportion of users who visit the platform to passively consume.

New languages and opportunities

Crucially for the platform’s growth ambitions, these relatively easy fixes such as catering for other languages and taking into account consumption habits are supported by Reddit reaching out to local and regional agencies to encourage brands to invest on the platform.

“We want people who have local sensibility, so either we put somebody in the market – in this case we have brought in salespeople in Germany – and in other cases we have people from the UK with language capability and market familiarity to cover those markets when there’s local buying.”

It’s part of what she terms a two-pronged attack – catering to the larger brands that want to buy centrally versus the mid-market brands that prioritize reaching local audiences.

“Right now, for the large customers it’s very mixed. Some are really centralized and they do all their buying for every country, and some want to buy locally. Being that way obviously requires language capabilities.”

The benefit for those brands, she says, is that Reddit is an interest-driven platform, rather than a place for passive and undifferentiated scrolling like many social platforms. Consequently, she says, Reddit has an “outsized role in the moment of consideration” around purchases.

In addition to unduplicated audiences, who often don’t have a presence on other platforms, Wong argues that Reddit also has an “unduplicated mindset.”

“So when you come to Reddit, you have very high intent against the things that you’re interested in. And so your mindset is really open. And you know it. And as a result, what happens is we have an unduplicated mindset and an unduplicated demographic.

“So for example, Reddit knows I’m very deep in gardening. I’m also very into home automation right now, because I’ve bought a place that has electric shades that don’t work. None of my friends on Instagram could care less about automation, [but] Reddit knows that about me, right? Because it’s a place where I go for interest. So what we often say is that passionate communities drive action.”

Demonstrating the value of community

In order to demonstrate the ability of Reddit’s communities to drive brand uplift and even purchase intent, Wong cites the update of the company’s Pixel ad product and its integration of third-party measuring tools that lend advertisers confidence in its in-line ads. Since those appear in the feeds of the individual communities that users have opted into, the idea is that the ads are relevant and less interruptive.

“Our job is to bring brands into the experience in a way that’s frictionless. This is the challenge of the time, right? And brands want to be involved in those experiences, but they don’t want to be an impediment.”

To that end, she says that Reddit encourages its brands to conduct Q&As using the Reddit-standard AMA format, in addition to the ability to create profile pages that act as a hub for the activities of the brand itself. That strategy, of having brands co-exist alongside the communities they wish to reach, is based on a recognition of Reddit’s limitations as a platform as much as its strengths and staying power.

“There are things in onboarding the customer, the consumer experience, I think we could do better on. We could have an easier introduction to communities that are not easy to find. So there are things that we can do that are better. I think that is what makes it difficult.

“We’re not a zeitgeist, viral, follow me, have a million followers tomorrow kind of platform, we’re never going to be that. What is special about Reddit is we’ve been around for 16 years. And if you look at our influence over time ... it just steadily goes up and everybody else goes up and down. The reason why is because what’s so magical is that when people build those communities and that content, it’s like a corpus of human existence.”

Reddit is investing in making itself friendlier for brands and advertisers, from the refreshing of its ad products to the development of local expertise in the new territories into which it is expanding, but a big part of this is in consulting brands to better fit in with its audiences.

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