Why Your Brand is Only a Guest in the House of Reddit: A Lesson on the Sanctity of the Upvote

Eric Ravenstein Marketing Strategy & Planning

The house that diversity built.

Around since 2005, Reddit is a social platform most marketers have heard of, but many tell us they’re not exactly sure what it is and how it should fit into their overall communications program. So, what is it? Reddit is a social content aggregator that allows anonymous users to post content—photos, links, thoughts—to relevant “subreddits” where other users can “upvote” or “downvote” the content, and the subsequent conversation thread contained within.

Currently, Reddit has over 540 million monthly visitors, ranking as the #4 most visited website in U.S. and #6 in the world. It’s had a storied evolution from science and programming content (along with the expected content that has been the foundation of the social internet) to a broader range of content that has gone on to help drive the tastemakers and content curators of this generation—it’s likely if you shared something on Facebook and Twitter, it was originally posted on Reddit.

The evolutionary spark that ultimately drove the emergence of the Reddit we see today was failure of Digg.com. In 2009, the popular content aggregator Digg launched a major UI update that incited a user rebellion. And those users ultimately flocked to Reddit—forever altering and diversifying  the type and the quality of the content on the site. The spike in users, and the subsequent influx of mainstream content subreddits, also delivered an impressive “hive mind” of like-minded users. Collectively, by sheer scale, they brought the site into the mainstream but not necessarily the limelight. They were the center of a diaspora of content and ideas, even if most people ultimately consumed those ideas and content on outside social platforms, like Facebook or Twitter.

The temptation for brands was inevitable.

Since the great Digg migration of 2009, advertisers have coveted and courted the Reddit user base, repeatedly trying to break into the platform. The best of them authentically joining the conversation. The most doomed of them trying to manipulate the community.

Brands that have succeeded don’t push the brand, they react honestly to community sentiment, solve problems and respond to issues.

See: here, here and here.

Brands that have failed try to game the system, create fake supporters, tell users they are “wrong,” or generally treat community members as pawns in their marketing schemes.

See: here, here and most impressively here.

And the bots are why we can’t have nice things.

What fuels Reddit is the upvote. What gets voted up is supposed to be the real result of natural confirming clicks of the community. But a number of brands and marketers, along with an army of bots, has been trying to change what “real” means. Joining the community, manipulating the process and creating a critical mass of votes to try and push something front and center.

Vote buying startups, astroturfing, and, of course, the Russians are beginning to erode confidence in the veracity and authenticity of the vote and, by proxy, the community itself.

Strategies for approaching the platform.

If brands want to interact in this space, a proper strategy might be first, to watch, listen and explore. You could start here. Look around and ask if there is already a stage where your brand or service might resonate or already is resonating.

For example if you provide a service, listen in subreddits for complaints, and resolve those complaints publically and transparently—much like how Twitter has become for a more reliable customer service experience.

Posting funny images of your brand, product or service rarely resonates and will more likely seen as pandering. A more reactive and helpful approach to the platform garners more positive sentiment and provides more value to the users.

And, always, before entering the house, remember, you’re only a guest.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


Want more great marketing info delivered direct to your inbox? Enter your email to subscribe to our weekly and quarterly emails.