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YSK: The Challenges of Marketing on Reddit


Is it appropriate to start an article on marketing using a meme?  Under normal circumstances, no, but when it looks at marketing on Reddit it’s almost expected. 

Reddit was launched in 2005 as a social news site, loosely modeled on the original Digg. Although Condé Nast Publications acquired it in 2006, it operates as a largely independent entity, with a global rank under 100 on Alexa. The site looks and operates almost exactly as it did in 2005, but with far more subreddits, and a greater mix of news and entertainment.

The large volume of traffic – more than 100-million unique visitors a month, totaling more than 5-billion page views – makes Reddit quite appealing for marketing purposes, and a few Reddit Marketing Guides have already been published on the Internet. What they all fail to take into account is that Redditors (the name given to regular users of Reddit) are quite different to regular Internet users and they don’t take kindly to overt marketing. This does not suggest that you should avoid Reddit completely, but rather that your approach should be radically different to your standard marketing.

A Brief Overview of Reddit


Some basic terms common to Reddit that you should be aware of include the following:

  • The front page. This is the term used for the home page of Reddit. What you see on the front page depends on whether you are logged in or not.
  • Subreddits. First introduced in 2008, subreddits are user-created communities or categories. Each focuses on a specific area of interest, from humor and pictures, through to hobbies, fetishes and even illnesses. There are currently more than 6000 active subreddits, and when you first join Reddit you are automatically subscribed to 25 default subreddits.
  • Karma. Stories, links and comments can all be voted up or down. Upvotes increase your karma, and downvotes decrease it. Karma has no value but does serve as an indicator of your credibility and popularity.
  • Acronyms. You will find acronyms in use all over Reddit. Some, like NSFW and tl;dr are fairly well known, while others like IAmA, TIL and OP are more obscure. Reddit’s own FAQ includes a handy reference of the more commonly used acronyms.

Registration and Use

Registering on Reddit is incredibly easy; you simply create a username, add a recovery email address (completely optional), and type in a password and captcha. As mentioned earlier, when you register you are automatically subscribed to 25 default subreddits, but you are able to unsubscribe from them at any time. To edit the subreddits you are subscribed to, do the following:

  • Select “Edit” from the far right of the top “Menu”
  • This will bring up a list of all subreddits in the main section of the screen, arranged by popularity, and the subreddits that you are subscribed to will be shown in a panel in the right sidebar.
  • Select the “Unsubscribe” button to remove any subreddits you aren’t interested in. To find new subreddits you can either browse the subreddits as listed, or use the search function at the top of the screen.

Each subreddit has its own set of rules and it is important to read and understand these first. These appear in the right sidebar of each subreddit, along with a list of the moderators and a list of similar subreddits. Disregard any of the rules and you will be reprimanded, ridiculed or banned.

The “front page” lists all the popular posts (based on activity and number of votes) in your subscribed subreddits. Selecting the post title will load the linked image or article, and to read any comments on it, or to add your own, you will need to select the comments link. Other options include the ability to Share, Save, Hide, Report or Buffer a post. Both posts and comments can be voted on, and you do this by selecting the up or down arrow. Voting is not required, but it is strongly encouraged not purely for “Karma” but also as a way of letting users know whether their contribution was appreciated or not.

Marketing on Reddit

The three primary marketing opportunities on Reddit are:

  • Sharing your own content, thoughts and knowledge in relevant subreddits,
  • Hosting a IAmA event, and
  • Sponsored content.

Linking and Commenting

No doubt you are already familiar with the process of sharing links to your top content and participating in the discussions that follow. It is a technique you would already be employing on various social networks, and maybe even on a few forums and discussion boards. You can attempt to replicate this on Reddit, with a few important adjustments:

  • Don’t start doing this immediately after joining Reddit. Spend a month, maybe even two, exploring Reddit, the various subreddits, and learning how it all operates. During this time you should vote on stories and comments, make your own comments and share a few links (not related to your site at all, but relevant to your industry). Build up a rapport with other Redditors.
  • Once you feel comfortable with how different Reddit is, carefully select one of your top articles and share it as a new post on a single, highly relevant subreddit.
  • Respond and vote on any comments that are made, and use the comments as a guide to any future posts you make. Read the comments carefully, especially if the reaction was largely negative, to get a better understanding of what went wrong. Did you choose the wrong subreddit? Did the audience not appreciate being marketed to?

Hosting a IAmA Event

IAmA is the acronym for I am a… and an IAmA event is essentially a public interview or Q&A session. Your description of “I am a (description of who you are)” ends with AMA, an acronym for “ask me anything”. The AMA is a key indicator of whether an IAmA is suitable for you – if there are any questions you would feel uncomfortable answering, or even unwilling to answer, you should probably avoid this type of marketing. Remember how the recent JPMorgan Twitter Q&A session was cancelled following a flood of embarrassingly negative questions?

Like most of Reddit, an IAmA is not suited to overt, direct marketing. Read and understand the comprehensive rules governing such an event, and spend time reading through past events before deciding to host your own. When done correctly IAmA’s can be extremely popular – in 2012 Barack Obama became the first serving US President to host an IAmA event, in 2013 Bill Gates’ event attracted more than 27000 comments and more recently Bill Murray hosted a surprise IAmA that generated a lot of attention.

IAmA events are good for businesses involved in unusual or uncommon industries, or the development of highly unique products. The focus, however, should be on people. The business owner or CEO should host the IAmA, or someone directly involved with product development, not the marketing department. Actors, directors, authors and musicians often schedule an IAmA shortly before a new release, but only as a way of getting incidental marketing exposure, never to directly promote the new release. This should be the example you follow.

Woody Harrelson’s AMA was disastrous for a number of reasons:

  • He only answered 15 questions. You should plan to spend at least an hour on your AMA, answering as many questions as possible. Go back to the AMA at least twice in the week following the event to answer any late questions. Woody spent less than 30-minutes on his AMA and never returned.
  • Many Redditors suspected it wasn’t even him answering the questions. If Barack Obama and Bill Gates can sit down and type their own responses to the questions, why can’t you? Although you are required to provide “proof” when hosting an AMA, in Woody’s case this was simply a link to the films Twitter account. Always be authentic.
  • It was obvious that he (or his publicist) had no idea what Reddit was, or how it operated. Spending time exploring Reddit (and r/iama) is important if you want to be taken seriously without stepping on any toes.

Onsite Advertising

Reddit does allow paid onsite advertising, with a unique approach. Instead of traditional banner or text advertising, your advertisement closely resembles a regular Reddit post, highlighted in a “periwinkle” colored box at the top of your selected subreddits. Like regular posts, Redditors can vote on your ad, and also comment. You target your audience according to interest (subreddits) and not standard demographics, and geo-targeting is also not supported currently. Reddit advertising can be incredibly cost-effective, delivering great ROI, and even resulting in real-time feedback from your audience. Again, though, it all depends on your understanding of Reddit, the audience and how you tailor your marketing message to take advantage of this.

A campaign run by Coastal.com on Reddit attracted almost 2000 comments, and with good reason:

  • They incorporated humor into their headline.
  • They used an animal in their thumbnail. Animals, especially cats and other cute pets, are very popular on Reddit. Combining humor in their headline, and a cat in their thumbnail, showed that Coastal were aware of what was popular on Reddit.
  • They responded to comments. This was not just about placing an ad and waiting for the traffic, it was about connecting with existing and potential clients – reading the comments and complaints, and responding to them


Reddit offers the opportunity to have your message seen by millions of users, but not without considerable risk if your approach is wrong. Regardless of what method of marketing you intend using on Reddit you will always need to first be a very comfortable and confident user of Reddit. Understand the audience, and analyze the methods used by other Redditors. Given the size of Reddits user base, and the amount of daily traffic generated, doing so will not be difficult.

Are you a Redditor? Have you tried marketing on Reddit already? What has worked for you, and what suggestions you do have for anyone wishing to explore this?