‘Core to the identity of the internet’: How publishers are using Reddit to brand build and drive awareness

Reddit has both baffled and bemused publishers over the years, but growing evidence shows that the two parties are working together more closely.

Last week, Reddit announced a partnership with social media analytics firm NewsWhip so publisher content teams can uncover comments, stories and trends quicker, driving more media companies towards the platform.

Indeed, Reddit has steadily accelerated its shift away from being thought of as “anti-publisher” over the years, since launching partnerships with publishers like Time magazine in 2017. While referral traffic from the platform is steady for publishers who put in the time and consistent effort to build a Reddit strategy, the primary goal is talking with Reddit members and using the platform as a resource to mine for story ideas. 

“Reddit is so core to the identity of the internet, so much of what happens on Reddit then branches out to Facebook or Twitter,” said Washington Post reporter Gene Park, who handed over the Reddit reigns last year to the Post’s audience team after two years at the helm. “My approach was to foster a lot of goodwill, if you have a good reputation on Reddit, you have a pretty good stranglehold on what the rest of the internet thinks of you.”

While Parks was steering the Post’s Reddit identity, he introduced potential readers to the breadth of the paper’s coverage and helped get reporters more exposure. This approach has transferred to the Post’s TikTok strategy: Being part of the conversation rather than actively selling anything. When the Post wrote a piece about the death of the electric guitar, Parks posted it to the guitar subreddit saying “you might enjoy discussing this.” It was the most upvoted piece in the subreddit’s history.  

Parks’ success metric was being able to enter into bizarre or unlikely subreddits where the members already knew him, reputational clout that is hard to measure. Now, as a gaming reporter, his past as the Post moderator has granted him certain privileges, people defend him when his pieces are being discussed. 

“It’s a way to garner and foster goodwill and trust,” he said. “Facebook is a horrifying battleground, Reddit will help win another battleground.”

Still, overt content sharing for traffic referral within subreddits is swiftly shut down by community moderators. And Reddit referral traffic is increasingly spotty: While it made a big push for users to move to their app a few years ago, the app does not send referral traffic. Unless you’re using a link shortener with link tracking, or UTM parameters for link tracking, Reddit app referral traffic shows up in analytics just like text message, WhatsApp, or other dark sources.

“What’s left, the desktop and mobile webpage referral traffic, makes it look like Reddit is in steep decline,” said Parsely data insights lead, Kelsey Arendt. “But with their app downloads, I have a hard time believing that to be directionally accurate.”

Referral traffic is small but growing in cases. Over the last six months, while people have been working remotely, content diets have changed. Reddit’s niche communities and subcultures speak to this. “During the pandemic, we had an uplift in referral traffic coming from Reddit,” said Ahmad Swaid, head of content at youth-focused culture publishers Dazed Media. “Perhaps because people are at home more, willing to share more or have more time to go into the archives.”

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Dazed has been growing its relationship with Reddit over the last three years, but hasn’t yet launched an editorial partnership. A regular Dazed column, Beauty Fetish, uncovers the strange quirks emerging from the web, which Reddit is a hot-bed for. Dazed, for instance, spoke with people behind r/panporn, the official appreciation society for people who like looking at pictures of make-up and beauty products that are almost empty.

Once a pretty hostile environment for marketers, the platform now says that globally almost 70% of members respect brands that make an effort to participate on the platform. It’s revving its pitch to brands in the U.K, it officially opened its London office last month, with five staffers, where between 7% and 8% of its more than 430 million active users live, (its second-biggest global market). In 2019, U.K. views of Reddit grew by 64% year-on-year, said the platform.

Reddit is most influential as a story source for publishers. U.K. publishing group Reach made more of a push on Reddit earlier this year. Its largest brand Daily Mirror has a profile page and it also makes use of Reddit’s flagship Ask Me Anything feature with big-name columnists.

Reddit has slightly pipped Twitter as a way for Reach’s brands to source stories, especially on its brands The Daily Star, whose audience is partial to the more bonkers, often animal-focussed stories.  

“We’re having a lot of fun with the [NewsWhip] integration, you can spend too much time down Reddit rabbit holes — there’s so much there — it’s like a gold mine,” said Yara Silva, group head of social, Reach Nationals (Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Daily Star and OK! Magazine) at Reach.

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