The breadth and influence of the website Reddit can’t be overstated. In February 2018, it was the sixth most visited site in the world and the fourth most visited site in the United States. In December 2017, it boasted 1.7 billion unique website visitors. Its 1.2 million subreddit communities cover everything from cult tv shows to astrophysics to politics to cute baby animals.
Though sometimes the site is in the news for users’ occasional bad behavior, the vast majority of those holding registered accounts are there to pursue their passions and interests. So, that should be of interest to business owners, because Reddit is a dynamic and thriving space for building an online community.
Here are 7 tips for using this platform to build your own authentic online community:
Build Your Own Authentic Community on Reddit
1. Know your field
Registered Reddit users can start their own subreddits only after participating on the site for 30 days and earning positive “karma” (a measure of how much you’ve contributed positively to Reddit by posting well-received content).
Beyond the obvious utility of avoiding thousands of empty subreddits, this rule reflects a basic principle of Reddit community development: Founders and leaders should have enough expertise to identify and promote quality content. Knowledgeable leadership brings the community participation that becomes a healthy subreddit’s bread and butter.
2. Find your niche
As noted, there are 1.2 million subreddits currently active on Reddit. That’s a lot of different communities that already exist, so if a new subreddit duplicates an existing, thriving community, it is unlikely to draw many users away from the original.
At the same time, subreddits are possible for any number of niche topics, no matter how minute. If you’re a lipstick enthusiast who cares only about unusual shades, then a general makeup-themed subreddit is unlikely to satisfy your craving to explore that interest. That’s a niche that could nourish a small but dedicated subreddit community.
3. Be sincere
Reddit’s voting structure and user-created content inherently create a democratic community, which is why being perceived as manipulative or untrustworthy will harm you even more on Reddit than than on other social media websites. If you do have an agenda, such as marketing a particular company or supporting a political movement, you’ll be better off being up-front and honest about it.
Plenty of Reddit communities are organized around advancing political movements or talking about beloved brands. Users trust and participate in these communities because they’re based on genuine enthusiasm for the subreddit’s premise rather than a covert agenda which is bound to insult digital-savvy users.
4. Don’t spam
If you’re promoting something on Reddit, like a product or a personal website, know that Reddit’s guidelines and community members will not be friendly to anything they perceive as spam. You’re not going to build a real community around your product or cause if you’re constantly posting off-topic links to outside websites or posting near-identical content to multiple subreddits. Instead, you’re more likely to get suspended.
Contribute to a community because you genuinely care about and have insight on the topic at hand, not to promote an outside link. Instead, know that Reddit offers “promoted” advertising posts for brands that want to market on the site, legitimately.
5. Be a leader, not a dictator
Trying to control community behavior will virtually always backfire on Reddit, where user control over content and an anyone-can-join attitude toward participating mean that anyone trying to control the community will be quickly called out.
A notorious “Ask Me Anything” with actor Woody Harrelson proved this when the actor’s PR representatives refused to answer popular questions, provoking the community’s ire.
You can’t control what people do or say on Reddit, but you can contribute thoughtful, well-crafted and regular content. Regular contributions and responsible moderation help create a community that other Redditors feel engaged and comfortable in.
6. Trust the voting process
The content of each subreddit front page is determined by an algorithm that balances registered users’ votes with the time of posting. This system is meant to keep community-endorsed content visible while allowing brand new content enough visibility to compete with older community favorites. Users can “upvote” or “downvote” content as they see fit; but, unfortunately, this system can be manipulated.
Redditors will resent any attempt to destroy their communities’ democratic ideals. More importantly, the voting algorithm ensures that the content users want to see is promoted. If it’s replaced in the rankings with content no one is interested in, users will get bored and stop visiting the subreddit.
7. Avoid being toxic
The anonymity allowed by a Reddit screen name and the vast breadth of topics possible to discuss on the platform mean that sometimes peoples’ worst online behavior is on display. Harassment, doxxing, hate-mongering and other repugnant behaviors have found a home in a minority of Reddit communities, even though the vast majority of Redditors really just want to talk about their interests.
Toxic communities may thrive for a while but ultimately tend to self-destruct or get banned when user behavior crosses a line. You may not set out to build a toxic community space, but because each subreddit is democratically controlled beyond basic moderator duties, such bad behavior can enter even a well-intentioned space.
So, avoid this outcome by being (or partnering with) responsible, attentive moderators; and have community guidelines and grounds for post deletion clearly stated in your Reddit sidebar.
How else can you create an authentic community on Reddit?