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Reddit – navigating the dumpster fire

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

Reddit – the most and least accessible collection of otter gifs and violent misogyny on the internet.

Home to the strangest obscure niche communities and source of easy material for lazy Buzzfeed writers. Depending on who you talk to, reddit is either a terrifying wasteland of redpilled neckbeards and hate speech or an excellent resource for helpful experts and original content.

The good news is, it’s both! Today we’ll be learning how to pick through the adorable cats and #MAGA caps to find ways to discover and engage with relevant audiences.

First, read Andrew Youngson’s excellent introduction to reddit and decide if this is a space you’re even willing to experiment in.

If you’re going to dive into reddit you will need to be active as your institution and if you’re not comfortable explaining to your boss why you now manage an official presence in the same spheres as people who staple bread to trees and advocate forced migration then you’re spared from reading the rest of this article.

Community relations

Pretty much any town or city capable of supporting a uni or college is big enough to have their own local subreddit. We always talk about trying to engage with our local community and this always turns into a £5,000 leaflet campaign which may as well go straight into the paper shredder.

For the low cost of £0 you can be active in your local community subreddit, sharing information about public events on campus, recruiting for research studies, warning about students returning for the start of term… We shared our community relations message about how to report bad student behaviour in off-campus accommodation and what we were doing to improve it and had a great reaction, including from locals who had never heard from us by traditional mediums.

Your institution is doing things that local people care about. Museums on campus, film showings, public lectures, buildings going up and down, societies looking for members… Tell your local redditors and reach a whole new audience.

Research promotion

As Andrew wrote in his blog, the key to promoting on reddit is learning and knowing the community, and checking with moderators. We had some research around protein in diets so I checked around the health and fitness subreddits as possible places to share. While /r/Supplements was happy to swallow it, /r/Bodybuilding ditched us like a dirty posing pouch.

This leads to another point, which is finding your niche communities outside the obvious /r/Science. That’s the very essence of reddit, and it’s something that I tell academics in the social media workshops I deliver. You’re an expert in very specific things – there are whole communities online who are desperate to learn more and who would be delighted to share your knowledge. Can’t find media who care about your research? I bet you can find 50 enthusiastic amateurs moderating a relevant subreddit who are desperate to talk to you.

AltMetric measures the online interest around research publications and includes reddit as a source, so simply sharing DOI links on relevant subreddits can boost the score of an output for no cost and minimal effort.

Our social listening tool, Microsoft Social Engagement, includes reddit as a source of traffic to monitor so we can keep an eye on relevant communities and discussions and jump in to contribute, the same as Twitter or Facebook.

The biggest benefit for academics is of course the AMA sessions. This gives a chance to have direct back-and-forths with a hugely diverse group of people, and the best sessions end up sparking new lines of enquiry for the academic who is taking the questions. Many times I’ve organised these sessions and had feedback from the academic that they’ve never had such a wide range of questions.

You do need to be aware of the style of engagement and choose and brief your people accordingly. One of our efforts was nearly abandoned because the expert taking questions couldn’t abide ‘internet people’ disagreeing with them – “Who are they to question me?” Well, actually, you have no idea who they are so it’s safer to treat them with respect and answer their question on its merits.

If your AMA is successful, you can expect the kind of numbers that your outreach and events teams can only dream of.

uni of reading AMA stats

Most importantly, reddit success gives you an opportunity to be throw big numbers around and be passive-aggressive on Twitter.

PR Twitter / FellowKids

For professional development and to keep my enthusiasm under control, I love /r/Marketing, /r/PRTwitter, and /r/FellowKids. The first two are sources of great debate (internet arguments) and a way to keep up with what’s going on in the lofty sphere of marketers and comms people who actually have budgets.

FellowKids is an absolute must-read for anyone who gets paid to talk to an audience which is generally younger than they are. It’s my reality check whenever I’m tempted to get down with the youth, and it’s some top-drawer social media schadenfreude (shout-out to my alma mater Griffith University). Use this to show your managers next time they ask if the university could Facebook a harlem shake or someone suggests a dabbing VC on the inside cover of the welcome packs.  

Like the launch of any new channel (“Can we have a snapchat account, just for during Welcome Week?”) you need to consider the risks and rewards and whether you can afford the time to learn and develop a new way of communicating. If you can bravely face the loonies of reddit and find your niches, small and large, good luck and good posting.