Reddit: Managing the “Front Page of the Internet”
A deep dive into the most engaged online community in the world.
Launched in 2005, Reddit is one of the largest and most active online communities in the world. The website is the 7th largest in the U.S. and boasts approximately 234 million unique users generating 8 billion monthly page views. Reddit is hailed as the “front page of the internet”, and the site’s digital influence is powered by its informed, passionate, trend-spotting and engaged users. Reddit users contribute to over 10,000 active, user-generated “interest-based” communities called “subreddits” and cast north of 21 million votes per day. The site largely aggregates social news and provides forums for user discussions and web content rating.
Reddit’s mission is to “help people discover places where they can be their true selves, and empower our community to flourish”. Users are attracted to Reddit’s authenticity and commitment to provide a sense of belonging for everyone. Reddit empowers this sense of belonging by allowing users to easily find “subreddits” to follow and share content with. Users can also create their own “subreddits” to discuss virtually any topic of interest with Reddit’s vast online community.
Reddit’s community forum provides immense value for its internet-savvy users as it enables them to have conversations about shared interests that could not happen anywhere else online. In addition, the site’s “upvote” and “downvote” mechanisms give the wider Reddit community a voice in determining what content is important (or popular, funny, interesting, etc.) and should be prominently displayed to other users.
Reddit encourages user engagement via online mechanisms and offline channels. Users interact with the Reddit community by sharing, voting, and commenting. Reddit users can post content (e.g., images, links, stories, videos, etc.) in subreddit forums comprised of users with similar interests. Reddit users can comment on any post on the website, which contributes to the strong engagement and network effects users experience on the platform. User volunteers independently moderate subreddit communities to ensure that content and discussions stay on-topic for that particular subreddit. Users can “upvote” or “downvote” shared content or subreddit discussions so that they are displayed more prominently within their communities and on the Reddit homepage.
Offline participation includes Reddit “meetups”, where users meet in person based on their geographies and interests. Users also engage with each other offline by participating in Reddit “gift exchanges” where users are assigned to each other (similar to a Secret Santa gift exchange) and mail each other gifts.
Managing the crowd:
Reddit has taken an organic approach to managing its active online community. The platform has mostly grown via word of mouth from it’s initial audience largely comprised of programmers. Reddit focused on this set of early adopters and gained popularity as users migrated to Reddit after the missteps of competing online communities (i.e., Digg.com).
The company’s core values reinforce the strength of its community and allows the site to grow without departing from its mission. These values (along with information about “how Reddit works”) are shared with users immediately upon signing up to join the service.
Reddit monetizes its community by working with brands and agencies to target audiences based on user data and engagement with the website’s 10,000 interest-based communities. Reddit collaborates with advertisers to develop authentic and engaging marketing campaigns called “redditads” that use content to generate conversation among users.
Reddit’s current advertising products feature “native” formats that have the look and feel of typical user-generated Reddit posts.
Sponsored headlines are marked as “promoted” so users can differentiate between paid and organic content. In addition to native ad formats, Reddit also sells traditional display ads on desktop and in-feed “native” display units on its mobile app.
Reddit further monetizes its loyal user base by offering a “Reddit Gold” subscription premium membership program for $3.99/month (or $29.99/year). The subscription service offers access exclusive features that allow for increased personalization and usability on the site and also enables users to turn off ads.
Reddit has experienced some challenges in terms of managing the topics that its community discusses. While the site aims to uphold the values of free speech, the Reddit community experienced some damages to its reputation after privacy scandals and the rise of some offensive subreddits that encouraged racism, misogyny, and other inappropriate beliefs or topics. The company continues to manage the tension between moderating user activity while maintaining Reddit’s strong sense of user voice and authenticity.
In addition, the site’s vocal community has fundamentally influenced Reddit’s strategy and leadership. Ranging from backlash against actions from Reddit’s former interim CEO, Ellen Pao, to criticizing the monetization strategy of the website, Reddit is in a lot of ways at the mercy of its users – who ironically serve as the company’s most critical asset.
Student comments on Reddit: Managing the “Front Page of the Internet”
I’ve always enjoyed reading content on Reddit and am often surprised to find how much of the content is repurposed on alternative websites (LifeHacker, Brit + Co, etc) in a more visually appealing, user friendly format. Any thoughts as to why Reddit has historically always kept its website visually unappealing?
I feel that, apropos of you discussion of challenges, Reddit has faced a lot of criticism for both behavior of users in mainstream parts of the site as well as for subreddits that, while not blatantly illegal, are viewed by many as very distasteful. Do you think Reddit is doing a good job balancing its user management, or do you think that it has been too liberal? Any sense of whether this has had or could have a meaningful impact on monetization?
Great post, Michelle! Related to your and Will’s observations about the challenges that Reddit faces, I’ve read that the company has struggled to prevent its larger and more “rambunctious” subreddits from organizing to comment and vote on posts in others, overwhelming their members and spreading offensive/controversial content beyond its “home” communities. While there are rules against that kind of activity, they’re enforced haphazardly—especially in larger subreddits. I’m curious: do you think that there are restrictions or design features that Reddit could adopt to prevent these incidents, or would they risk compromising the platform’s sense of democracy and openness by doing so?
Great write-up, Michelle! I’m curious whether you think Reddit’s business model is sustainable. It sounds like targeted ads are the only current value capture but as you astutely point out, the core community has been resistant to being served paid content. Given that these are largely programmers and the site itself doesn’t appear to have a huge investment in UX/design, could a “grassroots” ad-free replica challenge Reddit if users decide to rebel? Or do you think the network effects of the built out subreddits are strong enough to dissuade switching?
Great post Michelle. One of the ways other platforms mitigate Micah’s so-called “rambunctious” user engagement is by requiring real identities and using social network log ins to hold real people accountable in their circles of friends. Why does Reddit allow for anonymity? Should they?
Agree that requiring real identities would be a way to diminish the “rambunctious” user engagement piece. However, I think there would be clear tradeoffs—-there are many subreddit topics for subcultures that are not legal (such as the stoner subreddits), and those subreddits would be hurt by implementing a change that required real identities of its participants.