Reddit is a fast-growing, popular community. But advertising on Reddit only works when you do it right.
With 33 million monthly visitors and 2.5 billion page views in March (up from 2 billion in January), the content-sharing site Reddit continues to grow in usage and influence. But how do you market to its user community, which is among the most opinionated and volatile on the entire Internet? Not with the same kind of campaign you'd put on a social network, advises Reddit General Manager Erik Martin. Instead, after talking with Martin, I'd recommend this approach: Advertise on Reddit as if you yourself were a member of Reddit.
Advertising on Reddit is minimal and no-frills: The site has a 300x250 ad space, but don't expect to put the usual eye-catching effects there -- the company doesn't accept animated Flash ads. And while the box unit may work better for big brand-building awareness campaigns (ad buys start at $20,000 minimum), Reddit's value proposition is its self-service ad platform. Advertisers can use it to buy sponsored links displayed at the top of the page. There, the buy-in is just $20 minimum, with rates around $1 CPM to $2 CPM. (Average spend is about $100.)
While sponsored links have a slightly different color, they come with a user comment thread, just like any other user-submitted Reddit link. This is where Reddit's uniqueness as an advertising platform comes through, because advertisers can and often do participate in these threads, directly responding to Redditor feedback about their ads. "There's nothing more engaging than asking a question in the context of an ad and having it answered [by the advertiser]," argues Martin.
To leverage this participation, he tells me, some advertisers refresh their ad copy based on Redditor feedback, such as changing the headline based on a user comment. ("The audience loves that.") Some advertisers post sponsored links simply to get Redditor feedback -- for example, game developers who want Redditors to try the Beta of their game.
Beyond the site's front page, Reddit is divided into thousands of "subreddits," user-run communities devoted to all varieties of interests. This is another distinguishing feature to Reddit advertising. The self-service platform allows advertisers to target their sponsored links to a particular subreddit -- which means, says Martin, "You're targeting someone who's expressed a lot of intent by subscribing to the subreddit."
Given Reddit's male geek skew, it's not surprising that ads for videogames and movies do well, as do cars, motorcycles, and bikes. Perhaps surprisingly, there's a large subreddit for men's fashion -- another opportunity for advertisers. Smaller mom and pop stores also tend to do well, especially if their ads are targeted at subreddits based around the local community they serve.
Unsurprisingly, the least effective ads on Reddit are campaigns that use the same media that runs in other places -- not to mention any ad with, as Martin puts it, "An extra layer of what I'd call social media crap." For example, ads that ask Redditors to "Like" the company Facebook page just add barriers between a campaign and Reddit's audience. "Those don't tend to do very well."
"Redditors typically hate run of the mill advertising," Russ Gooberman of Frequency, a video discovery platform that regularly advertises on Reddit, explains. "Ads that perform the best tend to have a different approach, whether presented in meme-speak, as an ironic take, or otherwise... a little bit off-kilter." For his company, at least, that special approach has worked: "In terms of cost effectiveness," he says, "Reddit is one of the cheapest sources (CPC-wise) that we have found -- assuming you target an appropriate and large enough subreddit."
It's been so effective, another advertiser (who wishes to remain anonymous) told me it's getting more difficult to buy inventory. "Honestly, Reddit has become increasingly more and more competitive in advertising -- so the less people know about it, the better."
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— Wagner James Au is the author of The Making of Second Life, covers online worlds and virtual goods on his blog, New World Notes, and is an analyst for Media Bistro’s Social Times Pro.