To Learn About reddit, Listen First

Sep 3, 2014

Reddit logo on a teal background
Reddit began in 2006 as an online bulletin board. Registered users post links to items on the Internet, start discussions and cast votes that control placement on the site. A simple structure and a live interview forum called AMA, (Ask Me Anything) helped make reddit a social media superstar. GSA has met with reddit to talk about the importance of federal-compatible Terms of Service. (Reddit prefers to work with each agency individually on a TOS amendment rather than creating a single universal TOS agreement. GSA’s terms of service facilitator, Betsy Steele, can help you through the collaborative process.) However, the platform has distinct lingo, community rules and some drawbacks too. So before jumping into reddit as a participant, get to know the community by listening to forums already underway.

Listen before you jump in

Reddit differs from other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook because the goal on those platforms is to amass a following for ongoing engagement, while reddit engagements tend to be one-to-one exchanges. At an Aug. 7 brown-bag presentation at GSA, Victoria Taylor, director of communications at reddit, said the point of posting to reddit is not to have content go viral; it is to build credibility. “You want your username to earn recognition and trust.” Successful examples include U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, who gained credibility in 2013 by asking for community input before a Banking Committee hearing, and a recent AMA held by Bill Nye and NASA employees.

On reddit, the community sets the rules and runs the show. Taylor explained that, “People curate what they want to see and spin off communities.” Anyone can create a subreddit forum on any topic and each subreddit has guidelines. Taylor recommended newcomers study user-created rules, called reddiquette. Here is more of Taylor’s advice:

  • Be transparent, candid and authentic. Clearly identify yourself and the group you speak for.
  • Do not push an agenda.
  • Reddit users can register without an email address and they don’t have to use real names, so expect some unfiltered, off-the-wall comments.
  • Treat everything you say on reddit as if it’s on the record.
  • Reddit cannot remove content. The only recourse is to go back to the content originator and try to mitigate problems.
  • Listen passively before jumping in. Get insight on how reddit operates, learn what issues interest users and avoid starting redundant conversations.

Benefits and risks of hosting an AMA (Ask Me Anything)

The AMA format is a freeform, live question and answer session on the Internet. Taylor, who can assist agencies to set up and moderate an AMA says, “AMA is like playing roulette; not just the risks [of taking] open questions but it may not pull the interest you want.” Still, hosting an AMA may be worth putting yourself on the hot seat, because she said AMAs, “are a great way to get information out quickly,” and can attract high profile press. AMAs can scale up quickly. At the high end, thisisbillgates’ AMA drew nearly 20 thousand comments and five thousand up-votes.

More AMA tips

  • Research conversations to see what hot buttons attract interest. Net neutrality, for example, is a topic Taylor says the reddit community responds to vigorously.
  • Inform reddit in advance of your AMA so that it can be listed in the daily AMA schedule.
  • Plan on hosting a session for at least 90 minutes, to allow time for the AMA to trend on the subreddit topic homepage and possibly the main reddit homepage. It can take 30-45 minutes just to get momentum going.
  • Express yourself to convey personality and warmth.
  • You may use a team to host an AMA, but have individuals sign their names to responses. “It is better to be John from agency, not the agency as a whole,” Taylor said.


The U.S. represents the largest group of reddit users, but Canadians spend the most time on reddit. Reddit use is growing in the United Kingdom, Australia, India and Scandinavia. Taylor said reddit is translation friendly, “We do have language specific sub-sites, but reddit is English dominant.”

Check out reddit Live

Reddit Live is a new way to share rapid response, breaking news content on reddit. It allows a user to start a discussion with a limited number of designated posters in a mobile-friendly thread. Related open discussions display in a sidebar. “Think of it as a hub with discussion spokes,” Taylor explained.

Resources to learn more about reddit

Editor’s Note: For help scheduling and optimizing your AMA, contact Judith Snyderman is a multimedia analyst for government agencies.

Originally posted by Judith Snyderman on Sep 3, 2014
Sep 3, 2014