Discovering Influencers: The Powerful Toolset of Reddit
Where Content Comes From
You may not have heard of Reddit, but you’ve seen their influence. Reddit is a social news site, comparable to Digg, StumbleUpon, or the BBS’s of the late 90’s. Users may submit content, in the form of photos, external links, or text posts. Other users vote on these submissions, pushing popular posts to the front pages of the site – like a living search engine. With over 43 million active users (called Redditors) as of October 2012, some analysts are calling Reddit the most influential website online. The Harlem Shake is simply the latest in a long line of trends that the Reddit community founded. In 2013, if a piece of content goes viral, you can almost assuredly wager that it was popular on Reddit two weeks earlier.
But I’m not here to tell you why Reddit is important to the internet.
I’m here to tell you why it’s important to you.
Reddit users are typically male, 25 to 34 years old, and working in the tech industry. That places them squarely in the targets of many B2C industries. They have money to spend, and they’re itching to get on top of the next viral craze. The problem marketers run into – time and time again – is that they are also incredibly well educated in marketing gimmicks, and have no tolerance for forced virality.
Reddit comes packaged with several metric and analytic tools, free for any users to explore. Coupled with tools like Reddit Enhancement Suite (RES), a marketer could feasibly track network influencers, and gain critical insight to the trends, viral videos, and purchases these users are enjoying. Any user can be tracked with these tools – there is no opt-out available – but I’ll be tracking myself, for the sake of respecting privacy. First, let’s look at RES.
Reddit is ruled by the Karma System. Karma is a score attached to each user, based on the quality and frequency of their submissions to the site. Content that is valued (upvoted) raises your Karma, while content that is disliked (downvoted) lowers it. On the backend, Karma determines how often a user is allowed to post in some communities, and adds weight to their own voting power (though not much). Thus, the Reddit community makes its own influencers, giving Karma – and power – to the users that appeal to it the most.
You can easily find the influencers in any of Reddit’s niche communities (called subreddits) by tracking down the users with the highest karma – these users have shared the most appealing content to their communities.
I mentioned RES, above. The tool is designed for power users, but it has benefits to market researchers, as well – one of those being the ability to tag users with custom labels. Despite frequent warnings, Redditors have a tendency to share a lot of personal information in their posts. Spending just a few minutes looking through an influencer’s post history can reveal a wealth of information: Where do they live? How old are they? Where did they go to school? Through RES, you can tag these users, and label them with these valuable bits of demographic data. The tags look like this
You can store as much, or as little, information as you like on each user. For example, when doing research for a client in the music industry, you might spend some time on genre-specific subreddits, like /r/punk, /r/dubstep, or /r/swinghouse. Find the users that share the most content, and then dig into their posts to figure out who they are. If you can determine where they find new music, where they buy music, and who they like to share it with – well, that makes marketing your new album a lot easier.
The Hidden Metrics of the Internet’s Crucible
Once you’ve tagged a few major influencers, it’s time to find out what they’re up to. Reddit Investigator brings metrics to Reddit that would make Facebook jealous. Here is a look at the basic information Reddit Investigator pulls, just from entering a username.
At a basic level, the Investigator tracks hourly activity and link and comment data. This shows that I spend most of my time on Reddit between 7am and 6pm. Considering I have a feed open in the background every day at work, this makes sense. We can also see that my comments far outnumber my links. ‘Link Data’ would include any original posts I make on the site, while ‘Comment Data’ tracks my responses to other users, or other submitted content.
These numbers will mean different things, depending on what you’re looking for. Are you trying to find a user that’s constantly sharing new content to the community, or one that spends more time talking and conversing with other users? For our music industry example, you may be more interested in just getting the word out, which would require users that share a lot of original content. For a more common retail brand, you may want talkative brand advocates that will defend your product in comment threads.
Investigator will also make some guesses about your user’s personal demographics. These aren’t very detailed, but will help backup or question your own assumptions.
This tool will likely be your first step in determining a marketing strategy using research from Reddit. Once you’ve found your influencers, you can plug their data in, and let Investigator do the hard work for you. Obviously, the tool is somewhat out of date (has OWS really been in the news, lately?), but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted.
Be an Insider, Not a Broadcaster
By now, you should be identifying influencers, tracking their demographics, and analyzing their browsing habits. Now that you know who you’re investigating, it’s easy to compare that information to your existing demographics. Let’s go back to our album debut example. You’ve got an artist that is gearing up for a big album release. You’ve checked out their genre on Reddit, and found a very active community in /r/Dubstep.
You can now find the influencers, and figure out where their content is coming from. Are they checking Spotify’s new releases? Send them a private message with a link to the artist’s personal playlist. Is your influencer also a member of /r/Android or /r/Apple? Send them a few dozen coupon codes for free digital copies of the album, on their platform of choice. The key is to be up front about your motivations. Reddit will sniff out a marketing team faster than you can type ‘Buzzword.’ Let them know why you’re there. You represent a musician with a new album you think they’ll like. You’ve included 20 coupon codes for digital copies of the album, because they’re such a key influencer in the community. Don’t pressure them into sharing the links – that’ll happen on its own. You get the word out about your client’s album, the user gets a boatload of karma for sharing the codes, and everyone wins.
Join the Community
Never, NEVER forget: you aren’t marketing on Reddit. Marketing doesn’t work, here. You’re part of a community. You’re sharing content you are passionate about, and you want others to be passionate about. If you don’t already have an account, make one. Start engaging. Make your presence known. Redditors aren’t stupid, and they can sniff out fakes faster than you realize. Treat them like peers, not customers. Upload a few photos of your cat, mourn when you’re downvoted off of the front page, and understand how the community flows.
As complicated and foreign as Reddit can seem to outsiders, it works just like any other social community. If you can understand the in-jokes, laugh at Woody Harrelson, and make a few friends, you’re well on your way to finding success. Make sure to stop by /r/socialmedia when you get there – I’ll be waiting.
Tim studied creative writing, fine art, and popular culture at Bowling Green State University. At Make Me Social, he develops and manages public-facing content for the Small Business Division. Before joining the team, Tim wrote for several blogs, websites, and short story collections including Groove Fiction, The Cog, and Ears and Loathing.