Reddit: a primer

Read time: 8 mins

Reddit. Love it or hate it, it is, indeed, the ‘front page of the Internet’.

 Often regarded as the underbelly of social networking, is it good and useful? Can anyone get value out of Reddit? Or is it just all 20something heterosexual men looking at photos of cheerleaders and talking about physics and cheerleader physics?

What is Reddit?

  • Reddit is a massive forum or bulletin board system, organised by users into groups or topic-specific boards. These are called ‘sub Reddits’.
  • There are thousands of sub Reddits, about anything from how to learn French to people who photoshop arms onto photos of birds, problems unique to the British, all about the city you live in, your favourite TV shows, movies – anything.
  • If you can’t find a sub Reddit to join, you can make your own. Some sub Reddits have a lot of users, others, sadly, were once brilliant but have seemingly died. Some sub Reddits are now world-famous, including this one, where interesting and famous people answer the public’s questions – AMA standing for ‘Ask Me Anything’. President Obama is one of the more famous AMA guests. In contrast, another sub Reddit lets users send you pizzas.
  • Sub Reddits are moderated by community leaders who take responsibility for moderating posts in that group. Reddit staff can also step in where required.
  • When a user makes a post, other users can give it a nod of approval, an upvote, or the opposite, and express their dissatisfaction at the post with a downvote. Upvotes and downvotes determine how much exposure your post gets in a chart of posts. The posts with the most upvotes reach the front page and get a lot of traffic.
  • Posts can also be browsed by how new they are or how controversial (how many comments follow the post).
  • When users get upvotes, they get ‘karma points’ which gamifies Reddit somewhat. You collect points by making good quality posts that people respond well to. You lose points when you get downvotes. This makes for an interesting social dynamic across Reddit.

6% of adults on the Internet are Redditors

With 6% of all adult users on the Internet using Reddit (adult by age at least), Reddit is a staple of many people’s digital feed. Reddit users witness the awkward birth of memes, stories and posts that are curious blips or become massive through group iteration and submission. Something about Reddit affords sparkier social development, moreso than many other social networks, of just about anything. The obscure, the informative and the fun collide and mingle like the introvert, geek and class clown all without a dance at the prom. And the ‘something’ can be brilliant, and so often is.

Isn’t Reddit just a crass boys club?

Reddit, where 70,000+ users subscribe to a feed of birds with arms badly photoshopped onto them.

Reddit, where 70,000+ users subscribe to a feed of birds with arms badly photoshopped onto them.

The introvert, geek and class clown don’t always make good company for each other. Things can go wrong before a community realises it, and moderators moderate. Some groups are moderated much more lightly. Reddit has a frequent boisterous nature, some of it benign as cake, some the absolute opposite, and each degree between.

60% of users are male, between the ages of 25 and 34. 65%+ of users post from the US. A misogynist streak through some groups is very real, a fudge of factors contributing to it including throwaway user accounts, accounts which you can name anything (unlike the ‘use your real name’ policies of Facebook and YouTube) as well as the overwhelming gender gap. Even so, a dominant gender majority shouldn’t work that way; Pinterest, by contrast, has nearly a 70% female user base, and nobody has ever made me feel weird on Pinterest because of my gender. But hey, that’s another post.

The changing face of Reddit

This bad dilutes and shifts; many people argue it reduces each year as Reddit attracts more of a varied male user base and a stronger

I found this tired, tired advice animal dude on Reddit. Anyway, Morpheus is right.

I found this tired, tired advice animal dude on Reddit. Anyway, Morpheus is right.

female user base. With regards to the ‘real name = real shame’ issue; whilst idiots do their poking from behind a nom de racaille, this feature is also useful to the good and great. Examples include how sufferers of depression hide their identity whilst exploring how to manage their condition. Users in countries with oppressive freedom of speech laws are able to break news whilst not losing their freedom. Anonymity can be a sword and shield both.

It has to be said that there is nothing unique to Reddit that doesn’t plague the Internet in general. For a year I worked at a major UK broadband company managing their AUP (Acceptable Use Policy), working with the Police, the Internet Watch Foundation and users themselves to balance the dark, light and grey stuff that people create and consume online. If you have a system that users interact with and can publish to, up goes the weird. Nothing is unique to Reddit in this case (not even the gender gap; Twitter was mostly men at one point, and thankfully became balanced in time). Crime isn’t unique to a country, but how the country manages crime, the quality of their police and judicial system, is. Social networks are no different. Reddit’s cyber police are there, do good work and help maintain order in what once was very much more of a Wild West corner of the Internet. But hey, I feel like I have gone from potting progress to mollifying you guys – let’s move on.


Think of Reddit as a digital version of a city, and like all cities, it can be a wonderful, beautiful, duplicitous place and has lots of great people in it. You can find yourself steeped in history, culture, education and fun, or you can end up in a rotten place, seeing odd things to the point where your eyes may need bleaching with cute stuff post-visit (there is a place for that on Reddit too).

My top 5s for Reddit

Here are some of my favourite sub Reddits, split by topic tabs.

  1. Misleading Thumbnails
    When an image is viewed at 150 x 150, it can look very different. This sub Reddit’s users share large images where the thumbnails look weird / nothing like the main image, and caption them that way. It’s utterly pointless but a good bit of fun.
  2. Old School Cool
    Users share photos of celebrities, family members and friends from days gone by, Steve McQueen on a gondola in Venice in the 60s, Audrey Hepburn feeding a deer, Bruce Lee driving a sportcar, jazz musicians in Harlem doing an impromptu gig… old school cool.
  3. Perfect Timing
    The best photos where timing was everything; moments captured in that split second before someone fell over, spilled a drink, skydived, anything. Some of these captures are gold.
  4. YouTube Haiku
    Bite-sized (hence the haiku) clips from YouTube. Surreal, funny, odd and brilliant, YouTube Haiku captures the best of YouTube in less than 15 seconds. Great for a lunch time pick-me-up.
  5. Dogs Wearing Hats
    No explanation required.

  • Mildly Interesting
    If you’ve ever been excited about something so geeky or dumb that you had nobody to tell about, this place is for you. An example post is how someone noticed Canadian Monopoly comes with a boot whilst US Monopoly comes with a shoe.
  • Hot Sauce
    Do you know your Cholula from your green Tabasco? Reddit users help you navigate and select hot sauces as if they were vintage wines.
  • LV426
    The universe of the Alien movies and everything to do with it, Prometheus included, is pawed over in minute detail here. A must for sci-fi fans.
  • Penmanship Porn
    Ever seen somebody’s hand writing and thought ‘wow, that’s beautiful’? This is where hand-crafted writing makes a comeback and users coo over the craftiest of cursive.
  • Photograph Restoration and Colorization Requests
    If you have an old, battered and torn photo, you can post it and Reddit users do their best to fix it for you. And many do it for free. Similarly, a black and white photo can be posted and people delicately colour it in using Photoshop. Moving stuff.

  • Data Is Beautiful
    Raw data visualised as graphs and graphics. Learn, at a glance, what causes humans to die today vs 100 years ago, how the recession has shaped the new economy and countries going digital – and much more.
  • Today I Learned
    Users share obscure facts and trivia they discovered today. Links lead to sources. A great place to learn bite-sized pieces of knowledge.
  • Not The Onion
    True news stories that sadly are not from The Onion. Users across the globe share the most ridiculous things to hit the news.
  • What’s The Word
    A great community where a loose description of a word will be described by one user, and other users will reply with the word that would be best suited to sum it up. A great tool for improving vocab but also to understand more about the fun nuances of English.
  • Explain Like I’m Five
    US political system? Stocks and shares? The human genome? If anything has ever gone over your head, hit this sub Reddit, where people break down complex concepts into stuff that a 5 year old should be able to understand.

Where do I start with Reddit?

  • If you’re interested in Reddit and want to know more, don’t buy a book, or watch a YouTube tutorial. Just go and register an account.
  • Reddit will auto-subscribe you to a few places, and after that, the search box is your friend.
  • If you can think of a topic, there is possibly a place for it that you can subscribe to and get sharing and talking. And the beauty of Reddit? If you don’t find that place, you can make one.

Is Reddit Of Value to My Business?

Maybe. If your business sells cats in Mario hats, Game of Thrones t-shirts or LED umbrellas, I’d say definitely. Lots of Kickstarter companies and DIY projects do really well; that sense of community and being part of a project go well together. But be aware lots of companies head to Reddit for the cool vote, or to seed viral stuff, and lots fail. Cynical and considering themselves as savvy, Reddit users love calling bullshit on corporate and company posts. As with most social media marketing, be genuine and you’ll get genuine responses and interaction. If you try and play an audience, expect them to point and laugh, especially an audience that has made a bad name for itself out of pointing and laughing too much in the past.

  • Definitely consider Reddit if your social media strategy has a community strand.
  • Take advantage of the ridiculous gender gap if your products or services map to it, but be careful with that; you should be looking past what is in someone’s pants when it comes to marketing products in 2014.
  • Instead consider the granular demographics of Reddit users. Observe the popular sub-Reddits and see if any have an affinity with what you’re working on. Here’s an article that went up recently about engaging for leads on Reddit. Whilst I don’t agree with lots of the principles in that post, it does have some good practical monitoring advice in it.
  • This is also a good at-a-glance infographic for marketers.

What do you think?

Open the Comments bit (below) and let me know your favourite sub Reddits, or tell me what you think about Reddit. Are you new to it? How are you finding it? It’d be great to hear from people about it.


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