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16/07/2012 by

Reddit: The Incubator Of Viral Brand Stories

Reddit is an incubator of stories. How do stories about some companies, both positive and negative, seem to crop up out of nowhere and suddenly become part of the collective consciousness?

Reddit: The Incubator of Viral Brand Stories

Where do these stories originate, and how do they spread so fast and so far?

To go truly viral a story needs an incubator to launch it. One of the most powerful is Reddit: A social news site with 3 million unique visitors per day.

How does Reddit work?

The basic premise is that users link to content – news articles, pictures, videos, etc. – and other users up-vote, down-vote and comment on it.

The pieces of content that get the most up-votes and comments are pushed to the front page of the site, where users spend most of their average 17 minutes per visit.

Brands get a fair share of the spotlight – usually because of controversial corporate decisions and over-the-top customer service interaction or popular corporate decisions.

Those ideas and stories that get the most attention ultimately end up as memes, which are the cultural currency of the Internet. Memes can just as easily celebrate something as ridicule it. They often reference previous memes, and evolve over time.

Nickelodeon was celebrated in the ‘Good Guy Nickelodeon’ meme for playing the television programs that its viewers really wanted to see:

reddit - nickelodeon

Conversely, Chevy was ridiculed with the ‘Scumbag Chevy’ meme (the brown baseball cap on the references an earlier popular meme – Scumbag Steve) for adopting a slogan perceived as hypocritical after accepting a government bailout.

Chevy meme

The community has even started boycott campaigns against the most offensive companies. This happened to GoDaddy twice: Once when their CEO was seen shooting elephants in Africa and again when they were found to be supporting SOPA.

The latter resulted in Domain Migration Day on Dec. 29th, 2011 in which thousands of GoDaddy users dropped the companies hosting services in protest.

LGBT rights are big on Reddit. Two companies have gotten glowing reviews from Reddit for pro-LGBT marketing campaigns: Oreo and J.C. Penney.

Oreo’s simple marketing campaign to promote Gay Pride Day reached the top of Reddit amid positive comments. This is the promotional image that caused such a stir:

Oreo rainbow - pride ad

J.C. Penney received the same treatment by hiring (and retaining) Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson amid a backlash from groups such as One Million Moms (who get no love on Reddit).

Reddit has a history of operating like a hive mind – once a consensus is reached by a few hundred users (a very small percentage), the whole community historically will jump on board (at least until a popular counter-opinion is reached the next day).

This is what makes it so easy for stories to spread as its community pushes the shared opinion through more mainstream social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where it gains more widespread traction.

Once an idea blossoms on these networks it gains recognition on popular social media blogs like Mashable before being written about in more established publications like Time and Newsweek under the context of a “social phenomenon”.
Click to enlarge - Trajectory of a viral meme

The community is swift in doling out its opinion and extremely influential. The activity of just a few users can amplify a story and begin this process.

What Can You Do?

The perceived fickleness of the Reddit community has meant  that companies have been hesitant to jump into Reddit, unlike Pinterest and Instagram which they’ve taken to in droves. However if you spend a little time on Reddit you start to understand what turns the community on, and start thinking about how your company can utilize Reddit.

Here are a few points to get you started:

Anyone can post a link on Reddit: Make one about something innovative your company is doing or one asking for feedback on something new.

  • Do not post about how you’re helping charities or non-profits as this will only seem like insincere PR and will be received negatively by the community.
  • Ironic, self-deprecating humor often resonates best – if you’re willing to poke fun at yourself it will show the community a very human side of your company that they crave.
  • Offer exceptional customer service: Many glowing reviews and excerpts from customer service interactions have been posted and received mass attention and positive reviews
  • Think about doing an AMAA (Ask Me Almost Anything): This creates a simple question & answer thread. Users love to be able to talk to a real person who works at a large company that has some effect on their life. But make sure not to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) or else users will expect you to answer every question that is asked, no matter what. Doing an AMAA gives you a free pass to avoid more embarrassing questions.
  • Redditors are extremely insightful and analytical – often going to extremes to find out the truth about a published story or product. If you are going to interact with the community make sure that you are 100% transparent or you will see repercussions. Think of it like talking to your family at Thanksgiving.
  • BE CAREFUL: Make sure that your team is well-versed in the norms of the online community before you even think of dipping your toe in. If you don’t play by the community rules (both explicit and implicit) they will publish you for it.

Good luck with your Redditing!


Nick Steeves builds easy on-line marketing tools & WordPress plug-ins at Wishpond. He’s happy to help anyone with their on-line marketing if they email him nicely at [email protected]

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Comments (9)

  • Igor Beuker 16/07/2012, 19:49

    Hi Nick

    Very insightsful, inspirational and actionable, thanks!

    How do you explain that most tend to miss out Reddit and smart others that are smaller?

    Is it the media agencies’ driven blindness for “the biggest reach”? Since they tend to carve out all that is NOT the biggest “website”

    Do brands and agencies not get “indirect” reach?

    Do we miss out on the power of true influentials?

    Curious to learn from your experience..


    • Wishpond 16/07/2012, 21:47

      Hi Igor,

      Thank you for the praise!

      Most brands and agencies are afraid to jump into Reddit because they don’t fully understand it. The in-house marketing teams and external agencies do not want to be responsible for a negative backlash.

      More than anything Reddit loves a mystery. Warner Bros. created an incredibly viral marketing campaign for The Dark Knight in 2007 with puzzles and scavenger hunts that consumed the online community.

      A similar situation occurred just last week on Reddit:

      A user received a cryptic note and a $50 bill from a person in New York – which the user then posted to Reddit.

      The Reddit community went at it immediately and solved the code in a timely fashion.

      The original post has received over 10,000 comments and was even covered by Forbes –

      If a company can create a mystery that is engaging (and tough) enough to get the community interested – and be transparent about it – they could build buzz without any ill-will like The Dark Knight.

      • Igor Beuker 17/07/2012, 00:44

        Very clear description and exmaples. Hope others here enjoy the peer learnings.

        We tend to help brands think and act like a challenger brand: what would you do if you were a cool, new brand, a challenger without deep pockets / media budget..

        How smart would you like to go? Do you believe in bottom-up approach and OEP, not POE?

        Example of bottom up: building relations with 10 fashion bloggers for Diesel led to several very big chunks, buzz, reach and relations among millions of fashionistas…

        the power of a community can be great and opportunities are in rich niches, that marketers mostly do not know..

        If they trust their specialist agencies to be dedicated to get them the highest ROI on their media investment by using a smart mix oe POE, the P from Paid might even not be needed :-)


  • Elliot V 16/07/2012, 20:35

    As a long time redditor it is also important to note that while great things come from the site, just because someone is shared there does not mean it will have exponential growth. If the community likes it, people will share and discuss it; however, spam and advertisements often get chased away with pitchforks.

    • Wishpond 16/07/2012, 21:58

      Hi Elliot,

      You make a good point that Reddit really is a Pandora’s Box for brands.

      The maker’s of Guitar Hero got the pitchforks when it tried to pass off a viral marketing video as user-generated content –

      The safest bet in my mind is to provide great customer service and hope someone posts a screenshot of it to Reddit – as those are always received positively.

    • Igor Beuker 17/07/2012, 00:47

      Agree that the content or story needs to add fun, entertainment or true pieces of meaningfulness …

      spam and overpromising ads don’t get legs and spread virally… at least most ads don’t spread at all but get zapped away!

      however, some viral charts (video) act like videos are massive virals; but the publishers forget to tell that large chunk of the views were not viral views, but just paid clip views…

      That is still a surprise to me: how we are fooled..

      What do you think?

  • Rudi de Groot 17/07/2012, 11:46

    Hi Nick,

    Do you know if there are any tools like Pinerly for Pinterest to search for social and viral content on Reddit? thx!


    • Elliot V 17/07/2012, 14:30

      Just check the front page :) The more upvotes an item has, the closer to the front page it gets.