How Reddit and Local Media Consortium Upvoted Each Other and Became Partners
Reddit’s 330 million registered “redditors” are often highly engaged as they scrutinize and devour and post, comment and vote on content, which is divided into “subreddits” based on popular topics and areas of interest, many of which go down to the local level. Interests are a grab bag that includes government and politics, crime, culture, entertainment, race-sex-identity, food, sports and, overall, anything that Reddit defines as “funny, serious, offensive, or anywhere in between.” There is also porn, which one subredditor estimated is less than 6% of total content.
With Reddit’s estimated 20,000 volunteer moderators focused on snaring trolls, redditors themselves mostly run the lightly managed 13-year-old social platform. Their “upvotes” and “downvotes” set the agenda for the Reddit community’s spirited, often highly informed, sometimes exasperating and occasionally befuddling conversations.
Most of the 160 million unduplicated readers of the 1,600 news sites of the LMC’s media companies—daily newspapers and TV and radio station for the most part—are far less active than redditors, at least on the digital real estate of the sites that claim them. Most of the sites’ readers are not registered as members. The many millions who are not members and therefore likely less engaged swirl at or near the top of the marketing funnel—the non-business end.
But for all their differences, Reddit and the LMC each has something the other wants.
Reddit, a subsidiary of Advance Publications, which is owned by Condé Nast, is on a growth binge. It would like to tap into the LMC’s pool of readers and turn many of them into subscribers who would add more mix and bring additional passion to the 100,000 sub-reddit sites that define the platform and give it the imprint of its widely recognized branding. With an infusion of traffic from the LMC— traffic that becomes more engaged—Reddit would then be more attractive to advertisers.
Reddit has been actively seeking to escalate its revenue since it went through a siege of turmoil several years ago extending from its top corporate suites to the ranks of its sub-redditors and which ended when co-founder Steve Huffman was put back in charge as CEO. More subscribers would create a bigger pool to grow Reddit Gold, a premium membership service that costs $3.99 monthly or $29.99 yearly.
LMC publishers want to learn from Reddit how to make their readers more engaged. If they did, they would be likely to convert more of them to their own digital subscriptions. Most local news sites, in and out of the LMC, are converting much less than 2%—the industry’s target rate. That weak performance especially hurts daily newspapers, who remain burdened with their mostly money-losing print products. (The Boston Globe, a LMC member, has one of the best conversion rates among dailies, but it is still slightly under the industry’s target.) More engaged readers would also be attractive to digital advertisers, who have shifted much of their message spending to Google and Facebook and other social platforms.
Reddit has already partnered with individual daily newspaper publishers and broadcasters, some of whom are members of the LMC. Alex Riccomini, the platform’s director of business development and media, says that activity is proving mutually beneficial. She says a member of the Dallas subreddit community was so impressed with the engagement of Dallas Morning News reporters and editors on r/politics that it recently sent them 41 pizzas.
There are very high levels of activity between Dallas area sub-redditors and the Dallas Morning News, which is owned by A.H. Belo Corp., a LMC member. The DMN is very likely the “karma” king of Reddit among local media, with 236,427 posts and comments where Dallas sub-redditors have cited the paper in their conversations since the paper began its relationship with Reddit in May of last year. Sub-redditors in the region served by the Boston Globe have not been nearly as active since the paper began its Reddit relationship in November of last year.
The Globe has a Reddit karma of only 4,483, which puts its daily average of posts and comments at 15 compared to 520 for the Dallas Morning News. Karma, however, is not a precise indicator of sub-reddit activity at the local level because it is based on all posts and comments, which include issues extending beyond a locality and its region.
To find out more about the impetus for the Reddit-LMC partnership and its potential, I went to Reddit’s Riccomini and the LMC’s new CEO, Fran Wills.
INTERVIEW WITH THE LMC’S FRAN WILLS
A small portion of content in sub-Reddit communities—porn—is labeled “NSFW” (“not safe for work”). Is this an issue for the LMC?
Regarding sub-Reddit communities, some will not be the focus of our members.
What are the benefits of this partnership to the LMC and its members?
For us, this partnership is basically educational. Reddit is hosting a series of webinars to help our members understand how to reach out and engage with Reddit audiences and inform them how to interpret and track analyses through Reddit tools like CrowdTangle.
The webinars are set up to show our members understand how to distribute content to Reddit through their tools and how best to increase audiences for our members as well as engage those audiences with our members’ content. Hopefully, this will lead to more traffic to the publishers’ websites and, potentially, more conversion to subscriptions.
In exploring new and better ways to engage with readers, does the LMC see its partnership with Reddit going significantly beyond its relationships with Facebook and other social media?
Obviously the Reddit audience is very engaged with and very loyal to Reddit. Reddit is a distribution channel, just like Facebook and Twitter, but, you’re right, it does appear that the Reddit audience is much more engaged and much more consistent about posting. It will be interesting to see what the reactions of Reddit audiences are compared to distribution on other social media.
Subscribers on sub-Reddits regularly ask tough and probing questions. They are sure to ask LMC members about the issue of fraud involving publisher sites in programmatic advertising. Is the LMC ready for that?
We are definitely aware there are ad-fraud issues in the marketplace and are investing in the technology to minimize that on our publishers’ sites as much as possible. We’re taking some pretty big steps in trying to eliminate as much fraud as possible.
But the LMC can’t order its members to carry out any of its recommendations, right?
You’re right. We make recommendations, but it’s up to individual members to adopt them. We do have member-based committees looking for solutions on this issue, and they will come back with recommendations to the larger membership.
INTERVIEW WITH REDDIT’S ALEX RICCOMINI
What’s unique about Reddit compared to other social media platforms?
We have been, are, and will be, I believe, first and foremost about community conversations about topics that are really based on the interests and passions of our subscribers.
What’s Reddit’s goal in its partnership with the LMC?
It’s to see how we can work with individual publishers and how to sort new content through our CrowdTangle integration and how to engage with their community users who are on Reddit already in a way that’s going to be successful.
The LMC and its member publishers have already been learning about CrowdTangle through workshops sponsored under Facebook’s Local News Partnerships program. How is Reddit augmenting the benefits of this tool for publishers?
Sourcing from Reddit is different than sourcing from other social platforms. We have an individual online team that is dedicated to working with newsrooms. Here’s an on-the-ground example. How you would set your CrowdTangle tooling on Reddit involves a different timeline than for Twitter or Facebook. How you would identify communities that will have the content that will resonate with them is quite a bit different. This involves an education in how Reddit can be leveraged with CrowdTangle in very specific ways.
Here’s an example. SFGate has tracked the financial implications of living in Silicon Valley. If I’m a journalist at SFGate, and if I want to leverage CrowdTangle to source from Reddit, we at Reddit can help them to identify the sub-Reddits which may or may not be San Francisco-specific. The topic may be “personal finance,” it may be “new homebuyers.” There are any number of sub-Reddits beyond San Francisco that could be associated with the topic that the SFGate reporter is tracking. What we would do is help that reporter to identify the sub-Reddits that will be the best resources. Remember, there are over 100,000 sub-Reddits that are available to that reporter and other journalists.
Reddit exited from a lot of turmoil several years ago that extended from the company’s corporate suites all the way to the ranks of its sub-redditors. How has it evolved since that crisis?
What we’re really focused on today is bringing community and a sense of belonging to everyone in the world. What we’re talking about here are local news communities. When I started here two and a half years ago, we looked at existing patterns of behavior on Reddit. One of the major patterns was news conversations, so I started investing in and talking with publishers about what their needs are, how they think about Reddit, if they think about it at all.
We’ve been working on developing a series of tools, which include the ability to embed a post or comment in an article so it doesn’t have to be typed out, on CrowdTangle for sourcing, and now our partnership with the LMC. Now that we have the tools in place, we want to help publishers use these tools at scale.
We’ve grown as a company, and we have a team that’s been built out so we can better serve our partners and grow organic engagements and learn how to evolve them. It’s been an exciting time, and I’m looking forward to building on the program with our LMC partner.