Once upon a time, Reddit was considered the “wild west” of the internet. The company’s CEO Steve Huffman described it as a “dystopian Craigslist” – a term he used to explain why the site underwent a major overhaul last year, rebuilding the platform from the ground up.

“The desktop website has not meaningfully changed in many years; it is not particularly welcoming to new users (or old for that matter); and still runs code from the earliest days of Reddit over 10 years ago,” said Huffman at the end of 2017 when Reddit announced its redesign plans.

It was this wild west environment that kept marketers at bay, not wanting to risk brand safety by putting ads on a platform with a less-than-welcoming reputation. But with the site’s overhaul, Reddit has rebuilt its platform to be more welcoming to users and, during the past year, rolled out several new advertising options for brands.

As part of our ongoing series focusing on the next era of social media marketing, we wanted to dig into Reddit’s ad opportunities since its redesign. Are brand safety concerns still an issue? Did Reddit’s “facelift” impact ad results? As the sixth most visited website in the U.S. (according to Alexa), is it time brands give more attention to Reddit? We turned to advertisers on the platform, along with the company’s VP of brand partnerships, to find answers.

Reddit’s steps to address brand safety concerns

“We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting to build a more sophisticated platform for both users and advertisers, and have been more proactive about having brand safety conversations with our partners,” said Zubair Jandali, Reddit’s Vice President of Brand Partnerships, “We have dedicated ads policy specialist with expertise in the space who has upped the cadence of our ad policy reviews and made refinements based on our assessment of the current environment.”

In June, Reddit announced a collaboration with Oracle Data Cloud, integrating Oracle’s Contextual Intelligence technology to provide advertisers brand safety controls for managing user-generated content in real-time.

Jandali said Reddit’s existing advertisers very rarely express brand safety concerns. “If a brand expresses concern about brand safety, explaining our layered approached to moderation tends to alleviate their concerns.”

Heather Cooan, the CEO of HDC Digital, has been running ad campaigns on Reddit for her clients intermittently since the platform launched, but more consistently during the last year. She says her clients have not had any brand safety concerns with Reddit.

“The advertisers I have on Reddit have a target audience that can be kind of cynical and are very security-minded and advertising averse,” said Cooan, “We have to hang out where they hang out. Brand safety is less of a concern.”

Advertisers take a hands-on approach to manage Reddit trolls

For Zachary Burt, the President of Code for Cash, a third-party recruiter of software engineers, Reddit’s tech-savvy communities offered a prime space to run ad campaigns aimed at driving traffic to the company’s job postings.

“The major issue is that if we leave comments enabled, people occasionally troll,” said Burt when asked if he’s experienced any brand safety issues on the platform, “We solved the problem by disabling comments on our ads. We found that the best ads are like text posts; sometimes instead of linking to our job application pages, offsite, we link to another Reddit thread where the applicants can enjoy authentic discussion with their peers, and then decide to apply.”

Duane Brown, the founder of Take Some Risk Inc., said his agency primarily ran sponsored text ads targeting niche sub-threads and hosted AMAs (Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” subreddit threads involving a Q&A format) for the startups he worked with.

“Since we were targeting areas of Reddit that we felt were brand safe, we were comfortable running ads,” said Brown. His agency eventually stopped running Reddit campaigns – not because of brand safety issues, but instead because it simply was not getting strong enough ROI.

A niche community goldmine

Burt said he targets software engineers on Reddit using the tech-specific subreddits along with the site’s geo-targeting capabilities.

“I can tell you that we are achieving cost-per-click rates that are about 50% lower than other channels for targeting our market of software developers,” said Burt, “This is actually typical with new PPC platforms — we saw the same with Quora ads as well.”

Cooan has also found success targeting very specific niche communities on Reddit.

“I tend to get a lot of clients that are in the industrial and technical verticals and I have found that Reddit is a place where their target audience – engineers and IT professionals – hang out,” said Cooan. Her target audience is often made up to people who don’t usually respond to advertising, so she uses messaging that is either super technical or sarcastic while still providing value.

“The key is the offer. These folks are very sensitive about what information they are willing to give,” said Cooan, “For example, they are not going to give their information to gain access to a whitepaper, but they will for a schematic.”

Jandali notes the importance of niche communities in terms of how Reddit’s layered approach to targeting works.

“We coach brands to start conversations where they’re hyper-relevant, extend that engagement to broader communities, and eventually rebroadcast the conversation to our largest communities,” said Jandali, “The key is staring the conversation in a niche community and moving ‘up-funnel’ once the content and tone has been established.”

- Screen Shot 2019 08 02 at 2 - Is it time to pay more attention to Reddit? For advertisers focused on niche audiences, the answer is yes
A niche community goldmine.

Has the redesign helped advertisers?

Last year, Jandali told Marketing Land Reddit was seeing three to seven times better user engagement rates since the redesign. But, according to the advertisers we talked to, those lifts in user engagement have not impacted ad results. Cooan said she hasn’t noticed any major performance improvements with the redesign, but is happy with the direction Reddit has taken.

“It’s nice to be able to run multiple ad variations in a campaign to test messaging faster,” said Cooan, “I get the feeling the redesign was really about building a platform that would allow Reddit to scale development of the platform rather than an upgrade of features.”

Brown’s take on the redesign echoes Cooan’s thoughts.

“Could be our targeting, but we didn’t see a huge jump for our ads,” said Brown, “The new site is great and people on the team use it personally. People can still use the old site and revert back, so it’s hard to know how many people are really using the new site versus the old site.”

Burt also reported no difference in ad engagement for his Code For Cash ad campaigns. “The new platform is a little buggier, but I see the vision and like where they’re going,” said Burt.

Reasons to give Reddit another look

Reddit reports it has 330 million monthly active users (MAUs) globally. To put that in perspective, Twitter reported 139 MAUs during the second quarter of this year and Pinterest just reported 300 million.

According to Alexa, Reddit has consistently ranked at the sixth most visited website in the U.S., with the daily time spent on the site at 10:14 – longer than the average time users spend on Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

The site has also launched a number of new advertising options in the last year. Most recently, the company rolled out app install ads with third-party attribution options and tracking capabilities. In January, Reddit introduced its first performance-based ad unit with the launch of its cost-per-click ads. It also recruited Twitter’s former co-founder of performance ads business earlier this year, naming Shariq Rizvi Vice President of ad products and engineering.

Reddit may still have a ways to go in terms of what it can deliver for advertisers compared to Google, Facebook and Instagram. But, for brands aiming to connect with niche audiences, Reddit offers a unique opportunity — giving advertisers an alternative to social feeds saturated with ads.

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