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Reddit's Will Cady on How to Reach Your Customers Through "Social Listening"

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Kindra Cooper

Reddit advertising

Despite its pop culture reputation as a free-for-all soapbox maintained and moderated by internet trolls, Reddit is “no place for a**holes,” said Will Cady, head of brand strategy for the fifth most-visited website in the US after Google, YouTube, Facebook and Amazon.

“When a**holes present themselves on Reddit their ideas are dismantled,” Cady said at Social Media Week New York. “...Reddit is built on community and community has no place for a**holes because community requires collaboration – and collaboration requires that we listen.”

Building community through social listening

In fact, “social listening strategy” is at the heart of its revolutionary advertising model debuted three years ago, where brands can launch sponsored subreddits and Ask Me Anything sessions with influencers and celebrities to hear from anonymized users on the world’s most popular online bulletin board dubbed “the front page of the internet.”

This dialogue-based approach to advertising can provide a far more measurable RoI than even a widely distributed banner ad because brands can start conversations with existing and potential customers in a medium expressly designed for long-winded discussions about any and every conceivable topic under the sun.

This morning's "front page of the Internet" contains a widely shared parody website for presidential hopeful Joe Biden's campaign, one Redditor wondering what blind people find sexually attractive and another sharing a breathtaking photo of Mount Fuji. 

Reddit’s team of brand strategists helps brands write “Reddit-friendly” posts so that sponsored content is placed in the most relevant subreddits and written in a language that sounds human rather than corporate.

Listening helps brands build trust

But the most important outcome of this type of advertising, says Cady, is not click-through rates or creating an echo chamber of approval for your brand. It’s about brands building trust by listening to its customers on a social sharing website with a user base of over 330 million Redditors who trade legal advice, relationship woes, personal finance tips, nostalgic game recommendations and more.

“People hate ads but they love brands,” he said, referencing household-names-turned-pop-culture-icons Supreme, Nike, Marvel and HBO. “There’s opportunity in this tension that people have this disdain for ads and this love for brands.”

Reddit advertising

The way to leverage this tension, according to Cady, is by “being a brand that listens. Even more so, being a brand that listens with your ads, because listening builds trust and nothing is safer for a brand than building trust.”

But Redditors can be mean, and despite the adage that no press is bad press, some users eviscerate brands on Reddit threads. The double-edged sword of advertising through two-way dialogue represents a potential PR nightmare for conversative brands, who rightly worry that a scorned Reddit user could besmirch their image.

In the CX world, however, customer complaints are seen as invaluable insights into the customer journey; the more honest the feedback the better.

Brands like Chipotle and YouTube Music learned new things about their customers

In September last year, Chipotle hosted an AMA with its R&D chef, Chad Brauze, who oversees the menu for nearly 2,500 restaurants. Customers criticized the queso, claiming it tasted like “melted crayons.”

Brauze responded by explaining the difficulties of scaling a new ingredient nationally while maintaining a commitment to using all-natural dairy and produce.

“What they received in return was empathy from the users in the challenge of being a national brand and what it means to actually do something like test a new ingredient and then launch it,” said Cady.

Chipotle also took the opportunity to explain that following the E coli outbreak in 2016 it had started using pre-cooked rather than raw meat as a safety precaution, hence its noticeably chewier texture.

The key to benefiting from this social listening strategy, says Cady, is for brands to take user feedback onboard and show that they are listening by making a unique contribution in response.

Reddit advertising

For instance, when YouTube Music came knocking, Reddit’s brand strategists did a deep-dive into the niche subreddits for music enthusiasts, from gypsy jazz to swedish death metal.

“When we listened to those communities we discovered that there was something they were trying to do for themselves that they were really struggling with,” said Cady. Redditors had been trying to bootstrap their own technology so that members of the subreddit could build their own community-curated playlists, but it wasn’t sustainable.

YouTube Music saw an opportunity to offer its own playlist curation expertise, so they culled playlists based on the most upvoted content in each subreddit.

“It was a great integration for them, but they’re also providing a service to these communities shaped by these communities,” said Cady, an indie musician himself.  

Why Reddit puts customer feedback first

Entirely dependent on the continued engagement of its users, Reddit itself follows this same type of user-centric social listening, consulting the community every step of the way whenever a major change is made.

When the site debuted its divisive redesign last year, each week Reddit engineers would post about the changes in the community and allow users to comment on each new feature.

“Our engineers adapted and made changes based on the feedback they got,” explained Cady.

Through the comments section, engineers discovered that a community of blind Redditors had been using a Chrome plug-in to have site content dictated to them, but the new design didn’t support this feature.

“That’s the power of actually listening to your user base; it’s impossible to know all of the things that people need from you.”

Beyond just starting conversations for the express purpose of customer feedback or engagement, brands need to show a genuine commitment to listening, and this is shown in how they reciprocate customer engagement.

In the midst of Reddit’s site redesign, one engineer wrote: “Please post here if there are any other issues we can fix for you.”

“Users started posting about their life problems - being too scared to fall in love or afraid to follow their dreams in life and business,” Cady recalled, smiling. “And he sat there for 10 hours and he talked with them about their life problem. It’s a beautiful, beautiful, very Reddit moment.”