The GameStop saga has brought the social media site Reddit.com to the financial world’s attention. Should leadership teams pay attention to this website, the #7 most popular in the United States by traffic?
Reddit (101 explainer), which to this date remains privately held and is owned by Condé Nast, offers a platform allowing its users to share and discuss contents with like-minded people on an anonymous basis. It is organized by interest and can be defined as one of the world’s largest chat rooms with over 100,000 communities. Users tend to be highly engaged, prepared to ‘give’ to their communities at least as much as they ‘take’ from an informational content perspective. In fact, each user has a ‘karma’ score and multiple special badges set to represent the value of their contribution to the platform.
Reddit.com is truly a world of its own, with its lingo and a subtle substructure, perhaps the expression of democratic anarchy. Navigating the website is quite intimidating for first timers, but those prepared to make the investment to explore the communities will find it fulfilling. The community (or ‘subreddit’) r/IAmA (‘I am a [profession], ask me anything!), ELI5 (‘Explain to me like I was 5, [question]?) or TIL (‘Today I learned that […]’) contain many nuggets. Or new users can build their own community centered around a specific interest, with its own set of participation rules.
Like other social media forums, Reddit has had to manage a dark side since its founding in 2005. The anonymity associated with free speech have repeatedly led communities to express views which equate to disinformation or represent harmful content. Users and communities are regularly banned from the site, with QAnon being a high-profile example in 2018.
Anyone searching for an industrial company’s name (or brand) may find threads discussing its products and solutions. Many companies already have a subreddit (r/[company name]). Corporate CEOs have participated in influential r/IamA sessions, including Elon Musk. Even President Obama contributed to the site’s legitimacy through an r/IAmA session eight years ago.
In a world where firms are compelled to get closer to their stakeholders, Reddit represents quite naturally an appealing community-based audience. In that respect, its potential cannot be ignored by corporates. But the approach to tap it must be tailored to the social media’s characteristics. The clear advice provided by PR advisers (see here or here, for example) can be summarized as follows: observe and note the unspoken community rules, be prepared to give more than you take (self-promotion is frowned upon), engage in a genuine fashion, be present with a sense of immediacy, and share unique, original content.
Independently from the opportunity Reddit might represent from a public relations point of view, the evidence of the last few weeks suggests that the site can be used as a platform to create collective movements, including in the financial markets. As the democratization of finance continues and ESG gathers momentum, Reddit, building on its subculture, could become over time a medium for ‘stakeholder activism’. There is no better reason for leadership teams to pay attention to Reddit and its evolution.