“Kill them with kindness:” How The Texas Tribune is growing its presence on Reddit

Reddit can be confusing. It’s an idiosyncratic platform that can be difficult to navigate and then seemingly out of nowhere send publishers a ton of traffic.

A number of news organizations, however, have adopted really smart approaches to how they use Reddit. Today in Solution Set I’m going to highlight one of them: The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is just one of a handful of outlets doing great work on the platform, and and we’ve shared some links at the bottom of this report with examples of others doing awesome stuff.

Solution Set is a new weekly report from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Solutions Journalism Network. Every Thursday, we take an in-depth look at one rad thing in journalism, share some lessons, and point you toward other excellent resources.

If your news org has taken a novel approach to Reddit, let me know! I’ll share some of the responses on Twitter or in next week’s issue of Solution Set. You can email me at [email protected] or tweet me at @ylichterman.



In the meantime, here’s the TLDR version of what you should know about the Tribune’s Reddit strategy:


TLDR

The Challenge: Reddit can be an intimidating platform. As The Texas Tribune thought about becoming active on Reddit, it had to consider the best way to engage with users without overstepping any boundaries.

The Strategy: The Tribune tries to be as helpful and informative as possible. It does more than just post its own stories. It shares relevant coverage from other publishers and also engages in discussions in the comments.

The Numbers: The Tribune has a karma score of about 46,000. (Scroll down to find out more about karma scores.)

The Lessons: When you think about joining a new platform, you have to be respectful of the communities, cultures, and norms that are already established there.

The Future: The Tribune is thinking of other ways it can grow its presence on Reddit.

Want to know more?: Scroll down to learn how other publishers have had success on the Reddit.


Now, let’s dig in a little deeper:

The Challenge

Reddit can often feel like an impenetrable black hole for publishers. The platform calls itself the front page of the Internet, but with its meandering threads and obscure subreddits it can be difficult to navigate for those who are unfamiliar with the platform.

Still, Reddit is immensely popular. It’s the fourth most popular website in the United States, according to Alexa, the Amazon-owned site that tracks web traffic. (Yes, Amazon owns two separate things named Alexa.) On average, users spend 15 minutes and 49 seconds on Reddit each day, Alexa says.

That’s a massive audience, but as The Texas Tribune recently decided to try and figure out how to build a presence on Reddit, the Austin-based nonprofit that covers Texas politics was intrigued by the focused communities on the platform.

“Reddit is a social platform that’s made up of niche communities and communities that are hyper-interested in one topic or subject area. We are a news organization that is intensely focused on politics and policy, we have a lot of subject experts in our newsroom in a hyper-intensive way,” said Bobby Blanchard, the Tribune’s social media manager, who oversees its Reddit account.

“We thought we were a match for Reddit,” he said.

As the Tribune thought about how to best build its presence on Reddit, it strategized about the best way to share its coverage and expertise without stomping on the community’s norms.


The Strategy

The Texas Tribune launched its Reddit account in January with a typical Texan, “Hey y’all,” in its first post to the r/TexasPolitics subreddit. It also used the post to explain its goals for the platform:

We’re not on Reddit to flagrantly self-promote or spam links in subreddits. We respect Reddit’s culture and already established communities. Rather, we’re here to:
  • See who is sharing our content and answer questions in the comments when applicable
  • Host meaningful IAmAs between Reddit users and significant figures in Texas politics
  • Engage with our readers and hopefully have a little fun

“Reddit is a different platform to navigate compared to Facebook and Twitter,” Blanchard said.  “It’s not just opening the floodgates and sharing all your stuff and seeing what happens. It’s being strategic about where you post your stuff and what you post. We certainly don’t post everything to Reddit and we’re more careful about picking stories readers might be interested in.”

The Tribune is aiming to do AMAs (Ask MeAnythings, or Reddit-based Q&As) at least once a month. In March, executive editor Ross Ramsey answered questions on the Texas primary elections, which were the first of the 2018 election season and attracted significant national interest.

Blanchard has strategically targeted specific subreddits where the Tribune is active. If the Tribune can contribute to a national political story, it’ll post to r/politics, a subreddit focused on all things politics. (The Tribune is most active in that subreddit.)

After special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Russian entities for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election, the Tribune commented on an r/politics thread about the indictments by highlighting a detail that involved Texas:

The Tribune will also post to more specialized subreddits that are relevant to a particular story. The Tribune recently wrote a story on how Texas A&M University spent almost $300,000 to combat a Richard Spencer rally, and Blanchard posted it to r/aggies, a subreddit dedicated to everything Texas A&M.

“When I think where to post stories on subreddits I’m definitely deliberate on whether this is a Texas-only thing or if there’s a national audience there,” he said.

It’s frowned upon on Reddit to only promote your own work, so Blanchard will also use the Tribune account to post relevant coverage from other publishers. The Tribune recently shared a Houston Chronicle story on a movie about Hurricane Harvey to r/Houston and a Washington Post story about the spate of bombings in Austin to r/Austin.

Blanchard also makes a point to post more than just links. The Tribune will chime into conversations, chat with users, and even make jokes.

Here’s how Blanchard, as the Tribune, chimed into a recent conversation about a controversial student government election at the University of Texas-Austin. The Tribune contributed some additional context and some humor:

“It’s important that if a brand is going to be on Reddit, that it is a bit more human,” Blanchard said.


The Numbers

The Tribune has received mixed reactions to its posts. Its most popular has been the comment it made on the Mueller thread. That comment received more than 15,000 points, more than three times its next most popular post. (Reddit scores are the number of upvotes minus the number of downvotes. More here, including detailed overviews of how upvoting and downvoting works, on Reddit’s FAQ)

“That was a big moment for us. People noticed we were on Reddit, we’re participating, we’re active, and watching the comments,” Blanchard said.

However, some of the Tribune’s posts get no comments or votes.

The Tribune has a karma score of about 46,000. In its FAQ, Reddit says karma scores represent “how much good the user has done for the Reddit community.” Essentially, users receive more karma when their posts and comments are upvoted. For comparison, The Washington Post, which is one of the most popular publishers on Reddit and has been active since April 2017, has nearly 470,000 karma points. (More on the Post below in The Lessons and in Want to Know More?)

Blanchard said he’s tracking Karma and follower rate to measure how the Tribune is doing on Reddit. He also said Reddit hasn’t been a major traffic driver for the Tribune.

“We’re tracking Reddit referrals, but that’s not what we’re looking at for success,” he said. “The main thing is being engaged with people and answer questions.”

Blanchard also said that he doesn’t post as frequently to Reddit as he does to the Tribune’s Facebook or Twitter accounts. Ultimately, though, his approach to Reddit — and other social platforms — is dictated by how he can best manage his time and resources.

“My boss said this great thing to me when I first started here 18 months ago, she said: A lot of what you’re going to do in this job is not going to be picking what to do but picking what not to do,”  Being a social media manager is so much of a hamster wheel, that I have to be very aware of where I’m spending my time and energy and what is worth my time and energy.”


The Lessons

Respect the community: I touched on this earlier, but it bears repeating: If you’re thinking about becoming more active on Reddit, you need to be respectful of the existing communities that are already there. (This is a good approach to all journalism, tbh.)

“People value these communities they have on Reddit,” Blanchard said. “These are places where people feel they are learning things and contributing to conversations. You don’t want to be someone who bulldozes that with your brand. You need to be an active participant, not just someone who is shouting with a bullhorn.”

When it joined the r/Houston subreddit, for instance, the Tribune faced some pushback from users.

“Nah, I’m good. I come to Reddit to get away from news & shit..,” one wrote.

Another posted: “Just so you know buddy, it’s against reddit rules to promote your own content without participating in other discussions. If you just spam post your articles (as you seem to be), you will get shadowbanned by the admins.

The Tribune replied that it understood the rules and would work to abide by them.

“We’re not here to spam post our articles to subreddits – we’ve submitted one texastribune.org link to a subreddit (r/politics) in our time here so far. Other texastribune.org links we’ve submitted have been to our own user page.

We’re here to participate in discussions and listen and learn. Hope our comment history reflects that so far, but we’ll keep working!”

That type of transparency is helpful, Blanchard said, but it’s also important to follow through and show users that you take the rules and culture seriously.

“Kill them with kindness is a big strategy of mine when people aren’t happy to see us or are not trustworthy of us.”

• Learn from others: The Tribune was partially motivated to launch its Reddit account after it saw The Washington Post have success on the platform.

The Tribune’s Reddit persona of a helpful friend that isn’t overly self-promotional was inspired by the Post’s Reddit presence.

Post social media editor Gene Park maintains the paper’s Reddit account, and last fall he told Nieman Lab that the Post’s primary goal on the platform is to contribute to the community.

“This isn’t a traffic play; it’s an engagement play,” Park said. “So the strategy includes inserting ourselves into comments under stories that are posted. The Washington Post is linked to quite often on Reddit. We want to find those conversations around our stories to see if we can provide more context or more answers. Sometimes we might’ve written a bunch of stories that relate to questions people are asking. I might use my knowledge and ties to get that information to people.”

Blanchard also said he spoke a media partnership representative at Reddit who shared tips and examples of other successful publishers on the platform.

When you’re thinking of starting something new, it can be super helpful to see what others have done successfully and to identify what you can learn from their work.

Moderators can be your friends: Every subreddit has moderators who maintain the forum, and it behooves publishers to work with them.

After the first time the Tribune posted to r/politics, one of the moderators reached out to confirm that it was really the Tribune. Blanchard provided proof that it was really the Tribune, and the moderator then verified its account and said, “We love that you submitted, please keep doing that, please have a presence here,” Blanchard recalled.

That verification has given the Tribune an added sense of belonging in the subreddit.

“Because Reddit has this reputation of being not always a welcoming place for publishers, I was expecting to always have to tread very lightly and to always get some negative pushback,” Blanchard said. “I haven’t had that in the r/politics subreddit at all. It’s been a welcoming place for us.”

Tools help: Blanchard uses CrowdTangle, the Facebook-owned social monitoring tool, to keep track of how Tribune stories are spreading across Reddit. He gets a notification every time a story is posted to the platform. He also gets alerts for certain keywords — such as every time Texas is mentioned in r/politics.

Once he gets a notification, he’ll then go into the comments and add more context or try to answer any questions that users may have.

There are only so many hours in the day, and Blanchard has more responsibilities than just Reddit, so the notifications help him keep track of what’s happening on Reddit without spending a ton of time monitoring the platform.

“I don’t have to read every single post,” Blanchard said. “I can monitor stuff.”


The Future

Having just debuted its account in January, The Texas Tribune is still very new to Reddit.For now, it has no plans to change what it’s doing. It wants to continue to be a serviceable member of the Reddit community and will continue to build its brand on the platform.

Thus far, its focused on a small number of subreddits, but moving forward the Tribune plans to continue to look for areas where it can add value and share knowledge.


Want to know more?

• For more on Reddit as a platform, check out this recent New Yorker story, Reddit and the Struggle to Detoxify the Internet.

• Here’s the Nieman Lab story I mentioned earlier about The Washington Post’s Reddit strategy.

• Reddit is trying to work more closely with publishers, according to this article in Digiday.

• And in the most delicious Reddit news of the week, an anonymous Redditor sent The Dallas Morning News 41 pizzas earlier this week because they were a fan of the paper’s Reddit account, u/dallasmorningnews.


Anything to add?

I want to hear about any other cool things publishers are doing on Reddit. I’ll share some of the responses I get in.

Tweet me or send me an email, I’m at [email protected]

See you next Thursday!


Creative Commons photo of Reddit logo by Mechatronics Guy.
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