OPA Intelligence Reports

Posted in News on 09/10/2012 By Mark Glaser & Desiree Everts

Lessons from Reddit’s popularity

While Reddit, the social news site, has harnessed a dedicated following from its users, its name hasn’t managed to go mainstream—until recently. It’s not easy to melt into obscurity when the head honcho of the United States decides to hop onto your platform. After President Obama visited the site for one of its “Ask Me Anything (AMA)” sessions to answer questions on everything from the space program to the White House beer recipe, traffic exploded, topping 2.98 million page views the day of the AMA, according to Reddit. So what can the media industry learn from a site that until now has been relatively low-profile? A lot, according to GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram, but the most obvious thing is to learn the benefit of leaving well enough alone. “In other words, when you have something that seems to be working, the best way to avoid screwing it up is to just let those who built it do whatever they want with it (within reason, of course),” he wrote.

Reddit, a small company of 20 employees that was founded by two young University of Virginia grads, was acquired by Advance Publications, owner of Condé Nast, in 2006. So how did it manage to keep its web community alive and thriving even after it was snapped up? Advance decided to give it freedom. As the New York Times’ David Carr described it, “Steve Newhouse, the chairman of Advance.net, decided very early on that his company would not be the blob that ate Reddit, and for the most part, left well enough alone. ‘We had some ideas about what would be good, but it might not have worked,’ Mr. Newhouse said. ‘We paid attention to the community instead.’” And community building is exactly what media outlets need to pay attention to, according to GigaOm’s Ingram. “Reddit is a great example of a real community, and Advance has clearly seen the power of what that kind of community can do given the right circumstances,” he wrote. “But can it take those lessons and apply them elsewhere? It and other newspapers are going to have to figure out how if they want to survive online.”