Newsrooms say referrals from Reddit are increasing

Throughout 2013, Reddit has been referring more and more users to news sites, according to several online editors.

Gary Nielson, digital news specialist at McClatchy Interactive, noticed this recently. First, an online producer in Charlotte spotted huge traffic for a particular story that had been posted on Reddit. Then, a monthly report came out, Nielson said in a phone interview. Reddit had moved up to No. 10 as a referral site. Previously it sat down at No. 22.

Tom Moore, online editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, noted the same trend. Throughout 2013, he told me in an email, referrals from Reddit have doubled, over the previous year. It now ranks around No. 15, which is still a small number of referrals, compared to Google or Facebook. But he’s paying attention. Last year, intern Eric Brown published a  short guide to Reddit on the paper’s blog.

Dan Petty, social media editor at the Denver Post, said in an email that referrals from Reddit have increased more than 300 percent in the first five months of 2013 over the same period the previous year, coming in at No. 11, up from No. 21.

For the uninitiated, Reddit is a text-heavy social site with 69.9 million monthly users, who vote posts up and down. By comparison Facebook has 1.11 billion. Instagram has 100 million. Online communities form around various themed subreddits, which consist of links posted by users, who then interact with each other through comment threads. Although it’s nicknamed the “front page of the internet,” Reddit is sometimes seen as confusing, overwhelming, or just cluttered to those who don’t use it.

President Barack Obama did an AMA (ask me anything) during the 2012 election, which generated 3.3 million subscribers. And Reddit got lots of attention during the week after the Boston Marathon bombing, when some of its users formed a subreddit designed to help police identify the attackers, but instead turned into a digital witch hunt, singling out as suspects several innocent people by name or photograph. That thread has since been made private to the creators.

Redditors were also behind the massive donation campaign to send a bus monitor on vacation and after she had been humiliated and berated on a video posted to the internet by a middle school boy. They ultimately raised enough money for her to retire.

For all the attention Reddit has received, newsrooms that use it well are treading lightly. Even after Reddit became a central source of news aggregation during the Aurora, Colo. theater shootings, Petty said the Post still doesn’t have a formal Reddit strategy. Such a strategy may not be necessary.

“When we do find an article, or story or photo gallery or video that we feel might resonate particularly well with the Reddit community, we will post it in the relevant subreddit (usually /r/denver),” he wrote in an email. “We have a few people in the newsroom who are especially big Redditors — who will post stories there consistently, and not always our work. That’s where the real work comes in — cultivating that reputation with good posts that always aren’t your own. Not unlike Twitter, but even more niche than that.”

Most of the increase in the Denver Post’s Reddit referrals come from a handful well-placed links to Post, Petty said.

Two news sites have caught the attention of Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin for their activity. Slate reporters do lots of IAmAs (I am a …),  which each generate a couple hundred comments. However, the online network TWiT “is the only one that has really done something meaningful in the subreddit space,” Martin said.

TWiT created a subreddit called Tech News Today with 16,000 subscribers. The key to its success is that it posts links and starts discussions about a variety of issues, not just its own content, Martin wrote.

Given Reddit’s potential to drive a lot of traffic to news sites, here are some best practices gleaned from the people quoted in this story.

  • First, get to know Reddit, which has a distinct code of behavior (like it’s not cool at all to reveal in any way another user’s real identity.)
  • Find out who in your newsroom is using Reddit and how they use it. There is a subreddit on almost everything.  Participate in subreddits on different geographic areas, events and activities relevant to your audience.
  • Although Reddit is generally anonymous, journalists should be transparent about who they are and what their intentions are if they are looking for sources or gathering information for stories.
  • Redditors get offended when they feel used. Participants have to be genuine members of a community to be taken seriously.
  • To learn about Reddit, staff members can post an AMA (ask me anything) to the IAmA thread. But first you have to understand the difference in the terminology. AMAs are a format. IAmA is a particular subreddit where many AMAs appear. But it’s not the only place.
  • Learn what resonates and why. The Seattle subreddit is different than the St. Petersburg subreddit. That’s because Reddit isn’t one community, but millions of communities. They each have their own flavor.

Reddit provides newsrooms with an opportunity to engage young, smart audiences, said Moore, the online editor in Santa Cruz. Success with Reddit will come from having a critical mass of staff members who enjoy participating on the site.

“We all agreed to get to know more about Reddit, kick the tires,” said Nielson, the McClatchy Interactive guy.  “We’ll get in there and play more.”

And if you don’t have folks on staff who enjoy the whole Reddit vibe, the other thing you can do is hire more Redditors.

Previously: A journalist’s quick guide to Reddit, the next thing you have to learn | Boston Globe reporter on Reddit: ‘It’s amazing how many trends and stories start there’

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