April 25, 2014

I’ve called Facebook a capricious despot when it comes to how its mystery algorithm dishes out prime News Feed real estate. Figuring out how it favors certain types of content over others can have a major positive impact on your site’s traffic. For better or worse, news organizations are dependent on Facebook for an ever larger share of visitors.

But Reddit might be even more confusing to news organizations. It’s a place where successful posts can expose your content to an international audience of millions and lead to big traffic spikes — but also where human moderators can cut you off for bad behavior or suddenly decide your domain is no longer a good fit for the site’s primary news section.

The Atlantic has experienced both forms of banishment, barred for a time in 2012 due to overzealous link sharing by its then-social media editor. More recently, the media company’s domain has been banned from /r/news, a subreddit that all Reddit users see by default unless they unsubscribe, alongside other major sites like The Huffington Post, Vice and Salon. Content from the sites dropped off severely late last summer.

(Jeff Sonderman wrote a great Reddit primer two years ago for those unfamiliar with the site’s mechanics and terminology.)

“The moderators’ rational, as we best understand it, is just that /r/news be focused exclusively on ‘hard news’ and not broader approaches that integrate analysis / opinions / essays / etc.,” J.J. Gould, TheAtlantic.com’s editor, told Poynter via email.

Meanwhile, the moderators took some heat in February for removing links to a Glenn Greenwald story because they didn’t adhere to the subreddit’s guidelines that submitted articles not be biased or opinionated. And policies banning certain domains aren’t completely transparent, as some redditors complained in this thread. It’s not exactly clear where the moderators are drawing the line. (I messaged them Thursday afternoon and haven’t heard back.)

But it’s their prerogative to draw the line wherever they want, and it’s important to note that the moderators aren’t employed by Reddit and are distinct from Reddit administrators. If you don’t like how a moderator is managing a subreddit, the best solution is to start your own subreddit and moderate it with different rules, said Victoria Taylor, director of communications for Reddit.

Gould said he thinks Atlantic content is appropriate for /r/news but isn’t sweating the change:

I think The Atlantic is relevant to the news every day, so I’d like to see members of /r/news be able to refer to us when appropriate.

I’m not worried about our readership being suppressed as such, though. It’s super-healthy. Lots of people keep reading The Atlantic, referred from all kinds of sources, including, in fact, from all over Reddit.

So, you know, I hope folks on /r/news can bring The Atlantic back into the mix when they want to, but that’s up to the moderators.

Alexis Madrigal wrote in 2011 that a popular Reddit post “can drive six-figure traffic to a story.” While The Atlantic’s domain is still welcome on lots of other subreddits, no doubt it hurts to lose visibility in the very popular /r/news.

What social media editors shouldn’t do

Taylor recently wrote a piece for Muck Rack detailing best practices for journalists on Reddit. Among her advice: “Whether editorial, advertising or somewhere in-between, submitting your content walks a fine line and can violate our rules on self promotion.”

So while there’s nothing news organizations can really do about rule changes that keep their links off individual subreddits, they can avoid site-wide banishment by educating social media editors, marketers and other employees about Reddit before they do anything to get a domain banned (as happened to The Atlantic, Businessweek, and Discovery News in 2012).

What do those employees need to know? “Reddit is fundamentally different from other social media platforms,” Taylor said. It’s not like Twitter and Facebook, where broadcasting links is encouraged. The worst thing a news organization can do on Reddit is to treat it like Twitter or Facebook to compete for attention and garner clicks.

It’s tempting to try to reach all those eyeballs, but it has to happen naturally. Taylor’s advice: “Create content that is interesting to redditors and let the content speak for itself. Let redditors submit the content for you.”

That means it doesn’t really make sense for anyone to implement a strategy for reaching readers on Reddit. You can facilitate sharing by having a Reddit button on your site or by arranging AMAs (ask me anything) with staffers to time with major news events, but beyond that your time is better spent trying to figure out smart Facebook and Twitter strategies. Let Reddit take care of itself.

Related: Straight from reddit’s director of communications: best practices for journalists on reddit (Muck Rack)

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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