Reddit: A Guide for the Arts


What is Reddit?

Reddit brands itself as "the front page of the internet," and is, in essence, a huge user-driven link aggregator. Readers an find many types of information, ranging from news, to funny pictures, to posts by discipline specific experts answering user submitted questions. Accounts are free to register, and the general order in which links are displayed is determined by how users vote posts"up" or "down," Content is organized by areas of interest called "subreddits," which are both created and curated by Reddit users. By carefully selecting their subscribed subreddits, users can avoid topics that don’t appeal to them and focus on their interests.

As a social news bulletin board, Reddit provides an extraordinarily fast way for users to get information which interests them. Reddit moves so quickly that stories frequently hit the site before they become news. Reddit is completely democratic - anyone can be a contributor and content is very rarely deleted or censored. Compared with serious news sites, such as the Wall Street Journal, Reddit supplies a wide variety of information, from cat pictures to in-depth political analysis.                                                                 

Why Reddit?

Reddit has particular promise as part of a digital strategy. The subreddit system, in effect, encourages users to self-segment themselves into target markets. This creates opportunities for organizations to connect with very specific audiences. Unlike the shock-and-awe blitzkrieg characteristic of billboard or TV ads, Reddit posts can target narrowly, an offering completely different from Facebook or Twitter outside of paying for sponsored posts.

Reddit is different than other channels in terms of how it encourages discussions through commenting. Organizations are at the mercy of reddit voter’s up and downvotes as to whether their message will actually be heard.

 Reddit's Front Page

Reddit's Front Page

Recognizing its potential to reach a broad audience, some arts organizations have already undertaken targeted Reddit campaigns:

The Washington D.C. Holocaust Memorial Museum's used reddit to host its first ever AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on December 3rd, 2012. In the AMA subreddit, celebrities, organizations, and everyday users post interesting facts about themselves, and invite other redditors to ask them questions. Archivist Becky Erbelding, curator Kyra Schuster and social media community coordinator Elissa Frankle shared their experiences, garnering a total of 314 upvotes and 270 comments.

Taking a somewhat different approach, the Museum of Moving Image in New York City broke new curatorial ground when it asked Reddit to collectively select and define a “canon” of reaction gifs, as part of a tribute to the gif as art.  Redditors commented with images they considered “classic” reaction gifs and briefly explained their meaning. The exhibition “The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture.” ended up with 30-50 images and ran from Mar 12 - May 15 in 2014. Although some critics had a negative reaction to this process, the museum considered it a great success.

 A "classic" gif as selected by Reddit.

A "classic" gif as selected by Reddit.

Reddit provides numerous opportunities for arts organizations, and especially museums to promote themselves online. AMA’s and crowdsourced exhibitions are only a narrow slice of the possible opportunities provided by the platform. Reddit overall tends to attract a young, male, and technically savvy audience. Demographics not typically associated with arts consumption. By meeting these potential audience members in their online “home”, arts organizations can broaden their reach.

If there is a downside, it is simply the difficulty of getting noticed in this vibrant online space. Since all of reddit’s content is curated by the users at-large, posts which the majority feels are uninteresting or irrelevant will never be seen by most visitors. Targeting specific subreddits, such as reddit.com/r/museums or other niche content areas may be one way to increase the likelihood of being noticed.

I recommend arts organizations give Reddit a try. Though a successful post may take several attempts, the benefits in terms of exposure can be tremendous.