Reddit: An untapped resource for progressive campaigns in the UK
Reddit is unlike any other social media platform by a long way. It has great potential for campaigning because you can easily escape the echo chamber and reach new audiences — but there are many pitfalls that are often fallen into.
What is Reddit?
Reddit is an unusual Social Media platform
On Reddit, you don’t follow users, but instead join Subreddits, (often large) communities of users interested in the same thing eg
- Crafts: r/SomethingIMade or r/Crafts
- Travel: /r/travel/ or /r/backpacking/
Each Subreddit has it’s own rules, moderators and culture
On Reddit, You aren’t just shown random posts — there are three main feeds. Users tend to switch between these feeds
- Home — showing you posts in the subreddits you have joined
- Popular — showing you posts from most subreddits, but filtering out NSFW or very controversial (often political posts), and prioritising posts in your country
- All — showing you posts from all subreddits, not filtering out politics
- Within these feeds (and within subreddits), you can sort posts:
This makes it very distinct from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where the posts you see are based on complex algorithms — instead, users upvote and downvote posts, which affects how they are shown.
Posts that exceed the typical number of upvotes for their subreddit are shown under “hot” and “top” on the “popular” and “all” pages. This is often referred to as being on the front page of Reddit. Unlike traditional social media, where it is hard for a post to become viral without a pre-established following, on Reddit you can get to the front page without any followers
The unspoken rules of Reddit
Reddit is very hard for companies and organisations to approach, unlike other social media it isn’t geared towards business — in fact, it specifically is geared against this.
- The most hated thing on Reddit is businesses, individuals or organisations that try to use a subreddit for personal gain — you will get downvoted into oblivion or kicked by trigger happy mods (moderators)
- So don’t use an organisation account — post as an individual, or as a group of individuals, and don’t only post relating to your organisation
- Engage in a wide range of subreddits and discussions before you start getting too political
- Don’t post links to the organisation you are working for (eg sharing a petition is a big no-no)
- Understand that the kind of things you’ll post on Reddit are nothing like what you’ll post on other social medias
- Never let anyone know you’re marketing something — you’re doing it for fun, not as work!
The most important thing is to get to know the platform before you properly dive in.
Can Reddit have a political impact?
Short answer: Yes, it can be great for growing awareness, but it won’t get people completing your actions for you.
Long answer: As I said previously, Redditors hate being advertised to, even if you’re a non-profit. This means no links, no calls to action. The only results you will get from Reddit are upvotes and views, not petition signatures or donations. BUT if your goal is to change hearts and minds, then Reddit is an untapped resource by campaigns in the UK.
Reddit is most commonly used by young people — but has a very different demographic than other social media, and can often be people’s primary social media:
Reddit is increasingly popular, hitting 1million monthly users in the UK in 2020:
In the US, it’s been theorised that many of these users don’t vote, and are not politically active — so the ability to reach these audiences without needing to establish a following may make the platform more powerful for campaigns than Twitter, where many followers are likely already politically engaged.
No echo chambers
One of the hardest social media challenges for campaigns is breaking out of the echo chamber, but with Reddit, this may not be an issue.
A study looking at Reddit during the US’ 2016 election found that within the r/politics subreddit, there is much less polarisation, and more cross-party discussion, than on other social media. This gives a unique opportunity to have progressive views heard by those who typically don’t see them on Social Media.
Overall, our findings show that Reddit has been a tool for political discussion between opposing points of view during the 2016 elections. This behavior is in stark contrast with the echo chambers observed in other polarized debates regarding different topics, on several social media platforms.#
Current UK Politics on Reddit
The top political subreddits are mostly full of US, or non-specific posts. This doesn’t mean you should rule them out entirely — they can be great for posting about international issues like climate change.
As well as these we have lots of UK subreddits devoted to various UK topics including politics.
Often the best place to post about politics, isn’t where you think. Maybe you could ask a loosely political question in the r/AskUK, or even rant about school in r/teenagers — often more subtle posts do better
As well as this, sharing news articles can be very successful — and is seen as less sinister than deliberately campaigning. Every campaign should be sharing related news articles to the top UK and news subreddits, as an easy first step onto this platform.
Case Study: u/lrlourpresident
An interesting example of political campaigning on Reddit is a user called lrlourpresident
They have a total Karma (total upvotes-total downvotes) of 8,942,787 and campaign for progressive democrats in the US, particularly Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Bernie Sanders. Despite having such a huge following, the page is less than 4 years old.
They moderate several subreddits, including:
Many of these are mod-locked — so only they can post in them, despite the subreddits having many many subscribers.
Looking at their top posts of all time, they mostly share tweets by AOC:
These are impressive numbers, particularly because on average you need just 4,000 upvotes in 6 hours in order to make it to the homepage
Before establishing their own large subreddits, they largely shared tweets, speeches and interviews of prominent left-wing candidates in large political subreddits:
They generally share the same post to several subreddits, hoping one of them will bite:
My attempt: cheating the game
In 2019 I wanted to find out if you could cheat Reddit, in an attempt to get a post promoting the 20th September Climate Strike on the front page. I was successful.
My target audience was young people who might strike from school — so I chose popular subreddit r/teenagers
It’s important to understand what works well in each subreddit, I know that being controversial, informal and often nonsensical does well in this group (eg:)
So I wrote a post that I knew would catch their attention:
- fuck was the first word in the title
- and the title was controversial
- no caps
I knew that the post was good, but didn’t think it was good enough to get to the top of a subreddit that never gets political — I had to boost the results as it first went live so it didn’t get lost in “new” — the first few minutes of a post going live will shape its ability to make it to the top
- I shared the post with a big group of friends as soon as it went live, they all upvoted it
- One of my friends awarded it with gold very early on — these meaningless awards on Reddit cost actual money (or can be earned by getting awarded) but can be great to catch people’s attention when a post is first live
And that’s it! Understanding the audience, making yourself real and personal, and making sure the post has a good liftoff can really work
Engaged unpolitical young people in an interesting discussion
Recruited more people for the climate strike — with many commenters hearing about it for the first time, and saying they would strike!
So there you go, that’s my short on how I think Reddit could be better used by political campaigns in the UK.
Got any questions or thoughts for me? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org