Digging in to Reddit: does it work for fashion brands and retailers?

reddit

Late last week, Intel’s Sandra Lopez teamed up with Rebecca Minkoff for a conversation on social news site Reddit. The “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) encouraged users to pose questions about the roles of fashion and technology intertwining, as well as the opportunities for millennial women in STEM fields.

It was a strong example of something that worked on the platform – native to how its users operate, and filled with personal responses (from how Lopez and Minkoff got started in their careers, to how they managed their work/life balance, and why men never get asked that question).

Self-proclaimed as ‘the frontpage of the internet’, Reddit has a reported 202 million unique visitors a month. During 2015, it saw 82.54 billion page views across 88,700 active subreddits (sub forums). There were 73.15 million submissions, with 725.85 million comments made by 8.7 million total authors.

Risky business

The Intel/Minkoff example is one of many AMAs, but it’s still one of few of fashion brands and retailers really getting involved.

The uncensored and unpredictable nature of the site goes some way to explaining why. The platform was designed to be a space where like-minded individuals communicate without interference. Reddit is open source and moderated by unpaid volunteers. Users, known as “redditors”, create threads called subreddits, which other members with similar interests can join.

Initially the company had just five rules: “Don’t spam; Don’t ask for votes or engage in vote manipulation; Don’t post personal information; No child pornography or sexually suggestive content featuring minors; Don’t break the site or do anything that interferes with normal use of the site.” The lack of rules and regulations, fostered an “anything goes” culture that still defines Reddit today.

For a brand, therefore, entering a community like Reddit can be risky.

RedditAMA_Intel_RebeccaMinkoff

Frequent changes of senior management has done little to improve Reddit’s volatile reputation. Three different leaders have been in place over the past three years: Yishan Wong, Ellen Pao and Steve Huffman respectively, all with very different objectives. Pao’s 2014 strategy to clean up the darker side of Reddit and remove the less savoury elements for instance – like banning subreddits “fatpeoplehate” and “hamplanethatred”, which focused on shaming overweight people – angered core members who felt Poa’s intentions went against the free-speech ethos of Reddit.

But needless to say, this did make it more appealing on the brand side. Around the same time, Nordstrom created Nordstrom1901, the official Nordstrom subbreddit, to communicate with customers after noticing increased activity surrounding the brand on the platform. Nordstrom’s first post encapsulated the relaxed, genuine attitude Reddit users appreciate. “We are Redditors at heart and can’t wait to get to know the communities better. We’re here to help so questions, comments, etc. are all welcome,” it read.

Focusing on service and avoiding aggressive marketing, Nordstrom received a warm Reddit welcome. AMAs proved particularly popular. Real-time feedback also allowed Nordstrom to navigate any minor issues before they escalated into larger problems. Their venture onto Reddit appeared fruitful, so it’s unclear why Nordstrom1901 has been abandoned (the last official Nordstrom1901 post was 11 months ago). Often such moves come down to the advocate for a specific platform no longer being in the business, but it’s also likely a change of strategy was at play; if ROI wasn’t proving fruitful from the platform, resources could easily have been allocated elsewhere.

Ensuring authenticity

One brand that has converted conversation into revenue through Reddit is Uniqlo. Speaking to Marketing Land, Uniqlo’s e-commerce manager, Arielle Dyda (who manages the retailer’s Reddit involvement), explained that it now drives more traffic and revenue for the retailer than any other social channel.

Its efforts started on the platform in 2012 after traffic from Reddit crashed the soft launch of its e-commerce site. Today, 5% of its referral traffic comes from social media, with 64% of that from Reddit. Of the 3% of monthly sales from social media, 64% is also from Reddit. On a day when Dyda posts about a special deal, it can drive up to 20% of their online sales.

One particular subreddit – r/MaleFashionAdvice – is particularly fruitful, and Uniqlo isn’t even the most mentioned brand on there:

Reddit_malefashionadvice

The key to Uniqlo success surrounds authenticity, transparency and excellent customer service, says Dyda. She focuses on being real, but also on being playful. It helps that she uses her personal Reddit account, midnight1214, tagged as an official company representative.

“So just being able to be a genuine person is important. I joke around with them, I post memes. I’m savvy with the Reddit lingo and that makes me one of them. I’m not just Uniqlo, I’m midnight1214, and I understand the jokes and I understand frustrations, but I’m going to be here to help you when you need it,” she explains. She also leans on the community’s moderators for help so as not to seem too promotional at times.

Spending time getting to know the platform, answering questions and contributing, without imposing corporate strategies or marketing campaigns, distinguished Uniqlo from other companies entering Reddit. Dyda adds: “I think if another band wants to jump in, they really have to take the time and learn and understand first of all what are people saying about your company [on there].”

By comparison, US-based, outdoor apparel company REI, conducted insufficient research when they attempted to join the platform. Misjudging the importance of authenticity, CEO Jerry Stritzke started the conversation by highlighting REI’s decision to close on Black Friday. Seemingly unaware of the distain of brands using the site for advertising and marketing, he wrote: “Hi Reddit. I’m Jerry Strizke, CEO of REI. You might have heard about us recently when we announced that we would be closing all of our stores on Black Friday this year. We’re paying our 12,000 employees to take the day off and we’re encouraging them to opt out of the Black Friday madness and spend the day outdoors with loved ones…Ask me anything!”

His comments were interpreted as a publicity drive, prompting a dramatic backlash of negativity. Redditor phD_in_Random said: “I’ve never even heard of this company and I hate it already. We don’t have one in my city and I hope we never do.”

Strizke also missed a number of contentious questions from current and former employees surrounding a membership sales scheme the company runs. Strizke failed to grasp that leaving the discussion early, didn’t mean the conversation was over, but rather gave the impression he was avoiding tougher issues. One comment in particular got so blown up (there were some 5,000 responses on the AMA in total), that he had to return to Reddit later to address it.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been no further activity on Reddit from REI.

Native advertising

Steve Huffman, one of the original founders of Reddit, returned as CEO in July 2015, shifting the focus from imposing a level of moral decency to expansion. He is in charge of the business side of Reddit, while co-founder Alexis Ohanian concentrates on editorial aspects like Upvoted, Reddit’s new publication.

Here, a small team of editors sifts through the most interesting posts, rewriting stories worthy of further development. It aims to put a spotlight on all the hundreds of conversations that otherwise get lost in the noise of the platform. It also proves an opportunity for Reddit itself to monetise, by offering brands a safer way to enter through its native advertising scheme.

Sponsored posts are likewise written by the editorial team, and designed to fit with the nature of the content rather than through traditional advertising banners. In the interest of transparency, Reddit made its intentions clear from the off: “We will be working with brands on sponsored content, all of which will be visibly distinguished as such.”

Going forward, the introduction of Upvoted reflects the positive changes at Reddit. There’s a deeper understanding that if the site is to reach its full potential, management must act responsibly. Initiatives like providing a help section with advice on “Brandiquette”, for brands thinking of advertising, makes the site much more approachable.

Brands in other industries including food, literature and music have accordingly reported positive results (case studies available). With that in mind, fashion brands and retailers will also look to consider Reddit as a suitable advertising partner in the future.

Needless to say, for any brand thinking about stepping into the Reddit world in the meantime, operating within the context of the site is paramount. With such a large audience available to tap into, and proven revenue drivers at play when handled correctly, the opportunity is almost too good not to.