You’re Doing it Wrong: Reddit as a Resource, and My Come-to-Reddit Moment

Originally published at

This is part 1 in an ongoing series about being on Reddit as a startup trying to build community while not being a human spambot.

The moderator revolt and the controversy magnet/former interim CEO, Ellen Pao, made Reddit impossible to avoid this summer. The ‘front page of the internet’ even drew actual front-page coverage from publications geared at people like me — people with a mortifying single karma point to my screen name. As a female founder in Silicon Valley, totally obsessed with both startups and women in tech, how could I not follow the story?

I quickly formulated several great talking points and “well researched” opinions based on this event, that one guy who asked me out once but spent too much time talking about Reddit to have a real conversation, and a low level obsession with Alexis Ohanion and his short lived podcast NYRD Radio. Despite my analysis, and discussions, somewhere in the intersection of so many colliding tech-world issues I managed to miss the single most important lesson I could have learned as a startup founder. Reddit is a resource, not just an example.

Reddit as a Resource

In the world of entrepreneurship, we tend to treat other companies as case studies — models from which to learn about how different strategies might work for our own company. Often, in this process we overlook that the company’s product is something we can actually interact with and use. It’s a little like tunnel vision, except that we only see the meta resource of lessons learned and inspirational quotes from the founder. We typically discover a new tool by hearing about how another company leveraged it.
For the most part this is fine, but I think it does mean that founders might miss out on resources that other people aren’t using, or aren’t using well. While someone is first with every tool, early adopters are usually drawn in by active outreach from the tool-producing company itself. This means that we are more likely to miss out on the value of products that aren’t positioning themselves as a tool for the startup community. Products like Reddit.

Reddit is itself a community, but it was its methods of community building and management in particular that were under scrutiny in the mod revolt coverage. I tried to use these lessons to inform how I built up the Buddy Watch community, because that’s how it was treated in the media and analysis. If I had taken my thinking one step deeper, I might have instead found myself asking questions about how people build communities within the Reddit community, and how to leverage the active community that already exists there.

Reddit has 36 million user accounts and 229 million monthly unique visitors from countries around the world. I want my startup to get in on the action of a website who’s millions of users are so engaged that they created havoc worthy of New York Times coverage over the firing of a single employee. (The height of the bar this sets might be debatable, but the community engagement is not.)

My Come-to-Reddit Moment

How did I eventually learn the error of my ways? I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I saw the full potential of Reddit only after I accidentally proved its strength using metrics I already valued: page views.

Last week we launched a new version of our website. We pushed it out on the company twitter and facebook, and to my personal friends and followers. All told that’s 4,301 people give or take some overlap between my friends and my company’s followers. We know that twitter has abysmal click-through rates, but facebook click-throughs, especially for posts by your friends, are ok. We didn’t have clickbait headlines, but we used images, and we were appealing to groups who had already expressed interest in our product.

Then I check out /r/entrepreneur, after seeing a tweet by @StartupsReddit offering help to startups from a poster. I commented with a short rundown of Buddy Watch, and a link to our website.

That link drove 28% of the traffic to our website for the whole week after launch. 28%! Twitter drove 2.4%, but I’d been pouring time into building a twitter following (mostly on my “personal” account). Obviously I need to pay more attention to Reddit.

What’s Next?

The flood of eyes on the site and feedback I got from Reddit just this past week has been amazing, but it is mostly about Buddy Watch as a startup and a website. Now I want to learn how to connect with people who will engage with Buddy Watch as a product.

How can we become part of the communities that make sense for our product? How can we create a community around our product? How can we drive that engagement without being a human spambot? What value can we give back to the Reddit community, and how can we best deliver that with a small team on a bootstrapped budget?

These are some of the questions I’m going to explore in this series. I’m also going to look at some bigger questions, like how can you possibly understand and navigate this massive internet world, how does Reddit effect our international outreach, and what is it like to be a company run by women and often perceived as a woman’s product on Reddit?

To help me get started, I’m hopping on a call later this week with my friend Greg Tilton, founder at the production company inDepth Media and director of the upcoming documentary RedditDoc. He also does consulting on reddit with several groups.

For lessons from my talk with Greg and more lessons learned on Reddit as a resource, follow me on medium and @HannahRosenfeld, check out Buddy Watch on Facebook and @BuddyWatch, and sign up to get posts sent directly to your inbox here!