The Flow of UGC on Reddit

by Dara Healy, Lead Content Strategist at @Storyful.

Reddit has had a hell of a couple of weeks. From changing their policies to curb harassment to subreddits going on full strike after the firing of a well-loved employee to their CEO stepping down, the ‘Front Page of the Internet’ is definitely in a period of transition. At Storyful, we monitor reddit with interest, fascinated at the relationship between the social bookmarking site, user generated content (UGC) and the biggest media companies and brands. Lately, we’ve been looking closely at the facts and figures behind this relationship and what it could mean for the future of UGC online.

A paper titled “Lifespan and Propagation of Information in On-line Social Networks: a Case Study,” penned by Giannis Haralabopoulos and Ioannis Anagnostopoulos, contains some interesting insights into how user generated content spreads from the domain to which it is originally posted, to reddit and then onto social media. Knowledge here could be key for advertisers and publishers attempting to make the most of their UGC-driven campaigns. In this case, the domains measured were two central hubs of user-generated content, YouTube and imgur, and the measured networks were the two social media giants, Twitter and Facebook.

The study observed the content creation flow considered the norm on these networks: Content is created, posted to Imgur if it is a picture, YouTube if it is a video, and shared on reddit (which could be considered to be the key influencer in virality of UGC); then it will see pickup on Twitter or Facebook.

The study acknowledges the dataset measured has some limitations. Out of neccessity, it considers a reddit “upvote” to be of similar weight as an Imgur or YouTube view. This is certainly not the case in reality, due to a much smaller portion of reddit consumers utilising the upvote/downvote system. Due to API limitations, the study could only observe public Facebook posts, meaning that only a section of Facebook activity was measured. Despite this, however, the insights provided by this study are of immediate interest to brands interested in the acquisition, distribution or research of user-generated content.

Posting To reddit Viral Success

Of little surprise to those familiar with the ways of reddit, the study shows that of the ~100,000 submissions measured, only a tiny amount achieve any notion of virality. For the study, virality was measured by a doubling of upvotes every hour for the first four hours. With a fresh submission, virality could therefore be considered after just eight upvotes in four hours. Posts on the front page regularly boast upvotes of four to five thousand. Despite this tiny target, only a tiny fraction (approximately 0.66 percent) reached that measure of virality.

Lesson for brands: Don’t rely solely on a community-driven UGC campaign. However, with the smart use of the “right” UGC, discussed further below, and by sticking to rediquette, reddit can prove an organic boosting ground for content.

Positivity Equals Virality

A counterpoint to the common thinking in viral marketing that provocative content such as sexuality, humour, violence or nudity sells was observed during this study. Although this is certainly the case in some sectors, the study finds that, for UGC propagated on reddit, almost the complete opposite is the case.

Lesson for brands: The study found positive and entertaining user-generated content outweighed provocative or controversial content in terms of virality. Within Storyful, we noticed this certainly to be the case with our popular stowaway-cat video (below). Discovered by Storyful before the virality threshold mentioned above, and then later achieving the threshold on reddit organically, it stuck to the key formula for the success of UGC on reddit: It was entertaining, positive and of course, contained reddit’s favorite animal — the cat!

This bias towards positive content contributed to the success of Storyful’s video of a stowaway cat, as it captured a perfect moment of content where first the audience is surprised and then gets to delight in the pilot’s reaction to the flying feline. The video racked up nearly 13M views in four days on YouTube.

Timeliness Is Everything

Within the study, much time spent examining the timeline of virality. It boiled down to two points. One, the most common propagation flow saw content virality peaking at hours two and three, after which there is a sharp decline:

Two, there tended to be an observed gap of approximately three hours before content on the upswing on reddit is shared in significant amounts on Twitter and up to 12 hours on Facebook.

Lessons for brands:
The effectiveness or persuasiveness of content may decrease over time. Other studies indicate that for every million views, persuasiveness declines by 10 percent. Brands should strike while the iron is hot, catching on to trending UGC before the two- or three-hour mark, and crafting carefully thought-out, positive strategies around it. Some content types are more persistent than others. Brands dealing in the advertising of movies, for example, have a shorter time frame, as content of that nature fades more rapidly than content associated with the advertisement of video games.

For those interested in further reading, the full paper is available for download here.

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