How to use Reddit to get inside the head of your target audience


Reddit is often considered a particularly attractive and lucrative opportunity for marketers.

And who can blame them?

Reddit gets between 15–20 million unique visits every month. The average time spent on the site is between 11 and 13 minutes (although, for many users, I suspect it’s far more). And to top it all off, it has an Alexa Ranking of 23. Getting backlinks from Reddit and its users would be the ultimate coup.

It’s tempting for marketers to gear up and upload their campaign straight into the lion’s den without so much as a second thought. (Or, much worse, they pretend to be a Reddit user and shill their product.)

However, as they quickly learn, there’s not much the average user has in common. Marketing to Reddit might sound specific and like you have a plan when you tell your boss, but it’s about as specific as saying ‘I want my product to sell to teenagers, millennials, millennials, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-Z baby boomers, pensioners, LGBT audiences, the alt-right, lefties, Trump supporters, Bernie Sanders supporters, people in the UK, people in the US, people in the Phillipines…’ (I’ll stop, I think I’ve made my point.)

That said, there is something that unites most of Reddit: they hate marketing and self-promotion and they’re not afraid to say it.

Actually, it’s not marketing they hate — it’s a lack of transparency and honesty. If you’re going to use Reddit to market, at least be honest and upfront about it. And if you’re there to shill: think again, pal.

Redditors expect extreme transparency and authenticity from advertisers. Spam and hard selling aren’t tolerated and using either tactic will damage your brand’s reputation.
It doesn’t matter how awesome your content is. You can’t approach reddit the same way that you do Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. If you jump in and submit content blindly, you could find yourself banned or your websites blacklisted.
Jesse Aaron, How to Use Reddit to Generate Leads, Social Media Examiner

If Reddit users even catch a whiff of self-promotion, they’ll call it out, downvote it (for the uninitiated, that’s like a negative like) and try and ban you from the site. And, when the hivemind kicks in, everybody weighs in — most Reddit users are anonymous, so there’s no reason to hide their true feelings or to not speak their mind. And boy, are they vocal about their disdain.

Which makes Reddit a very difficult nut to crack.

However, there is a way to use Reddit to bolster your marketing efforts.

Full disclosure, I haven’t discovered the Holy Grail and I certainly haven’t cracked the Reddit enigma. But I have found a way to use Reddit to hone your marketing, copywriting and TOV and to make it much more effective.

And it’s actually pretty simple:

Use it.

You don’t have to sign up and get involved in the discussions if you don’t want to, but you should at least keep an eye on it (to use the lingo, this is called lurking). More specifically, you should keep an eye on subreddits that relate to your business or contain users that might be in your target audience.

All of the things that make Reddit so difficult to market to are the things that make it perfect for identifying, understanding and communicating with your key demographic.

How many times have you tried (or been asked) to narrow down your target audience to a couple of identities or personas? How many times have you written paragraphs like the following:

‘Amy is 35 years old. She’s a married mother of two children. She works part-time at the local school as a teacher’s assistant and runs a blog about wedding planning in her spare time. Her household income is £42,000. She goes on one holiday a year, normally to somewhere in Europe. They own two cars, a dog and a gerbil.’

For a start, if you’re trying to sell loans or cars or insurance or products or cosmetics, you don’t need to know all of this.

But more importantly, you can’t ask Amy what she thinks about the Ford Focus or her new eyeliner. The stuff you really need to know. You have to take an educated guess and hope for the best.

And that’s where Reddit comes in handy. (Well, my analogy falls apart a little here, because Reddit is predominantly a white, heterosexual space, but stay with me…)

Reddit gives you instant access to a huge group of users that are actively interested in your field. They’ve chosen to spend their free time communicating with anonymous people on the internet because they share a passion for their particular thing.

Better still, there’s a subreddit for pretty much everything you can think of. Reddit is packed full of little clusters of people that are exactly the people that make up your target audience.

And these users all interact together. They develop their own social rules, slang and collective opinions.

For example, users in r/movies might disagree on the merits of Wes Anderson’s cinematography or whether John Wick is the best action film of the past decade (it is), but they’re all huge cinephiles. They are all passionate, knowledgeable and actively interested in cinema, past and present.

Which means, if you’re marketing a product that relates to film — Netflix, NowTV, Amazon Video, MUBU etc — then you’ve found the perfect window into the mind of your target audience.

You don’t need to write it down and you certainly don’t need to give them aliases and silly backstories; they’re right there. You can pop in at any moment and see them having conversations. You can see how they feel on topics. You can see what they find interesting.

Subreddits are living things — they’re like having a constantly evolving customer profile at your disposal. Not sure how your audience feels about certain things?

The answer is there, on Reddit.

All you have to do is listen.

Reddit as a source of keywords

While researching this article, I came across another article that had a similar idea. (He had it last year too, so he really beat me to it.)

Khalid Saleh wrote on Advanced Web Ranking that:

[Finding] high quality keywords is hard. Most keyword tools don’t do a great job of finding long-tail, conversion-focused keywords. Even when they do, these keywords don’t always translate into high quality, useful content.
There is one solution: community-focused websites like Quora and Reddit.

As a general rule, when you get into a niche subreddit, all of the individual users are very knowledgeable and have a thorough understanding of whatever they are talking about. Saleh suggests using their comments to find long-tail keywords that might not get huge amount of traffic, but will attract lots of the right customers. In essence, these are the Goldilocks keywords — they bring just the right amount of engaged potential customers.

It’s actually a pretty good idea (and one that I use to suggest content ideas for my clients). But it overlooks (or perhaps isn’t interested in — Khalid is all about conversion) something a lot more basic.

Reddit as an audience insight resource

(I hate myself for using a phrase like audience insight resource. I’m not even sure if it’s a buzzword. It sure sounds like one. If it isn’t, maybe I’ll start a new buzzword trend. #audienceinsightresource)

My point is, why not use Reddit to learn how your customers think? Or how they talk? How they communicate with each other? What stuff they like? What stuff they hate?

Why not use it to influence your tone of voice, your copywriting, your social media output?

Rather than adopting yet another faux-Innocent TOV, why not develop a tone of voice that falls in line and chimes with how your customers (or potential customers) talk?

Of course, you can take this too far. If you start throwing in words that don’t sit right with your brand, they’ll smell it a mile off. The same goes if your TOV is too try-hard or doesn’t quite nail how they speak:

For more examples of cringe-inducing try-hardery, check out Brands Saying Bae on Twitter.

But everything you need to get it right is there. There’s not even any need to rush it — why not set yourself up with a Reddit account and get involved? Join a conversation, check out any of the thousands of communities that might relate to your business and see how your customer base thinks.

Top tip: If you’re not sure where to start, check out RedditList. It tracks the top 5000 subreddits, so you’re almost certain to find an active subreddit that relates to your business in some way. (Once you’ve taken your first step, the rabbit hole will take you the rest of the way.)

Once you’ve found it, go in and see what they’re saying. Find out their thoughts on certain topics that relate to your business. But more importantly, see how they’re saying it.

Communicating in a way that demonstrates a deep, thorough understanding of your target audience is Copywriting 101 — and, when used right, Reddit can be the key to that understanding.

There’s a Hebrew word, shibboleth ( it translates literally as ‘ear of corn’ or ‘stream’) that’s relevant here.

In the Old Testament, it tells of two Semitic tribes — the Ephraimites and the Gileadites — that have an epic (in the true sense of the word) battle. The Gileadites win and set up a barrier across the Jordan to stop Ephraimites from escaping back to their territory.

However, they had a problem.

It was impossible to tell Gileadites from Ephraimites just by looking at them — and obviously the Ephraimites had a pretty solid reason to lie.

So the Gileadites came up with a solution: they’d ask each person who wanted to cross the barrier to say the word shibboleth. The Ephraimites, who had no ‘sh’ sound in their language, pronounced the word sibboleth, revealing themselves as the enemy:

Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right.
Judges 12:6

So, of course, the Ephramites were slaughtered.

Without wanting to labour the metaphor, Reddit is the key to finding your target audience’s shibboleth.

You can find out how your audience think, speak and communicate. You can become one of them — or at least learn to adopt their voice — so that they accept you, your brand or your product as one of them rather than taking you to the passages of Jordan and slaughtering you.

(And yes, I learnt that Shibboleth story from The West Wing.)