How to Massively Splat a Reddit AMA and Hurt Your Brand

The importance of honesty and integrity with internet audiences.

Author via istockphoto

Reddit has a feature called AMA (Ask Me Anything). It’s supposed to be a timed Q&A session where Redditors swarm their questions, and the communities upvote the questions they like most. It’s fantastic crowdsourcing.

In turn, the AMA recipient will see the most popular questions rise to the top and do their best to answer them. Sometimes it’s just a normal person with unique circumstances:

Reddit AMA by a 96-year-old.
Reddit AMA by a 96-year-old.
Author via Reddit

Other times it’s just a funny premise:

Funny AMA about successfully canceling an LA Fitness membership over the phone.
Funny AMA about successfully canceling an LA Fitness membership over the phone.
Author via Reddit

Quite often, AMAs are part of a marketing effort. It’s an actor who has a movie coming up or a politician with a pending election.

These AMAs usually go well. The top upvoted questions are usually very good and creative. Conversely, the host is typically very candid about their life and struggles.

But occasionally, these AMAs go poorly.

An AMA Is Either Good Marketing or Bad

Nissan wasn’t the first bad AMA.

Woody Harrelson famously did an AMA where he refused to answer any question that wasn’t directly related to his movie, Rampart. It went over like a brick cloud.

Woody Harrelson’s AMA fail.
Woody Harrelson’s AMA fail.
Author via Reddit

In Woody’s defense, he’s not really a tech person. He’s an older Texas guy who smokes weed and plays cards in his free time. He needed better counsel.

Woody Harrelson’s AMA fail.
Woody Harrelson’s AMA fail.
Author via Reddit

Nissan’s AMA went poorly for a different reason.

Its CEO, Carlos Ghosn, presented himself as free to answer any question.

But as the questions started piling up in the Reddit tree, and the best questions got pushed to the top, they mysteriously went unanswered.

Then, instead, he answered questions like:

“Hi Carlos, I’m a die hard Datsun/Nissan fan that is very glad to see how well the company has done with you at the helm and hoping to see many more years of continued success.

My question is how you see hydrogen fuel cells playing a part in electric vehicles and if Nissan/Renault are investing, or planning to invest, in this technology directly or through partnerships? Thank you and regards, Doug.” — (Via Reddit)

While this top question went ignored:

The question ignored by Carlos Ghosn.
The question ignored by Carlos Ghosn.
Author via Reddit

Which was a bit unfortunate because the title was: “I’m the CEO of Renault and Nissan and we’re making autonomous driving vehicles happen by 2020. Ask me anything.”

Instead, again, he answered:

“Hello Mr. Ghosn, first off thanks for doing an AMA!

Second, I am new to car sales and have recently been hired at a Nissan dealership, do you have any advice for a new Nissan salesman?” — (via Reddit)

The entire AMA was a splat

He only answered questions from brand new Reddit accounts. Even worse, they seemed created by Nissan employees, like they’d stuffed the deck to make the AMA look awesome for Nissan.

Reddit reacted in kind:

Redditors criticize the AMA.
Redditors criticize the AMA.
Author via Reddit

The CEO had to go on to issue a PR statement:

Article headline says “Nissan, Reddit defend authenticity of questions in Ghosn AMA.”
Article headline says “Nissan, Reddit defend authenticity of questions in Ghosn AMA.”
Source: Pr Week

It’s understandable that CEOs want to be guarded. Nearly every statement they make is very polished of any possible edge. It’s why most CEO speeches, outside of a chosen few, are full of utterly generic platitudes.

There comes a point where one must face the music and be real.

The Takeaway

You don’t need to be president or CEO to do an AMA. They are free to anyone and you can generate a huge audience if you frame it right.

However, if you do an AMA, ensure you are ready to actually throw down and answer the tough, provocative questions. Reddit is a place for total honesty. If they sense you lack authenticity, the tides will turn with a swiftness afforded only by internet anonymity.

  • Don’t astroturf.
  • Don’t create fake accounts.
  • Don’t crowbar it into a PR piece. Answer the questions. Or you’ll become a future inspiration for blog posts on Medium <Evil grin>.

Oh, what is astroturfing you say? A simple example of astroturfing is present in a Russian news conference:

A journalist will raise their hand and ask, “Mr. Putin, when you aren’t being the most perfect president in the history of history, what do you enjoy doing?”

“Mr. Putin, I saw that you were using a bear mount while you bow-hunted elk. Did you bring home any kills?”

“Mr. Putin, are you willing to take a second and third wife? We just love you so much!”

It’s a softball session. The questions are like actual astroturf: too good to be true.

Piece of astroturf loosely rolled up.
Piece of astroturf loosely rolled up.
Author via Amazon

Yes, Nissan astroturfed. But, to his credit, the CEO came back and did a follow-up and answered a few tougher questions. But not without taking a few bruises.

The takeaway here? Whether it’s writing, poetry, ballet, or a Reddit AMA, be as real as you can. Audiences like humans who act like humans: flawed, triumphant, and highly reflective of their actions.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter here.

Written by

Quality over quantity. That guy from Quora. Enjoy? Follow for more. https://seanjkernan.substack.com/ Open to gigs seanjkernan@gmail.com

Sign up for The Better Marketing Newsletter

By Better Marketing

Our map to the marketing world. An occasional newsletter highlighting the best stories, tips, and tools to become a better marketer.  Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store