Reddit for public relations 101: How to get the most out of the platform
The dos and don'ts of working with Reddit in PR and marketing
Reddit, most often featured in the news for its slew of horrifying public scandals, is actually a shockingly incredible tool for public relations professionals. Yes, that's a wild sentence, but it's actually true, and I will prove it in the following 1,500 words.
Here are several ways to use Reddit and several ways you absolutely should not use Reddit to improve your PR efforts.
If you’re not aware, Reddit is a monstrously popular website comprised of communities spanning the entire globe. Reddit is the 18th most visited website in the world. Each community operates as a sort of message board where people can post images, text posts, websites, and more.
Much of the website's popularity is due to Reddit having the most random and specific communities about anything: television shows, sports teams, countries, and distressingly niche hobbies, like the surprisingly popular /r/backyardchickens subreddit. Each user is anonymous by default, and they post their unfiltered thoughts to engage, educate, and argue with other unidentified people.
Reddit has also become a place where many get their daily news. For the longest time, the website’s tagline was “the front page of the internet” because that's how many people think of Reddit: a place to learn about and discuss the most important news and biggest trends of the day. And, to argue. Always to argue.
Redditor: A typical Reddit user
- Lurker: Someone who uses Reddit but doesn’t have an account or engage in comments.
- Moderator: Someone who manages a community, deletes irrelevant post, and stops arguments from becoming too heated. Moderators are unpaid and everything they do is as a volunteer.
- Posts: Text submissions, images, or links for discussions.
- Throwaway account: An account made for the express purpose of maintaining anonymity from their “main” account.
- AMA (“Ask Me Anything”): A type of crowdfunded interview, where a public or interesting figure agrees to answer questions submitted by the community.
- Subreddit: The word used for the individual communities dedicated to a certain topic.
Sure, Reddit can be a place for memes, shitposting, trolling, and other healthy pursuits. But it can also be a place for serious business with many professionals across many industries coming together to talk about their field, and public relations is no exception.
Unfortunately, many business professionals (aka C-suites and CEOs) completely misunderstand what Reddit is and how it functions, so they’ll say things like “Go make this press release viral on Reddit” and have absolutely no idea what a monumental task this is on the platform. So, before you press post, here’s how you can use Reddit to become the best PR you can be.
There's a fairly active community all around the topic of public relations called, appropriately, /r/publicrelations. They discuss major news stories, industry issues, tools and tricks of the trade, thought leaders, and other hot takes. As of October 2023, there are 19,000 subscribers to the public relations subreddit.
Some interesting posts from the recent-ish past include:
- I’m sick of the way that PR is portrayed as a “ditzy girl career” in the media
- With all of the “journalist inbox” discourse going on…
- The public relations industry is incredibly toxic but no one is talking about it
Sound relatable? It should – these are your frustrated and anonymous peers taking to the internet to vent. In fact, many public relations professionals use the subreddit to vent about the industry and gripe about the state of media.
In the public relations subreddit, you can ask questions about specific tools and tactics, debate about the PR industry, or share your wisdom and insights from the field.
As previously mentioned, Reddit acts as the front page of the internet for many, many people. There's often a race among users to post the breaking story, develop the hottest take, and debate the nuances of the day’s biggest topics. As an added bonus, you’ll often get industry news much faster than from other sources like podcasts and newsletters because Reddit is updated constantly.
I highly suggest going through and subscribing to all of the communities that are relevant to your industry and niche. Not only will it help you stay ahead of the competition, but you can also do some media analysis and monitoring around important topics to your brand. Reddit typically has a good finger on the pulse of how users feel about particular subjects. Redditors frequently share unfiltered opinions without fear of harming their professional reputation, which is perfect for tailoring your brand messages.
To find subreddits that are of interest to you and your niche, you can search for related keywords at the top and scroll through the communities that pop up. If you find one community that you like, there will often be a “similar communities” suggestion on the right-hand sidebar. Often the best way to find communities is to just use the platform and you'll find them slowly. Unfortunately, Reddit doesn't have a great way to find new and related communities for some reason.
Reddit is a great way to know who is making waves in your niche. While the actual influencers and bloggers may not engage with Reddit specifically, odds are, if they are trendsetters, they will be often talked about, and their content will be shared and discussed in the Reddit space. And there are some industry leaders floating around Reddit, like Rand Fishkin for SEO.
This can include high-profile industry leaders, emerging micro-influencers, and everyone in between. Knowing who’s who in your industry is great for reaching out to collaborate on campaigns or to tap their shoulder for a paid sponsorship.
As previously mentioned, most people on Reddit are anonymous. However, this is changing slowly. Professionals are starting to embrace the platform as their own identities, with the understanding that many of the responses they receive will be from anonymous profiles and all of the implications of engaging earnestly with anonymous people. That said, it doesn't mean there isn't an opportunity for industry thought leaders to build an audience on Reddit.
While thought leadership and building an audience on Reddit will likely be slower than on other platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter/X, it can (and does) happen. People with a reputation for engaging responses, industry knowledge, and generally being helpful in the community are often highlighted through things like AMAs (Ask Me Anything), offers to moderate the community, and other distinctions. Some communities will even “sticky” helpful resources and posts from community leaders for a ton of potential exposure.
Some high-profile individuals (like Bill Gates) and politicians (like Bernie Sanders) have carved out a niche for themselves on the platform. But again, this is very erratic in terms of success. The Reddit community often turns negative quickly and can do more harm than good to a brand's reputation.
This might be surprising, considering the platform is mostly anonymous, but a shocking amount of networking and community building can be done via Reddit. First, you don't have to be anonymous (as we previously mentioned). Increasingly, more and more people are engaging with Reddit as their own brand, with links to their socials on their Reddit user profiles.
An example would look like this: somebody starts a conversation for discussion around the topic of public relations that you happen to be specifically passionate about. You leave a thoughtful and engaging response. Somebody gets curious about who is dropping such hot knowledge. They go to your profile, find you on LinkedIn, and there you go! New best friend.
Because Reddit is a message board for the modern age. You can present yourself however you want, make connections in the real world, and exchange ideas with others who share your interests from all over the globe. In fact, this article’s writer (me, Katelynn) found the job working for Prezly from a Prezlian who posted it on Reddit! Crazy!
So yes. Don't discredit the capacity of Reddit to lead to real-world connections, networking opportunities, and a sense of community. You might be surprised by what it can lead to.
Reddit is an often underutilized resource for listening to how people feel about your product, brand, or service in an unfiltered way. Because people can be anonymous, they'll usually be more honest than they might be otherwise. This means that searching your or your brand’s name might just… hurt your feelings.
But really, some of the comments on Reddit are worth their weight in gold because that unfiltered feedback can lead to growth. Or depression. Often both. You can also keep an eye on how Redditors feel about your or your clients’ competitors and the industry in general, and use that information to improve your PR efforts in the future.
Part of what makes Reddit so popular but also so tricky is its strict, unofficial code of conduct. This code of conduct is mostly self-moderated by the communities themselves, but is fairly consistently enforced across the website. It can be tough to navigate for somebody who's used to platforms like LinkedIn or X/Twitter, where people tend to use their own identities and engage with others without anonymity and where there are no moderators policing posts and tone.
A few unofficial tricks to help you get started:
Due to its massive popularity and the potential for literally any post to go extremely mega-viral, it's tempting to think that Reddit would be perfect for earned media distribution in the classic sense. If you can post a tweet on Twitter/X and have it reach millions of views because of the innate virality of the platform, why can't you do the same with Reddit?
Simply put, you absolutely cannot. Reddit is not a platform for straight distribution. Paid ads often do terribly as well, and anybody who is self-promoting in even the most innocent way will get eviscerated by the respective communities. And don’t even think about putting a press release on Reddit.
Reddit has a history fraught with self-promotion and corporations attempting to infiltrate the space to advertise, but we’ll just sum it up by saying that Redditors do not like it. In fact, entire communities are dedicated to making fun of corporations and their endless desire to relate to “the youths” through avenues like Reddit. In another fact, many communities have stringent guidelines around self-promotion. Attempts at marketing to communities are flagged, ridiculed, and typically do extremely poorly for brands and individuals alike. It is a community for discussion, not distribution.
Here’s one Redditor on a recent thread highlighting exactly why attempts at distribution go so terribly on Reddit:
There is immense brand risk to using fake accounts to promote your company on this website. If discovered, you risk losing all credibility among that sub and possibly across other social channels. All it takes is one bored person to go “hmm let’s look at this account history.”
I would not be caught dead trying to surreptitiously post a client’s content on this website. It shows a complete lack of respect for the community.
5 accounts just posting and upvoting can easily be caught and will barely do anything positive for you, best case is a little SEO.
The ONLY way to do PR for a brand/client on reddit is to ID a relevant community and be as transparent and helpful as possible, WITH MOD APPROVAL. Authenticity is everything and the minute people think you are just trying to sell them something you will be ostracized.
You might be thinking to yourself after reading the last section that maybe you could do some guerilla marketing tactics. Suppose somebody's looking for a solution that exactly fits your client’s brand or product. It might be tempting to sneakily slide in a recommendation, seemingly from a “helpful citizen”.
This typically goes over like a lead balloon on Reddit. Even if your suggestions are helpful and informative, if you develop a history of suggesting your (or your client’s) own content to solve people's problems, sneaky sleuths will scrounge up your Reddit history and downvote you into oblivion. After making fun of you. And possibly banning you.
Any outreach that you do on Reddit will need to be highly organic and very personalized. Reddit has a private message feature where you can interact and talk with others, which is typically how most connections are made between professionals on the platform. Again, this growth strategy is glacial.
Reddit is famous for “trolls”, aka people who enjoy being snarky and negative online. The platform's general sense of anonymity fuels this. Unlike the other social media platforms, Reddit should not be taken too seriously.
Even if you have a subreddit or a username dedicated to your brand or your client's brand, engage with the community with levity. If you start trying to get into battles of wits with Reddit trolls whose identities are not tied to their account, you will have a bad time.
Reddit is a tricky, fickle website and is not ideal for pure public relations and marketing. If you do end up using the platform, there is a wealth of information to learn from the various communities. But if your client is nagging you to turn Reddit’s 57 million active daily users into their customers by simply posting an ad or spamming a subreddit, send them this article and kindly let them know that marketing on Reddit is never going to happen. Even the biggest companies have tried (many times) and failed embarrassingly.
So, if you do engage with the platform, do so with the intent of providing value, not promotion. You'll get the most out of Reddit what you put into it. The average Redditor has a shockingly finely tuned BS detector and can sense artifice from a mile away, so simply don’t even try to advertise. Be the helpful industry leader and let the potential leads find you, or simply sit back and enjoy the memes. But forcing Reddit to become something it’s not will probably not work out in your favor.
Reddit is a minefield, but it can also be a gold mine. If you know how to navigate the community and have the time and interest to invest in building a (very slow) fan base, Reddit can be an invaluable resource. Even if you're just using it as an observer, there's much to learn from Reddit’s heavily moderated and curated communities. Just watch out for the trolls.
Too bad, we don’t have an account. But we do have Twitter! Or, if you’re interested in other snippets of comms knowledge from around the globe, join our mailing list.