From Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dave Grohl to a five-year McDonald’s employee and a valet for the stars, the “I Am A ____, Ask Me Anything (AMA)” section of Reddit takes on people from all walks of life.
It can be a scary place. No moderator. No filters. Only rule is that you prove who you are. So why would POTUS and one of the wealthiest men in the world spend time answering questions, some intelligent, some inappropriate, from this fairly anonymous yet large (and to a point, influential) digital community?
Answer: An audience of digital influencers.
Of course, the answer is much deeper than that, but the Reddit is a huge, albeit largely forgotten community in the sphere of social media marketing. Reddit’s nickname is the Front Page of the Internet, a place where pictures, videos and stories can go from anonymous to viral in just a few hours. It’s an early-detection warning system for what is worth sharing and what’s not, and some amazing AMAs have come from it.
Facebook and Twitter dominate social strategies and deservedly so, but in order to raise awareness in a short time, Reddit has served its famous AMA participants well.
Just a few days ago the Reddit community sat down with software mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates to discuss all things Bill. He promoted the AMA event with this short but well-done video in which he answered a few questions:
Bill Gates, who is often (incorrectly) portrayed as a geeky introvert, swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck, quickly exposed his true personality, sense of humor and deep-seated concern for our planet and humanity’s well-being as he answered a variety of questions.
The top question: “What is something that needs to be changed in the world, but money won’t help?”
Bill’s answer: “It would be nice if all governments were as rational as the Nordic governments—reaching compromise and providing services broadly. The Economist had a nice special section on this last week. African governments have often been weak, but you can’t write a check to change that. Fortunately the average quality is going up. Mo Ibrahim tracks this in a great way.”
Gates answered questions about emerging technologies, how he was portrayed in Pirates of Silicon Valley and what he does for fun (tennis and bridge, apparently). His humanity was completely transparent, and he exposed a massive audience to his foundation and his sites www.billsetter.com and www.gatesnotes.com.
Obama was on for only 90 minutes, but at a time when the election was coming to a close and many voters were still trying to decide whom to vote for, one could safely assume that POTUS won over a number of voters. He came to their turf and answered their questions (at least the ones he chose to answer). He was able to highlight his campaign agenda and truly connect with an audience.
What does this success mean for brands?
If we are looking at it from a brand’s perspective, then we have to take all this success with a grain of salt. The aforementioned examples feature individuals with major power and fame. There’s no place in a Reddit AMA for a brand in general. For example, the Pillsbury Doughboy can’t host an AMA, nor can Audi (“I am an Audi” doesn’t make sense).
A brand would have to utilize a well-known leader or someone with a great angle, like the director of an upcoming movie or a lead singer in a band or the product designer of the latest smartphone. The most successful AMA feature individuals who are forthcoming, transparent and willing to answer a wide range of questions, not just those that fit their promotional agenda (Bill Gates was very honest and answered a lot of questions and did a good circling back to the issues he was there to address).
So maybe it’s not for every brand, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t overarching social lessons to be learned. A community like Reddit could be seen as one that a brand would want to stay away from: few rules, user anonymity, no control and no measurement. But a brand can’t steer the conversation anymore. A brand can set up outposts like Twitter and Facebook, but ultimately it is along for the ride, for better or worse. This is especially important for independent channels, like Reddit and other forums. If there is a conversation going on about your brand, you have to be present to dispel rumors and at least make your best effort to turn negative opinions into positive ones.
There are conversations happening about your brand. There are digital audiences that dwarf the audiences your print ads are going to reach. There’s a proven return on engagement when a brand (or, more specifically, an individual representing a brand) is transparent and forthcoming.
Are you ready to respond?