Reddit has a bold plan to earn more advertising revenue and it involves letting big name brands sponsor the posts of regular users. The ad program, which is slated to go live on August 4th, is part of a renewed effort from co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman to make the social news site more profitable, according to an interview published in Ad Age today. As part of the initiative, a brand like Taco Bell could seek out content on Reddit that fits its marketing campaigns — let's say a photo of a human-sized Crunchwrap Supreme created by an avid T-Bell fan. From there, Reddit will work with Taco Bell to display the post on different parts of the site and target specific users the brand wants to reach.
"This isn't traditional display advertising," Huffman says. "This is different and more personable. You have to bring your A game here and if you do, it works amazingly." Huffman says Reddit will seek the permission of the user before it lets a brand sponsor their post. If the user agrees, they'll receive a lifetime subscription to Reddit Gold, the company's premium service that, incidentally, allows users to opt out of seeing ads on the site, among other features. Reddit is also building an internal team that will work with large brands to help them identify organic posts on the site that may be suitable for sponsorship.
Reddit will give out Gold to users who agree to let brands sponsor their posts
The move walks a fine line for Reddit, which operates as much as a user-driven community as it does an executive-led company. And redditors have never taken too kindly to advertising. As it stands today, Reddit lets brands create native advertising in the form of posts with a "promoted" tag. Yet never before has the company attempted to leverage the text, photos, or videos its users post to turn them into advertising vehicles. This kind of move could come off like the type of corporate-grade social media desperation Reddit users pride themselves on sniffing out.
"Reddit users don't like being bullshitted," Huffman admits. "Reddit is a platform where you can call people out on it. And a lot of traditional advertising feels like we're being taken advantage of and nobody likes that. But when advertisers come with honest intentions we see a much higher level of engagement with the brand. We don't see hostility and we have valuable connections."
Since taking over, Huffman has focused on profitability
It's unclear how Reddit's user base will perceive the intentions of both the company itself and the brands interested in sponsoring people's posts. But if anyone can gauge how the site's community feels, it's Huffman, who is one of the two people who helped build the site alongside Alexis Ohanian. After the departure of interim CEO Ellen Pao last July, Huffman took over to try and streamline Reddit's operations and launch new products, like new dedicated mobile apps that came out back in April.
Still, Reddit appears rattled by continuous internal turmoil — over the last six months, more than a dozen senior employees have left the company, reported TechCrunch last week. Now, Huffman's latest efforts regarding advertising will surely generate their own fair share of controversy.