⚙️ Case Study #12: Reddit

Seeding Your Community

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Reddit went public last week. The company closed the week at a $7.5B valuation. 

Reddit has millions of users on the platform every day.

Reddits first thousands of users were fake.

Here’s the story of how they grew their community (and how you can do it too).

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Setting the Stage

Reddit’s Dirty Little Secret

It's 2005.

You stumble upon a new social media platform, and every post has hundreds of upvotes and dozens of comments. The community feels vibrant and engaging, and you can't help but want to join the conversation.

You've found the "front page of the internet" AKA Reddit.

But what if I told you that many of those early posts, comments, and upvotes were fake? That's exactly what Reddit did in its early days to create the illusion of an active, thriving community.

In the early days, Reddit struggled to gain traction.

The site's front page was often empty, making it appear like a ghost town. Huffman and Ohanian knew that to attract users, they needed to create the illusion of an active community.

That's when they decided to take matters into their own hands.

Huffman and Ohanian began creating dozens of fake accounts, each with its own unique persona. They would use these accounts to submit content, write comments, and upvote posts, giving the appearance of a bustling community.

This tactic allowed them to set the tone for the kind of content and discussions they wanted to see on the platform.

As Reddit began to grow, Huffman and Ohanian continued to use their fake accounts to steer the conversation and highlight the best content.

They would even engage in discussions between their fake accounts, creating the illusion of a diverse and engaged user base.

Suddenly, Reddit looked like the hottest club in town, even though it was just the founders and their imaginary friends.

Ops Tactic: Seeding your online community can create the illusion of an active community and attract real users through social proof

Why this Matters

Social proof is king

Post-COVID, every company seems to ramp up their online community efforts.

And that makes sense!

For 88% of the organizations, online communities helped them achieve their mission. While 64% agreed that it helped them improve decision-making.

But creating a poppin' community is tough. 24% of the communities fail as the engagement sucks.

Why is that?

It's all about the power of social proof.

When a new user stumbles upon your community and sees a bunch of crickets chirping, they will bounce.

But they'll want to join the party if they see a vibrant, engaged community. Reddit's founders understood this and used fake accounts to create the illusion.

As the platform gained real users, the founders were able to phase out their fake accounts and allow the community to evolve organically.

But here's the thing - if those early users had discovered that the community was about as real as a three-dollar bill, it would have been a disaster.

Even with the real users coming in, trust would have been shattered if people found out about the fake users. Reddit's reputation would have gone down the drain.

This is a crucial lesson for anyone looking to build a sustainable online community. While tactics like fake engagement can get you short-term gains, they can backfire if users feel deceived or manipulated.

Instead, focusing on building trust through transparency can lead to long-term growth.

Connecting to customers, employees, partners, and suppliers has always been the goal. Communities have become a broker between business networks.

Just check out Hampton and Lennys Community as a perfect example of what can happen when you connect like minded individuals in one place.

The Blueprint

Here is a 3 ingredient recipe you can follow to get your own community off the ground.

Leverage your personal network

Make a list of all your friends, family members, and even casual acquaintances interested in the same stuff as your community. These are going to be your early adopters, the ones who'll help you build that initial buzz.

Once you've got your list, reach out to them. Give them a quick rundown of your community and why you think they'd love it. Don't be afraid to show a little enthusiasm – if you're excited about it, chances are they will be too!

Here's the key: make it super easy for them to get involved. Put together a simple "getting started" guide that walks them through the process of joining the community.

This should include setting up their profile and making their first post. Think of it like a cheat sheet for navigating your community.

If you want to go the extra mile, consider hosting a virtual onboarding session.

This is your chance to connect with your new members face-to-face (or screen-to-screen), answer any questions they might have, and help them feel like they're part of something special.

As your personal network starts getting involved, remember to encourage them to invite their friends to join in on the fun. This is how you start building organic, word-of-mouth growth that'll help your community thrive in the long run.

Your personal network is your secret weapon in these early stages. They'll help you build that initial foundation of engagement and excitement that will attract even more members down the line.

So don't be shy about reaching out and getting them involved!

Collaborate with Industry Influencers and Thought Leaders

Take a step back and think about the movers and shakers in your niche. Who are the bloggers, podcasters, and content creators everyone looks up to? These are the folks you want to get on your radar.

Once you've identified a few key players, it's time to reach out and propose a collaboration.

Now, don't slide into their DMs with a generic "Hey, wanna work together?" message. Take the time to craft a personalized pitch that shows you've done your homework and understand what they're all about.

Invite them to host an exclusive Q&A session with your community members or ask them to contribute a guest blog post sharing their expertise.

The key is to make it a win-win situation. They get exposure to your growing audience, and you get to tap into their credibility and influence.

When you collaborate with these industry leaders, make sure you're transparent about the partnership. Encourage them to disclose the collaboration to their own followers, so everything feels authentic and above board.

Now, I know what you might be thinking—"But I'm just starting out! I don't have a huge audience to offer these influencers." And that's fair. But remember, everyone starts somewhere.

Focus on building genuine relationships with these thought leaders and looking for ways to add value to their communities.

Maybe you can offer to promote their latest project to your own network or connect them with another influencer you know.

As your community grows, you'll have more and more to offer these collaborators.

But even in the early stages, don't underestimate the power of a sincere, well-crafted pitch and a willingness to support their goals.

Gamify the experience

One word: gamification. It's like the secret ingredient that makes everything more fun and addictive.

Think about it—what if you could turn your community into a giant game where everyone competes to be the most valuable player?

That's where a points system comes in. Every time someone posts, comments, or shares something, they earn points. And as they rack up those points, they can unlock special badges that show how awesome they are.

Imagine seeing a leaderboard that showcases the top contributors of the week. It's like a hall of fame for your community's most engaged members.

People will be motivated to keep participating to see their name climb up those rankings.

But don't stop there – you can take gamification to the next level by hosting contests and challenges. Maybe you run a "Post of the Week" competition where everyone votes on their favorite piece of content, and the winner gets a special prize or shoutout.

Or maybe you challenge your members to hit certain milestones, like posting a certain number of times or getting a certain number of likes.

Another way to keep people engaged is by offering exclusive perks to your most active members. Maybe it's access to a private forum where they can connect with other top contributors, or an invitation to a virtual meetup with industry experts.

When people feel like they're part of an exclusive club, they'll be more invested in the community's success.

The beauty of gamification is that it taps into people's natural desire for recognition and achievement. When you make engagement fun and rewarding, people will want to keep coming back and participating.

Now, I know what you might be thinking – "Won't this just encourage people to post low-quality content just to earn points?" And that's a valid concern.

But the key is to make sure you're rewarding the right things. Focus on quality over quantity, and make it clear that spammy or irrelevant posts won't earn any points.

Explore Further

Video with the Founder

In an online video produced by Udacity, Reddit's co-founder Steve Huffman shedded light on their submission system that allowed the selection of the URL and title and the user's name. When someone submitted content, this process also registered the user's name, creating the illusion that Reddit had a larger user base than it actually did.

Reddit pops 48% on opening day

Despite not having a year in the green since it started in 2005, Reddit has caught the eye of investors. How? By showcasing its platform as

a playground for training AI tech. Plus, there's some buzz around town (thanks to Reuters last month) about Reddit clinching a cool $60 million per year data deal with Google.

Reddit Monetization Efforts

Trying to earn revenue has been a struggle for Reddit from day 1. One of their best ideas was Reddit Gold.

It is a membership plan that allows users to experience premium features such as exclusive access to The Members-Only lounge, remove all ads, and earn Reddit Coins every month.

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