How Reddit used their Redditorial publication “Upvoted” to attract growth

Where can you find the best and worst of internet culture in one place? A place with equal parts originality, conformity, harassment, hostility, kindness, trolling, and a penchant for freedom of speech above all else? You can find all of that and more on everyone’s favorite (and notorious) commenting and sharing platform known as Reddit.

Reddit, the 10th largest site on the web, boasts 9,300 active communities and more than 200 million monthly pageviews. Its claim to fame in the content world is being the go-to source for publishers to crib content from their subreddit communities. Your favorite BuzzFeed listicles were aggregated on Reddit first and so on and so forth.

To get in the content game themselves, Reddit recently launched its own branded publication, Upvoted, which features a content hub, a podcast, and a successful newsletter. A “Redditorial publication,” the online content hub digs into the subreddits famous for making content go viral to provide more context for the pictures, videos, infographics, and text posted. It’s for Reddit by Redditors, so Upvoted understands its audience. Think of it as a candid, behind-the-scenes look into content creation.

Unlike BuzzFeed or its imitators who use a “h/t’ credit,” Upvoted stories have a definite link back to Reddit’s original posts (and in a new subreddit known as /r/upvoted) to build a community around the site’s top hits. Redditors even receive a PM in their inboxes informing them of the move. (It’s worth noting, however, that many of the top content hits on Reddit are not owned by Redditors—but grabbed from other sites, often without attribution).

The popular posts featured on Upvoted aren’t determined by Reddit’s complicated algorithm. Rather, a dozen team members—including writers, editors, a product manager, and a designer separate from Reddit—sift through vast subreddits to find stories, verify, and fact check details, interview content creators, and publish them to the site. Headed by Vickie Chang (u/piepiemydarling), the team posts about 20 stories a day (though it can be anywhere from a dozen to 30). Reflecting Reddit’s firm value in freedom of speech, Chang told Wired that no content is “off the table,” including content that is critical of Reddit itself, but it’s too early to say if the nascent publication will stay good on its word.

In a post-ad blocker age, Upvoted is without any banner or pop-up ads, instead replacing traditional online advertisements with sponsored posts created by the Upvoted staff and approved by brands.  “It could be a piece on Tesla, a piece on how wifi works,” Chang told Wired. “No matter what it’ll be good content—and it’ll just happen to be sponsored.”

Perhaps what’s most surprising about Upvoted is how it’s both an arm of Reddit’s machine to grow the company, but also a calculated way to fix the company’s near meltdown. Not unlike Airbnb’s magazine Pineapple, Upvoted exists in twofold: to create branded content but also to solve other brand problems.

Upvoted’s existence (and lack of comments) can be seen as a direct response to a near meltdown in the summer of 2015. Angry Redditors and moderators revolted after the firing of a beloved Reddit employee. The site’s stronger users—who treasure Reddit values like freedom of speech above all else—felt attacked and lashed with a week-long blackout that culminated in the removal of Reddit’s interim CEO. (For more on the story, check out this excellent timeline from The Verge).

In light of Reddit’s antagonist comments revolt, it isn’t too strange that Upvoted allows zero comments on its site; for that, you have to go to the /r/upvoted subreddit. (It’s also worth noting that the lack of comments on a publication’s site, however, has been common fodder for news sites in the past few years.) It’s Reddit’s version of separating church and state to reclaim a more positive image for another one of its interests—growing advertising revenue.

Since so many publishers use Reddit as a hunting ground to repost new content on their sites, Reddit loses profit created by its community members when these posts go viral on BuzzFeed. An editorial site without the mixed bag of Redditors (from funny to hostile, is sure to appeal more to brands.

Despite being founded on controversy, Upvoted proves that branded publications serve more than one purpose. Yes, they can curate and create content for their already existing community, but they can also work to serve other branding issues. Though it’s too early to tell how successful Upvoted’s Redditorial publication will be, it’s made great strides in aligning a branded publication with its business-minded goals.

What we can learn from Upvoted

  • There can (and even should) be a difference between a brand and a branded publication. The audience, strategy, goals, and execution may be different from one another, but they are both working toward longer goals.
  • Understanding your audience is the key to your branded publication’s success. Reddit and Upvoted have the same audience, as the content each produces a feedback loop.
  • Comment sections are optional. Reddit’s crux is its commenting and sharing platform; Upvoted does not have to uphold that. Decide if that will improve or hurt your brand.
  • Banner ads bad. Sponsored posts and branded content good.

Image: ilikeyellow/Shutterstock

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