Blog Post

Reddit’s Upvoted is about humanizing the community, not (just) ads

There’s a ton of discussion being had about Reddit’s recent launch of Upvoted, the company’s new news site focused on adding more to stories made popular on Reddit proper. Much of it has to do with either the ethics of Reddit becoming its own news publication, or the impact Upvoted will have on the business of news.

Why? Well, Reddit has a massive audience but has never been very good at making money. The same is true for news businesses, although for the last several years news publications have heavily relied on producing articles derived from content aggregators like Reddit — which drove lots of traffic and, in turn, ad revenue. Therefore, everyone is watching Reddit’s Inception-like* plan to produce news coverage of itself. However, there are some generally accepted conclusions about Upvoted’s launch that merit deeper analysis — three, to be more specific.

Comment sections & ‘stealing’ traffic back

The first is that Reddit’s decision not to allow commenting on stories published on Upvoted is somehow indicative of comment sections branded as useless and no longer valuable enough to justify managing. This is dead wrong. If anything, the move only strengthens the argument that comment sections are extremely valuable, at least to Reddit. If people do want to comment on a story from Upvoted, Reddit certainly doesn’t want to dilute the original submission on Reddit proper by creating a new forum for discussion elsewhere, one that ignores original submission/comment page. I fully expect popular Upvoted articles to get submitted to Reddit proper**, just like news articles from other publications. The same is true for voting on a story — Upvoted doesn’t want to take anything away from the main site, so you can’t vote on anything unless you submit to that site. Upvoted’s main purpose is to add value to Reddit, which has the added and equally beneficial bonus of also making Reddit’s content more attractive to advertisers. (More on that in a bit.)

The second, and less discussed topic about Upvoted is that it was created in large part to “steal back” some of the traffic being sent to digital publications that often translate top Reddit submissions into listicles or features — such as what’s been done on sites like BuzzFeed, Distractify, and many others. I can say with near certainty that Reddit really isn’t concerned with driving traffic back to its main site, which has seen near regular traffic growth for the last several years.

Reddit the company, however, is highly motivated to produce a version of those listicle-like posts that actually compels people to click through to the original source on Reddit. And the best way to do this, according to Reddit, is to provide added value by reaching out to original submitters of that content and providing further explanation if necessary/valid/helpful. That’s something most millennial-targeted publications don’t do, nor have they really needed to. The content that gets voted to the top of Reddit is often compelling enough on its own, so news publications don’t really need to try much harder to add more value when covering it. (Although if Upvoted is successful, it’ll force other publications to step up their game, making more of an effort to include information about Reddit users who first submitted or produced the content being written about.)

It’s the community, stupid.

Lastly, and probably most in need of further discussion, is that Upvoted will become a potentially important source of advertising revenue to Reddit proper. This one is absolutely true, but possibly not in the way you’d think. I don’t expect Upvoted’s traffic to come anywhere near the numbers of Reddit’s main site, limiting its ability to make money from advertising. (Smaller audience, less lucrative.) But if this strategy works, it may create a safer path for advertisers across all of Reddit’s properties.

Right now, Reddit is viewed by advertisers with caution. The reasons for this are well-documented. But there’s no denying that Reddit is popular enough that you’d be crazy not to try and get in front of its audience. The problem is that it’s often hard to predict how the discussion will form on Reddit by its community, and that’s a risk many advertisers aren’t willing to justify should things go sour — deserved or not.

Upvoted can soften those fears by enhancing the top submitted content on Reddit proper (as explained above). On other news sites that may credit a Reddit user for submitting a piece of content that gets written up in an article, usually there’s no desire to go beyond the user name. But doing so could help humanize the submitters, which might help advertisers overcome some of the negative characterizations of the overall Reddit community. But to do so will also require Upvoted to exercise a journalistic set of ethics for the times when it cannot ignore something toxic or controversial.

It’ll be on Reddit to make sure the site acts like a news organization in that regard, but more than likely I can’t see that being much of an issue. Reddit users as a whole produce so much interesting and compelling content that you could easily focus coverage on without ever touching the controversial stuff. I love a thorough media circus as much as the next guy (actually, no I don’t) but the tech press is doing a thorough job of covering the controversies and negative aspects of Reddit. To me, that alone would justify Upvoted to leave the controversy to others, while having the company itself address criticisms publicly — just like it has done in the past.

What Upvoted means for the future of news publications, (if anything)

Since plenty of words have already been written about what Reddit’s Upvoted strategy may mean for the future of the news and media business, I’ll be brief. Reddit is an aggregator that realized its community was producing content on par — or better than — professionals at news publications. Now, Reddit is finally trying to do something to utilize that content without taking away from the people responsible for producing it to begin with.

For other sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, the decision to shift from content aggregators to full-on news production was much different. (Both began primarily as aggregators, but later saw value in expanding into original news/content.)

Neither of those organizations were able to develop and sustain a community of regular users. I can’t really think of many digital publications that have on the scale of Reddit. (No, having a huge social media following doesn’t count. If you don’t own your distribution channels, you don’t really own the comments or discussions.) Original content production was the only alternative for Upworthy and BuzzFeed. But for Reddit, this is just what comes next.

* Upvoted: A Reddit within a Reddit…

**…within another Reddit = Reddit Inception?!?