So, Reddit has been a mess lately. One might assume that the “front page of the Internet” would have better community management skills. But, conspiracy theories aside, Reddit has shown some spectacularly bad PR decisions in the past few weeks… and their fumbling can become your learning experience. Here are a few of the things that Reddit might have wanted to do, if they hadn’t wanted to experience a complete upheaval of their user base.
1. Always Communicate With Your Users
Reddit’s first mistake, out of many, was making major decisions about their platform without communicating with their users first. The administrators made a sequence of unpopular decisions and apparently believed that an announcement after the fact would suffice. If they had communicated with their users first, they might have avoided the worst of the blow back. (And we say apparently believed because, again, there are some who believe it was intentional.)
Reddit’s second mistake was underestimating the general intelligence of the uncontrollable hivemind that they had created. Though the user base may be occasionally (or even often) incorrect, there were still many users who noticed inconsistencies within the decision-making process. And though a hivemind may be slightly dumber than its individual components, it can still be more suspicious. Without clear communication, the user base took off on a variety of conspiracy theories, some insane and some frighteningly probable.
Reddit’s administrators seem to have entirely underestimated the popularity of their AMA administrator, Victoria aka Chooter. Though they undoubtedly knew banning subreddits would create an immense storm of drama, they didn’t seem to anticipate the reaction that firing Victoria would have. And this, from one perspective, could be understandable. They saw the work that Victoria was doing, but did not see the reaction to it. For many, Victoria had become the quickly-typing-hands of the AMA process. She had her own fans. And these fans were legion.
You should never make an assumption that your users see your community the same way that you do. A feature of your site that you think of little more than nuisance or clutter could be an intrinsic component of the user experience to others. Communication and data analysis are two ways that you can get a better picture of how your community actually uses your site, rather than how you would use your site.
Community employees — even volunteers, such as moderators — tend to be the “face” of a community. Not only do they need to be valued, but they also need to be chosen properly. They will set the tone of your community. To upper management, low-level community employees may seem entirely replaceable. To the users, they may define the entire community — and users can be spectacularly loyal. Not only were the users of Reddit upset when Victoria was let go, but they were further outraged when the founder and administrator of Reddit Gifts was similarly given the boot.
How could this have been avoided? Sometimes an employee has to separate from a company. But if it’s done properly and with goodwill, it won’t be seen as a slap in the face to the users who valued them.
But let’s close this with something that Reddit actually did right…
4. Move On Quickly
People on the Internet have short attention spans. It’s just the nature of this free-flowing, fast-paced informational world we live in. If you move on fast enough from anything, no matter how bad the situation is, you’ll usually be able to distract them. For Reddit, the announcement was made that their CEO was stepping down and that a new CEO was taking their place. Some brief online fanfare occurred and then everything, very quickly, went back to normal.
This kills the momentum.
Most users can’t be angry or outraged for long. Outrage requires fuel, and when denied of fuel — like a fire — it will quickly perish. As long as you can starve a fire of accelerants, you can control the situation. Now, if Reddit had continued beating the dead horse and discussing (or defending) their decisions, then they would have had a problem.