- API pricing impact. Reddit’s new API pricing led to subreddit blackouts.
- User response. Backlash to API changes increased tensions between Reddit and users.
- Marketer adaptation. The blackout forces marketers to diversify and adapt strategies.
Reddit, the popular online community known for its viral memes, lively discussions and Scooby Doo levels of meddling, turned off many of its lights, plunging into an unexpected blackout and leaving digital marketers grappling with the implications.
It’s not a technical glitch or a simple maintenance break. Instead, the Reddit blackout refers to the sudden and widespread unavailability of various subreddits, online communities with potentially millions of members.
The blackout has not only disrupted user experience on the platform but has also sent shockwaves through the marketing industry, particularly for those who leverage the platform’s unique user base for targeted advertising and customer engagement.
Behind the Reddit Blackout: What Went Wrong?
The problem seemingly started when Reddit introduced an API pricing outline for developers who create third-party Reddit apps — think Joey for Reddit, Apollo, RIF, etc. And while Reddit was quick to say it wouldn’t ban third-party apps entirely, it did price most developers out of the competition. A major third-party app like Apollo, for instance, would need to pay around $1.7 million per month under Reddit’s new API pricing.
In response to this change, more than 8,000 subreddits went dark. The blackout began as a two-day protest but extended into days of still-dark subreddits, popular subreddits posting irrelevant or NSFW (not safe for work) content and more chaos.
A ransomware group that hacked into Reddit’s servers earlier in the year also threatened to release 80 gigabytes of confidential data. Its demands? Reddit rolling back API pricing and a ransom of $4.5 million.
Why are third-party apps so important to the Reddit community? One user explains it in this viral post:
- Subreddit moderators depend on tools outside of the official app to keep communities spam-free
- Many accessibility features are not available in the official app
- Mobile and desktop users alike will have significantly fewer options for customizing their experience
Still, with some subreddits deciding to jump ship to other platforms that also lack accessibility and customization features, many are left scratching their heads at the real impetus behind the blackout.
Related Article: 6 Considerations for Digital Accessibility and Generative AI
Reddit Execs vs. Subreddit Moderators
According to Ira Michael Blonder, founder and CEO of IMB Enterprises, Inc., one big mistake Reddit made was staffing very important roles — subreddit moderators — with volunteers. It’s something he wrote about on LinkedIn, explaining “your core team must have skin in your game.”
When asked about the best way for Reddit to navigate the fiasco moving forward, he told CMSWire that the company needs to position any action within the context of completely understanding the risks.
“The tension level between Reddit’s CEO & team and the Reddit volunteer subreddit moderators is swelteringly hot. Before acting, Reddit needs to find out whether it is possible to lower the swelteringly hot temperature, or not.”
Taking any action before this step could be disastrous, according to Blonder, with subreddit volunteer moderators potentially interpreting the attempt as a sign of weakness. On the other hand, he added, using brute force — à la Elon Musk’s approach at Twitter — could generate bad press and put an insurmountable obstacle in front of plans for IPO in the near future.
“Will Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley want to underwrite the IPO if there is substantial public outcry about the subreddit volunteer moderator problems?” Blonder asked.
Reddit needs to proceed carefully and ask questions, he added. And if subreddit volunteer moderators refuse to take questions and give answers? “Then, for better or worse, brute force (akin to Elon Musk) is the way to go — while ‘battening down the hatches.’”
Marketers See Immediate Consequences Amid Politics
In the short term, the blackout might disrupt user engagement and affect the platform’s overall availability as users shift their attention to other social media platforms, said Jon Morgan, CEO of Venture Smarter.
“For marketers currently utilizing Reddit for their campaigns, it is prudent to take immediate steps to adapt to the blackout situation,” he said.
He recommended monitoring the developments of the blackout closely and communicating with Reddit via official channels. “This will help marketers understand the timeline and make informed decisions regarding their campaigns.”
Blonder mentioned on LinkedIn that Reddit’s current problem of managing online communities essentially boils down to a political process — something Meta and Twitter were able to avoid by functioning like an autocracy. “Investors savvy enough to see the need for political skill implicit to managing Reddit, the business, might want to pass on the investment opportunity,” he wrote.
When asked about the best alternatives, Blonder told CMSWire that marketers should take their pick between the new Twitter ad team, Meta and Snap. “All three of these have overcome the moderator problem in one way or another already.”
Morgan seconded the idea of marketers exploring alternative platforms and diversifying their marketing strategies. “By utilizing other social media platforms and online communities, marketers can maintain their reach and engagement with their target audiences,” he explained.
He also recommended social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, along with Quora, Stack Exchange and other specialized forums with targeted audiences.
Still, neither Morgan nor Blonder believes this is the end of Reddit for digital marketing.
“Reddit has demonstrated resilience in the past and has a dedicated user base that values that platform’s unique community-driven approach,” said Morgan, adding that he expects Reddit to recover and thrive in the long term.
Blonder added that Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and team should bring in best-in-class change management expertise to get the job done correctly. “Once this job is completed,” he said, “the future should be very bright — probably brighter than the one facing Snap, Twitter and Facebook.”
Related Article: How Social Media Marketing Has Changed This Year
Reddit’s Blackout Is Marketing’s Opportunity to Adapt
The Reddit blackout illustrates the unpredictable nature of the digital world. Digital marketers must continually adapt and evolve, navigating these choppy waters with resilience and agility.
Those who currently take advantage of Reddit for marketing will undoubtedly face challenges in the wake of the blackout. But it also provides opportunities for growth and learning. After all, it’s often the ability to adapt and innovate that sets successful campaigns apart.