News organizations have known for years that you ignore social networks Twitter and Facebook to your peril.
But pseudonymous and freewheeling social news sites such as Reddit are a much tougher nut to crack.
Don’t tell that to The Atlantic magazine’s senior editor, Alan Taylor, however.
Taylor’s been a member of Reddit for over three years. He describes himself as a “lurker” — someone who reads a lot, but doesn’t contribute much. When Taylor does contribute, it’s often to add context or respond to questions about his own photo essays. And he’s rewarded — with upvotes.
Since he joined, Taylor has collected nearly 4,000 Reddit comment karma (a system that measures a redditor’s contribution to the community). Those numbers pale in comparison to reddit’s biggest contributors, but it’s still a good indication that people like what he has to say.
In fact, one of his most recent comments was posted in r/depthhub, a place where redditors collect the most in-depth comments from around the site. (A redditor there claimed to have already sent Taylor some fan mail “he seems like a good guy,” that redditor wrote.)
So what’s the key to engaging an audience on Reddit? Not surprisingly, Taylor says it’s just talking to people. Here’s our conversation.
DD: How does it benefit you and The Atlantic to comment on these threads?
Hmm, hard to quantify. I guess my best answer is: If I were Joe Redditor and posted something on Reddit about an article or project I was interested in, how nice it would be if the creator of that project jumped into the fray to defend/clarify/rebut whatever was being said. So when I see someone posting about something I’ve done, I try to jump in once in a while (when appropriate) to do that. Often to clarify or explain, sometimes to own up to an error, sometimes to toot my own horn or say thanks.
DD: When you comment on threads about your articles or photo essays, do you see yourself as an outsider or insider? How do you think other redditors see you?
When I comment on Reddit posts about my articles, I’m usually just answering a question, either direct or implicit, even if the questioner isn’t expecting an actual answer. I guess I hope to show people that A) I’m a real person, pretty much like anyone else (not “the [main stream media]”, whatever that means), and so are most writers/editors B) we’re all interconnected and just because I have access to the images and can spin a good photo story doesn’t mean that I’m an expert on everything or don’t make mistakes.
I can see how others might see me as an outsider, because of my position and what I do, and that’s fine. I don’t feel the need to prove myself as an insider, if people want to know what I’m up to, I’ve got a long track record online (mostly off-Reddit) that should demonstrate the sort of work I try to do. (Projects like In Focus, Big Picture, MegaPenny Project, All Solar System Bodies larger than 200 Miles, Amazon Light, etc.)
DD: Do you think news organizations in general should make a more concerted effort to communicate with their readers on Reddit?
I think news orgs in general should encourage individual writers and editors to engage the world online as much as they can or feel comfortable doing. I always feel like I learn so much whenever I compose an entry – then I learn even more when I see the reaction and feedback – not only about the subject matter, but how the technical bits of the storytelling resonated and worked (or didn’t).
DD: You’ve been on Reddit for three years. What got you started in the first place? Was there something in particular, or you just decided to take the plunge one day?
Wow, three years? I’ve been online forever it seems now. I was active in a few mailing lists in the late 90s, joined MetaFilter in 2000, was a web developer for about 14 years, etc. So I feel pretty much a part of the general culture that Reddit seems to have. On Reddit, I was a lurker forever, then I started noticing that photo stories I was doing on the Big Picture (which I started in June of 2008) were getting a lot of traction, so I became more interested (of course). When a few Redditors posted directly about the site, and a lot of questions and assumptions started showing up, I thought I’d jump in and clarify as much as I could, so I joined, and shortly afterward did a pretty successful IAMA post.
DD: What are your favorite places to visit on reddit?
Fave subreddits: Pics (naturally), WorldNews, History, Space, plus a few others I’ll leave to your imagination. Mostly I spend my time on the Reddit homepage. “The Front Page of the Internet” seems like a really apt description of it these days.