ALEXIS OHANIAN: We know what the rate of mobile video consumption is. This is where value lies. A lot of the dollars that are still going very misguidedly to “traditional” TV are going to be going to video. And we’re like, “Let’s think a little further here.” Everybody’s going to be doing this, what makes us fundamentally different?”
And everyone else begins with, “We’ll bring some brand in, create this content and hopefully there is going to be audience for it.” Our advantage is we build with our audience from day one.
Are subreddits natural segments?
We can tell brands, “So you want to reach people who love slow cooking or solo travel?” “Do you want to reach people who love the future?” r/Futurology. It’s a great community. We build this content with people, so we go to Futurology and say, “We’re working on this concept. We’ll put together a series about cyborgs.” Actual people who have body modifications and who have an artificial limb that helps them run faster. And we ask them at the start of the process, “What can we do to make this great? Who should be profiled? What trends should we be talking about?” So for the next few months while we’re producing it, we not only have viewers for when the video goes live, they actually feel like they’re invested in it. They feel like executive producers because they helped us make it.
Is Reddit still the front door of the Internet?
We see ourselves as the best place to go to find the most relevant content either created or curated by users all over the world 24/7. It’s interesting because when we first started, it was just links. Publishers loved us because we sent them lots of traffic, but once we added the ability for users to create content posts, an AMA (Ask Me Anything) interview or just a funny story about what happened to them at work, it changed the dynamic of the site because publishers started to rely on us for content as well.
What did you learn?
The majority of content on Reddit became stuff users were creating themselves, not just linking to. That was a huge shift, and in response to that, especially over the last six months, we have been trying to build as many tools as possible for publishers, who clearly love our content, [using tools like] “embeds,” but also enabling new ways for us to reach our current users and new users wherever they want, whether that’s video or audio. We have this unfair advantage because we are as much a technology company as we are a media company and we want to take advantage of it.
How else has your relationship with publishers changed?
After Facebook announced the New York Times/BuzzFeed Instant Articles thing, we started getting inbound from people saying, “We want to publish articles directly on Reddit.” We had honestly not thought about it, but it’s given us the confidence to start exploring it from a product standpoint. But it was an interesting reaction. I’m sure Facebook said, “Hey guys, we’ll send you lots of traffic and it’ll be a better user experience, load faster, so give us your content.” And it’s proven that those load times impact readability. More people will read that content. I think that made them reevaluate – how important is NYTimes.com the destination vs. people reading your content everywhere. And they figured if they’re on Facebook, they might as well be on Reddit, hence the inbounds.
Is this the key to more monetization potential on Reddit?
We tested this when we launched our podcast Upvoted at the start of the year and it’s been an amazing process that’s carried over to the newsletter and why open rates have been so high (45%). I genuinely believe people feel invested in our product in a way they don’t normally do with editorial content. Brands want to know how to influence the most influential people on the Internet, how to influence Reddit users. When we go into these meetings [with brands] we can say, “Our user base creates some of the most relevant and original content online.” We know that because it’s everywhere and their upvotes and downvotes determine the news of the day.
How will the Reddit community react to more branded content and how are you balancing monetization with user experience?
You do it the right way, by bringing the bottle of wine to the block party. And the way you do that is by creating amazing original content that will be beautiful and impactful and in turn, you have to be totally authentic about it and say, “This is how this stuff gets made, and who helped us make it.” You have to bring value. We only announced [original video] a month and a half ago, but the initial discussions have been phenomenal. A lot of people wanted to be on Reddit but they didn’t know how, and now we’re giving them a way, and it’s premium and it’s stuff users like.
What can Reddit do better?
The big thing is mobile; we’ve been sleeping on mobile way too long. We’ll keep chipping away at bad user experiences on the site, which will be such a boon. … Also take a look at the share button in another couple weeks. It’s going to change. Having been away for five years, I’m coming at it with fresh eyes, but I still see all the mistakes I made five years ago – design decisions that were so stupid, so we’ll work to remedy those.
What was the worst design decision?
Wow. Verdana. I really hated Verdana.
This interview has been edited for clarity and flow.