A MBA’s experiment in social media campaigning via reddit.com

21 Jun


A classmate, Stephanie Getson, has been trying to raise £8000 on the crowd-sourcing website Buzzbnk.org to start her social venture, Sahara Botanicals, in Chad, Africa. She has 3 days left to hit her target otherwise the money gets returned to contributors. To date (AFAIK) the money raised has been from people that Stephanie knows personally. Buzzbnk.org is quite new and what it lacks (imho) is the name, and therefore traffic, that the poster-children of the crowd-sourced social venture funding websites Kiva and Kickstarter have, meaning projects have very little chance of “strangers” contributing money to a project just because they like the sound of it.

Stephanie has had great support from her class, but I wondered if I could help her get some broader support with a social media campaign. We had all been posting about her on our Facebook walls and re-tweeting the link to her Buzzbnk page, but none of it was really generating outside support as far as I could tell, so I wondered if I might be able to generate some more buzz via reddit.com.

So, what is this reddit place?

reddit, if you don’t know it, is a kind of social media website where users submit web links and other users upvote the content they like, or down-vote the content they dislike as well as leaving comments (which can also be up/downvoted) on the links*. Content ranges from political news stories, to amusing or interesting images. I’ve been on reddit for a few years – it’s a procrastinator’s paradise – I’m quite a fan of the “F7U11” comics (note any links on reddit that say “NSFW” = Not Safe for Work (also applies to business school libraries!)).

reddit is a hugely popular website – its servers regularly struggle under the visitor load – and content that gets enough upvotes to get on to the main front page can receive tens of thousands of visitors via the website. Whether or not a link gets on to the front page is algorithmically determined with a bias towards fresh content, and with early upvotes having more weight than subsequent ones. Most stories on the front page have net +1000 votes, but some can get there with as few as net +60 votes.

I figured that all you need is a good core of early fans to upvote you then you have a chance of getting widespread support. So I thought I’d submit Stephanie’s Buzzbnk page to reddit then try to mobilise my class to give it a quick upvote.

End result

It wasn’t a massive success, but we did get about another 6 or so donations, raising around £300. We certainly didn’t get on to the front page! I presume most of the donations came from the class (thanks!). Below I’ll outline the “strategy” and what I think I could have done better.

Strategy 101

I set up a Facebook Event to try and time the submission and upvoting for about 10pm GMT, hoping that lots of classmates would be online but also catching good online time in the US. I invited all classmates I have on Facebook – about 200 people – and allowed others to invite friends, but did not make the event public. In the end about 30 people accepted the invite.

At 10pm I submitted the link to reddit and posted the reddit link to Facebook. I also immediately posted a comment to the link which explained what the project was all about. My hope was that this comment would get upvoted to the top to explain to redditors why I had posted the link.

I also emailed the entire class mailing list – about 240 students – asking them, if they were online now, to give the story a quick vote.


The first comment quickly came in – “No“. Hmmm…

Then the first votes started coming in. It was quite level pegging for a while – equal upvotes and downvotes.

Then, amazingly, Stephanie messages me on Skype to say a £5o donation had come in… then another, then £30, then £30 again.

In the meantime we were getting lots of positive comments – all from classmates – but the votes were hovering around net 0. At one point I think we had net +10, but by the time I checked this morning we were back to net 0, with approximately +60/-60. Not bad – at least we got 60 people to upvote!

So what could have gone better?

Click on the red arrow to upboat.

I probably needed to explain reddit a bit better. I’ve been on it for years, but most people had never seen it before so I wasn’t sure if people understood that they had to click the upvote button, rather than just comment.

I submitted the link at 10pm to try and get US users’ attention, but with hindsight I probably should have aimed more for the UK users and submitted earlier.

I should have encouraged people to exercise restraint with posting comments. Whilst everyone’s enthusiasm was appreciated, it looked a bit like astro-turfing to have lots of 0 days old reddit accounts leaving wildly supportive comments. Just to be clear – everyone I asked to support is a genuine Sahara Botanicals fan – no-one was paid to vote!

Something went wrong with my explanatory comment – it didn’t seem to get any upboats and when I sent a bit.ly link directly to it people told me they couldn’t see my comment at all. Subsequently, nobody clicked on my link to Stephanie’s blog explaining how she’d actually spend the money.

I wouldn’t be surprised if reddit down-weights votes from newly registered accounts. Virtually everyone in the class was using a new account.

Nobody other than a couple of classmates retweeted my tweet about the reddit page. I have about 500 followers but the bit.ly statistics suggest that virtually no-one from Twitter clicked the link, which is a shame.

I was disappointed that Buzzbnk didn’t get behind this. Stephanie had told them I was planning this, and I thought they were going to give us a retweet last night, but they didn’t retweet till the morning, which is virtually worthless. I did actually voice my annoyance, and found Buzzbnk’s reply frustratingly weak. This was their chance to get big traffic – a retweet would have taken 2 seconds. Shame.

Why the downvotes?

Downvotes make me sad. 😦

Quite a few of my friends who are new to reddit were asking me why anyone would ever downvote the link. As I explained to them, you could post the cure to cancer on reddit and it would still get hundreds of downvotes. reddit is a naturally quite cynical audience and I knew that basically going on there and asking for money had the potential to generate a backlash. That said, if you hang around reddit long enough there are loads of examples of spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity from reddit users. I personally think they are a great community, but in this case “if you ask, you don’t get”.

/edit – now that I think about it, a lot of the downvotes almost certainly came from reddit itself. I believe it has a vote to automatically downvote stories that suddenly get a lot of upvotes. No idea how that works in practice, but it is there to stop people gaming the system.

* If this sounds familiar, you might have heard of Digg.com. Once a social media favourite and reddit’s much bigger competitor, it is now a sad shadow of its former self after a botched update to its model.

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