IAmA Social Strategist — Ask Me Anything About IAmAs on reddit

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With sixty-three million unique monthly visitors, and a user base that includes everyone from your cousin to Barack Obama, reddit is an untapped opportunity for brands. IAmAs (I Am A), in particular, offer the opportunity to directly connect with their audience in an authentic and meaningful way.

What is an IAmA?

In the past, we’ve written about reddit, an online community made up of micro communities — called subreddits — where users share, discuss, and vote on content. One of the most popular subreddits is /r/IAmA, an online Q&A forum that, according to reddit, is “where the mundane becomes fascinating and the outrageous seems suddenly normal.”

People with unique perspectives can start a thread, and describe who they are and what they do. Other users (aka redditors) contribute questions, or vote existing questions up or down, so that the most interesting surface to the top.

For brands, there’s no faster way to get direct, honest feedback and learn what issues are top of mind for consumers.

Who can participate in IAmAs?

Anyone! Like the rest of reddit, any registered user is able to create threads or add comments. Now, who should create an IAmA? reddit suggests limiting topics to two fields:

1. Something uncommon that plays a central role in your life.

2. A truly interesting and unique event.

Brands should keep these parameters in mind, and be able to articulate what value they’re adding to the community by participating.

A few words of warning …

It’s well known that redditors can be a discerning and fickle group — quick to engage but even quicker to sniff out and deride blatant marketing messages. (Check out /r/hailcorporate to see what I mean.)

By conducting a branded IAmA, you are entering into a social contract with the reddit community. In return for their participation, they expect an open and honest exchange of information and ideas.

Lessons from the trenches

We recently worked with a client on an IAmA, to help facilitate a productive, positive discussion around health care reform. The key takeaways from our experience were:

1. Maximize your time. We used Google Drive to share questions with the host so he could focus on answering as many as possible.

2. Transparency and authenticity is key. Other than checking for typos, we were hands off, encouraging our host to chat directly with the audience.

3. Tap into your existing community. We cross-promoted the chat on our other social properties, and directly messaged key influencers to help spread the word.

4. Be flexible. Live events can be stressful, and rarely go exactly as planned. Be prepared to improvise.

Making the most of your IAmA

To get the greatest benefit from an IAmA, you should be willing to let the community direct the dialogue. Although you can set some expectations up front, they’re running the show and will vote on what they want to see discussed. Deftly handling questions —both on and off topic — with candor and humor will help humanize your brand.

A great IAmA lets brands and community members share information and celebrate common interests. An excellent example is an IAmA with the Firefox User Experience team. They wisely used the platform to get users to share their feedback on product issues. On the flip side, a quick Google search will reveal notable people and companies who’ve attempted to use the platform for push marketing, resulting in a swift (and viral) backlash from redditors.

When executed thoughtfully, IAmAs can be a rewarding experience for both brands and the community.