Earlier this summer, social news website Reddit banned the domains of several publications including TheAtlantic.com, GlobalPost.com, Businessweek.com, and Phys.org for spam. Poynter reports that the temporary bans on those domains have been lifted, but the personal account of Atlantic editor Jared Keller is still banned from the site following an earlier incident. (Back in April, DailyDot.com did some sleuthing and discovered that “slaterhearst,” a redditor who at one point ranked in the site’s top 30, was actually Keller, The Atlantic’s associate editor and social media editor. Gotcha!)
Using these sites can be a high stakes game for publishers. On the one hand, Atlantic senior editor Alexis Madrigal reports that a single hit on Reddit can result in six-figure traffic. On the other, it could result in a temporary or permanent ban. (And while we’re on the topic of social news sites, Digg.com was purchased by Betaworks earlier this month for $500,000. Meanwhile, Conde Nast acquired Reddit in 2006, then spun it as a standalone operation in 2011.)
Curious about what gets a user or domain banned, Ebyline posed the question to Erik Martin, general manger of Reddit. “A user could be banned for trying to manipulate the voting, including participating in voting rings or deleting stories if they don’t get a lot of votes and resubmitting them later,” he says. “We’re talking about posting a lot of stories from one domain or cross-posing the same stories from a bunch of different sub-Reddits. Submitting your own stuff is fine but when it becomes systematic, at a high volume, that could get you banned.”
Martin says Reddit uses automated tools to monitor the site for bad behavior but insists there’s no automated processing for banning publishers. “We’ll contact the domain to see if there’s some kind of explanation and give them a warning,” he adds.
Rather than flooding the site with links themselves, says Martin, publishers should focus on creating content that readers want to post for them, and creating a simple, readable interface is part of that. “Our audience doesn’t like when the content is drowned out by widgets and flash and social media stuff,” he explains. “You’ll often see people on Reddit link to the printer version of an article or some more reader-friendly format.”
Martin also suggests using the site as a sounding board rather than a billboard. “See what people are commenting about on articles that do get organically posted, and maybe do a follow up piece on that,” he explains, pointing to Tech News Today as an example. “They’re using it more a forum for their readers than as a way to promote content. Using it as a feedback loop can be very effective.”
Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University’s first Chief Digital Officer and former dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, offered additional tips for generating traffic for articles. “Send out a link to bloggers via email, not just using automated tools,” he suggests. “Build relationships.” Sreenivasan adds there’s nothing wrong with posting individual links to your own stories on places like Digg, Reddit, and Facebook but it shouldn’t be the kind of systematic blitzkrieg described above. He suggests striving for a ratio of one self-promotional link to four other links. “You should be posting things and listening and responding,” he urges.
Ultimately, says Martin, publishers should keep in mind that these tools are intended to help readers discover interesting content. “Reddit can send a lot of traffic,” he says.” That’s great, but it was designed for the users. It wasn’t designed to drive traffic to publishers.”