Publishers: How to Avoid Getting Banned by Reddit

Reddit ban

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 and freelance writers 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.”

Chicago Art Machine Network CEO Kathryn Born on Technology and Journalism

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Kathryn born is CEO of the Chicago Art Machine Network, which offers news and features on the Chicago art scene. Born founded Chicago Art Magazine after a career as a filmmaker, artist and writer for 15 years. Chicago Art Magazine began as part of Art Talk Chicago – a Chicago Tribune sponsored blog network – and went solo in the fall of 2009.  She also runs TINC Magazine (Technology Industry News Chicago) and DIY Film Magazine.

Recently, Born shared her thoughts about print and web publishing – both fact and fiction.

Many say technology and the internet have decreased peoples’ attention spans, and so editors now want much shorter articles. What’s your take on that?
The truth is people have had the same attention span they’ve always had. They’re smarter than they’ve ever been. But the reason that writing is being shortened so much – we had articles because articles were the only option. We had to do storytelling. Things were very long and drawn out. There is a place for storytelling and there is a time for reading. That is one type of writing that we can be doing. The problem is that there is another type of thing that’s needed.

What is needed?
People go on the web looking for very, very specific pieces of information. You’re looking for information, and you’re trying to harvest the information out of articles. But the articles aren’t the way to do it – they’re not comprehensive, they could be old and out-of-date. So articles became this really, really bad research tool that we all became dependent on. People want to get information. If one of the things you want to give your readers is organized sets of information they can use themselves, then you don’t need to be writing articles – you can be using software.

Can you give me an example?
At TINC Magazine, we’re just starting to pitch the start-up catalog. We take all these companies [for example, gaming companies] and we start to compress them into information for a database. So we’re going to have a button that says “gaming,” and all of a sudden there they are. You see all of them, if they’re active, how many employees they have, how much revenue they have. It immediately gives you that information. Who wants to be surfing for information? You want to be finding information. So, we’re creating these systems.

It doesn’t seem like most online media is doing this…?
When media went online, it’s like nobody sent them a memo saying that you’re not limited to the things you did in print. And so what publishers did, they just took everything they did in print and they did it the exact same way online, not realizing there are all these other things you can do. Slowly video has gotten in, there’s been some interactive graphics, but it’s really, really primitive.

So what direction could writers go?
As publishers, we can be getting data and putting it in a useful way so our readers can be getting the information. Like when the financial collapse happened, I wanted to know more about what the government spends money on, what was on the table and what the politicians talked about. Where are the tools to help us understand our transparent government? Because watching C-SPAN ain’t gonna work! So that’s what’s happening – we’ve got this data out there, but no one’s looking at journalism as a way to organize information for the public, which is the core principle of what journalism and web content writers are supposed to do. Not write articles, not tell stories, but organize information so the public can be informed. This is not that radical if you think about what the core of journalism is supposed to be. The public is actually incredibly smart, and when the go to your article and the information is not there, they’re clicking away from it. There’s a difference between the desire to read and the desire to find information in a hurry. Nobody is talking about this.

How else could writers and the media take advantage of technology?
The whole system of the way media is done is really, really broken. You’re a reporter and you’re going to write a feature. So you go out, you do 20 hours of research, and out that 20 hours of research you take the most usable 15 minutes out of it. Where does the rest of the research go? It disappears, you put it in a file and nobody ever sees it. Why doesn’t the media outlet store that, so the next time somebody’s doing a story on that, they can use your research. You know, 10 people will call me for information for the same story. Someone already called me about this! They don’t have access to the other information that’s out there. So that’s what I try to do, I try to connect people to what’s already been said. Even journalism is really sloppy, and the research isn’t being pulled. They don’t have the technology and have been in such a budget crisis for the last 15 years, and they have so much nostalgia. They’re not forward thinking, and that’s why they’re dying.

So for people who aren’t part of the Old Guard, who are just getting into writing and journalism, what’s the best advice you can give?
How can you lay out your ideas? Don’t think about articles, but think about info-graphics. Think about the core points you’re trying to educate people on. If you let go of paragraphs and look at lists and images and bullet points, how can you reformat your article so it’s really, really informative. Do you need these paragraphs? You’ve got a concept, so what’s the best way to express it, so somebody can come and instantly snatch up that lesson. Question the article format, because that’s what nobody’s willing to do.

James Chartrand on Creating Killer Content

Headshot of James Chartrand

Headshot of James ChartrandJames Chartrand made headlines in 2009 when she outed herself as a woman writing under a pen name. News about the thirty-something copywriter from Canada appeared in Newsweek, Huffingpost Post, and numerous other media outlets. Of course, she’s also known as the owner of Men with Pens, a wildly successful web design and copy agency that publishes a blog by the same name.

Chartrand shared her insights on starting a successful blog, teaching entrepreneurs to write, and earning a living as a creative freelance writer.

Men with Pens was successful even before the big reveal. What do you think is the secret sauce that’s made the blog and the Men with Pens brand so darn popular?

Luck and timing was a good part of it, to be honest. (Yes, I realize I’m supposed to say something smart about how it was all excellent content people were looking for at the time, but hey – like I said, let’s be honest.) The blog began before everyone and their uncle started blogging, so it built up a very strong following in a short period of time.

And also, being named a Top Ten Blog for Writers several years in a row certainly helped!

But all that said, popularity comes from having something special, something different that others don’t have, and I think Men with Pens fits the bill well. I write posts that are bold and strong, that tell it like it is… even when the subject I’m discussing flies in the face of current beliefs.

I think people like that honesty and truth. It’s refreshing to hear someone take a stand or put forth a new opinion. Zig when everyone else zags, as Brian Clark would say.

Certainly, the advice, expertise, counsel and general good stuff on Men with Pens is… well, good! Everything I write and discuss is geared to help others get ahead and do well in business. You can’t go wrong with that.

Your class, Damn Fine Words, teaches entrepreneurs how to get results from their own copy. Are you afraid you might be teaching yourself out of a job?

Nope. I’m confident of my skills, abilities and expertise. And quite frankly, if someone does apply everything I teach and ends up a successful writer because of it, fantastic! Competition is a good thing, because it continually keeps you on your toes, working towards improving what you offer.

Plus, it’s a pretty awesome situation when a successful person can say, “I owe it all to Damn Fine Words.”

Keep in mind too that while my job is writing, it’s also now teaching – I can’t teach myself out of that job, because I’ll always continue to gain experience and skills that I can transfer to others through Damn Fine Words.

And should I ever find myself with less writing work? Fantastic! That just gives me more time to teach and make Damn Fine Words a powerful language university… which is a good thing. People need this.

When should someone use DIY copy and when should they hire a professional writer like you?

When someone knows the skills and techniques that go into creating professional-level web copy. And sadly… most don’t have the skills or knowledge to write their own copy.

I find this a serious problem. Business owners have a huge need for great copy and content, whether in an online context or an offline one. And when they try to skimp and write their own without having the necessary skills… well. Their businesses struggle. Or even fail.

And these are good businesses! Businesses with dedicated owners and brilliant products and services! But if they can’t communicate properly, in a way that gets their message out there, then it’s game over.

That’s why I feel Damn Fine Words is so important – it gives business owners the tools and skills they need to reach better success. And what it teaches them stays with them for life.

Aside from dealing with gender bias (which, as we know, you overcame by using a male pseudonym), what other freelance or self-employment challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Here’s a huge challenge for almost all freelancers and small business owners: the famous feast or famine cash flow cycle. I’ve been very fortunate (and made sure I never got caught on that roller coaster ride!) but I hear people complain about it all the time: When things are good, they’re very, very good.

When things are bad, they’re horrid.

I avoided the feast/famine cycle by learning how to properly manage my business cash flow into a smooth, steady stream of income. I marketed when times were slow – and when business was booming. I learned relevant skills and branched out my services. I put together a solid team and increased productivity and efficiency.

And I learned about money – how to manage it, save it, and use it effectively to grow my business.

What mistakes or faux pas do you notice most often in online content?

Where should I begin?

Look, anyone can write. We’re all taught the basics in school. But writing for your business in an online environment means you need to know more than the basics. You need to be more than a good writer.

You need to know about sales. And marketing. And consumer psychology. And behavioral psychology (for those times when you just can’t write). And all sorts of other fields of expertise that people constantly think have nothing at all to do with writing.

They do. They have a lot to do with writing.

So most of the writing I see online just… isn’t very good. It’s nice to read or tells a good story, but it doesn’t drive business or encourage readers or create action or build success. It’s just… there. A nice read.

That’s just not effective for business results. Which is why I created Damn Fine Words.

Image courtesy of James Chartrand / Men with Pens

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