Reddit, the wild west of the internet, could be staring down a gunfight with its proudly anti-corporate users over a new advertising program .
The volatile social network—which can be a minefield for sponsors—doesn’t push ads as hard as competitors like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. That’s because Redditors tend to eviscerate companies that infiltrate their communities, mock brand slogans, and hold grudges. But, in a bid to boost revenue (paywall), “the front page of the internet” is introducing an ad program that will let brands co-opt regular users’ posts for their own campaigns.
Starting on August 4th, brands will be able to sponsor regular users’ posts on Reddit, and share the content in those posts in promoted slots throughout the site to target specific audiences, the company announced on Tuesday (July 26).
Let’s say, for example, that Nintendo’s marketing team really digs this Pokémon GIF and wants to promote it in other subreddits like Gaming or Funny. They can reach out to Reddit, which will ask user SuperXack for permission for Nintendo to sponsor it. If the user agrees, Nintendo can then copy the content into a new promoted post that will get prominent placement in other channels.
The company said it may also introduce other incentives down the line. The idea is to reward users for sharing their content without making the incentive so appealing that it encourages undisclosed, surreptitious ads and propaganda, known on the community as “astroturfing” or “shilling.”
Unsurprisingly, Redditors aren’t thrilled about the move. Some are disappointed that Reddit won’t be paying people for their content, while others feel that the incentive threatens the integrity of the Gold system, which is normally gifted to Redditors by other Redditors for being funny, insightful, or agreeable.
To be sure, there are others who don’t care at all. The platform has featured promoted posts for quite some time. Does it really matter if the content in the ads were generated by average users or marketers?
Some say, yes. Even without cash incentives, there’s concern that the ad program will jeopardize Reddit’s authenticity, which is what users say makes the platform unique. They worry that people will craft phony posts just to get attention from brands. “This policy destroys user credibility, will lead to suspicion and bland content, and is not a very good idea,” one Redditor concluded.
Others say this new advertising product will be the end of Reddit—the social network for people who hate social networks—as we know it. “It’s so frustrating watching this website die,” said The Poose, a user, who added sarcastically: “Good thing I have Lunesta to give me a good nights sleep to melt the stress away.”
But don’t expect there to be a mass exodus. Even if Redditors are upset that their beloved community is “selling out,” they say there’s no viable alternative for them to turn to.