Positioning a Reddit

Someone wrote me recently and asked me how to get members for their new Reddit. I did my best to answer their question, but now I'm feeling like maybe that was a mistake because the truth is that I don't really focus on "getting members" per se for the various Reddits I have.

Instead, I mostly focus on positioning my Reddits and creating the kind of space I want each one to be.

So I think hard about the kind of name I want. Then I try to figure out what kind of color scheme and icon I want. I may or may not also do a banner for the top section.

I think a lot about what I want to do with the sidebar and I work hard on developing a good pinned post or two. I typically name the pinned post something like Welcome or About, but not always.

I have a sub called r/ClothingStartups and I spent a few months regularly dealing with it. During that time, I repeatedly updated the Welcome message and the descriptor in the sidebar as things changed and as my understanding of things changed.

I acquired it January 31, 2020 and I did a post titled Under New Management. I updated that to a Welcome message on April 1st. I replaced that with a new Welcome message on June 8th.

At some point, I kind of had a fight with the members and let them know what my expectations were. During that conversation, someone finally got what I was saying and went and did a thing in accordance with what I was saying.

So I stopped crabbing at people and went and gave that thing they did some positive attention. Since then, people mostly behave and I mostly ignore that Reddit and let them do their thing.

That's the largest Reddit I have and it gains, on average, a few new members a day. It's currently at 2413 ...2415... 2422 members (it's taken me a couple of days to write this post). It had around 965, I think, when I took it over at the end of January.

I like to cross-post stuff from other subs to mine, in part to provide content and in part as a low-key means to let folks know the sub exists. I also occasionally mention specific subs of mine in conversation somewhere or other on the internet.

But I am really not focused on growing membership per se, even though tracking membership growth matters to me. I really focus on trying to create the kind of space I want so that if someone shows up, they will be there for the right reasons and will interact with the space in a constructive fashion that plays well with what I hope to achieve.

So some thoughts on what I think matters for positioning:
  • Color is really powerful. I think about what kind of atmosphere I want when choosing the color scheme. Like do I want it to be energetic or do I want it to be calming?
  • The human mind doesn't deal that well with negatives. For the most part, I try to tell people what I want them to do rather than what I don't want and I try to give examples. Examples are very powerful.
  • Once I am really clear what the goal is and how I am approaching it, I try to make the descriptor in the sidebar a "two minute on-boarding process." It has a character limit, so you need to be concise, and it may be the only thing they read before they start posting. What is the most critical information they need in order to interact with the space well?
  • If you don't want weird, creepy, icky behavior, then you need to avoid using lurid language yourself. So be careful what you focus on and how you say things. This matters more for some topics than others, but it is never irrelevant.
The nice thing about having a Reddit on a topic is that I don't feel a lot of pressure to post on a schedule or something. I can focus on how and what and not when. For me, approaching it that way helps me keep quality high.

Especially for sensitive topics, it is more important that you do it right than that you do it quickly. For touchy topics, doing it right will be the quickest way to get there.

It's not simply a case of "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you find time to do it over?" It's that touchy subjects end up going sideways and turning into drama and trying to correct that once it gets going takes ridiculous amounts of time, thought, effort, etc.

In a world full of racism, sexism, etc, the most ordinary-sounding things can wind up having touchy elements. I think a lot about such things and "How could this possibly go sideways and be wildly misinterpreted?" is one of the metrics I keep a close eye on when deciding how to handle things.

I am not comfortable giving specific examples of that. I know from past experience that can actively create problems for the people being used as an example and I would rather err on the side of protecting what I have built so far on Reddit, small as it is, over trying to educate some theoretical audience for this site.

In fact, I was thinking this was a stupid post to write at all and wasn't going to post it. But, coincidentally, I watched maybe the first twenty minutes or so of the following video the same day I wrote my initial draft of this piece and that convinced me I should publish it, though I've made some effort to clean up the post:

The video made me change my mind because he talks about the importance of not pursuing growth prematurely. His remarks about that strike me as being about first positioning your business, so I felt validated in my idea that I first need to position my Reddits and not really worry yet about "How do I grow membership?"

The other thing is that he has a graph showing Facebook's growth trajectories over the years and talks about what thing happened at each point of big change that allowed them to exceed the predicted ceiling. In every case, they found some limiter and solved that.

To me, that fits with my idea that it's important to keep my eye on "What's the worst thing that could happen here?" for my various Reddits. I try to find that weakest link and solve that.

He also talks about the importance of retention and that churn -- people leaving in short order -- is an often overlooked business killer. People focus on getting new sign-ups and don't think about how to keep the customers they've got and it results in an unsustainable business.

With watching his video and writing this piece, it occurred to me at some point that I seem to have very little churn in membership on my Reddits. It's somewhat unusual for me to notice the numbers go down.

Of course, I have limited info. Reddit doesn't give me info on who the members are, so it's entirely possible that I frequently miss that a sub lost one or two members and promptly gained replacement members, thereby keeping the total sum of members the same.

But I doubt that is the case simply because most of my subs are so small and have so little traffic. Plus I spend a lot of time online and checking "How many members do my Reddits have NOW?" a million times a day is sort of my current hobby.

As best I can tell given the data available to me, people join and mostly stay. Hopefully that bodes well for the future of Eclogiselle.

Additional Resources

There is also a shorter variation of that presentation by the same guy (about 19 minutes instead of over an hour), but it doesn't hammer home the point that you need to get some things right before you work on growth. And there is a short written piece by Sam Altman called Before Growth that also makes the point that you need to figure out what, exactly, you are doing before you work on growing.

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