If you have a product, you’re probably looking for free ways to promote it. It can be tempting to post it everywhere you go; Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Quora, Hacker News. But don’t move too quickly. Each of these places has its own set of rules and etiquette, and some are very disapproving of anything that smacks of self-promotion. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make these sites work for you. You just have to tread lightly.
Let’s look at two of the most challenging sites, Reddit and Quora. If you’ve tried to directly promote your own content, product, or site there before, you’ve probably been burned. Reddit, in particular, is especially hostile towards marketers and anybody who seems to be tooting their own horn. Yet many entrepreneurs have found great success when their products get picked up and voted to the front page of Reddit. How are they doing that without self-promoting?
It comes down to this, directly from Reddit’s own statement on self-promotion: “It’s perfectly fine to be a Redditor with a website, it’s not okay to be a website with a Reddit account.”
Let’s just get this out of the way right up front: Redditors hate you.
They do not want to hear from you, and if you bother them, they will destroy you.
So why are we even talking about it? Because once you manage to crack the Reddit code, there are huge rewards to be reaped. You’ll have tapped into a laser-focused target market, and that’s invaluable. Here are some success tips for making Reddit work for you.
Reddit is first and foremost a community. It’s not a place to broadcast, but rather a place to discuss. Further, it’s primarily an entertainment site. People go there to find things that are interesting, or funny, or otherwise diverting. They do not go there to shop or be sold to.
The last thing you want to do is show up on Reddit for the first time, find a subreddit that seems to fit your product, and go in there with your first post as “Hey guys, I just launched this product, what do you think?”
Don’t do that.
Be a Redditor first
You must be a Redditor first. This means you should spend time there — lots of time — before you ever think of mentioning your product or business. It means finding the subreddits that interest you, and that relate to your work and interacting with the people there. Click their links. Read their articles and upvote the ones you like. Comment, and respond to comments. Cultivate a presence and be a true Redditor. Don’t try to fake this! Redditors do not like phonies.
Does this seem like a lot of time to invest? Well, it is. But it’s not wasted time. For one thing, you’re making connections and even friends, many of whom may end up being customers, partners, or business associates. For another, as a founder you should probably be keeping up with the latest news in your industry anyway. Reddit makes it easy to do that. You’re killing a lot of birds with this stone, so take good care of it.
Eventually, when it feels natural and seems to fit, when you know people by name (ok, by username) and are truly a member of that community, you might find an opportunity to share your website, your product, your service, whatever it is you do, but only when you have a significant presence in that community. Reddit specifically requires that no more than 10% of what you post be self-promotional. So focus 90% of your Reddit posts on things that have nothing to do with you, but that are interesting or relevant to the community.
Read Reddit’s reddiquette, which includes this statement on self-promotion:
Feel free to post links to your own content (within reason). But if that’s all you ever post, or it always seems to get voted down, take a good hard look in the mirror — you just might be a spammer. A widely used rule of thumb is the 9:1 ratio, i.e. only 1 out of every 10 of your submissions should be your own content.
The ultimate goal here is to not have to post anything about yourself at all; if you’ve done this right, you’ll have a customer base who both loves your product and is active on Reddit, and they’ll happily do the sharing for you.
A few do’s and do not’s:
DO join communities that genuinely interest you. r/startup and r/entrepreneur are great places to find like-minded people and places that are generally more accepting of self-promotion (though the rules do still apply!). There are no doubt subreddits in your industry, as well.
DO read each subreddit’s guidelines in the sidebar, and abide by them.
DO check in with the admins of the subreddits you join. Let them know who you are and what you do, and ask them before you post anything of your own. They’ll appreciate that you respect them and their community, and will be more likely to support your efforts. They also may have great advice for interacting successfully with their particular community.
DO NOT ask for votes or manipulate your votes by using fake accounts or “sock puppets.” It’s unethical, and if you have to ask why, you’re probably a spammer.
DO respond to comments. If you post something on Reddit that links back to your own brand, be there to communicate and be part of the conversation that ensues.
DO be transparent. Don’t try to be tricky and act like your website is just “something I found on the internet.” Be up front. “This is my company.” “This is a product we just launched.” When answering questions in the comments, begin with “I’m the author of this post; I can answer your questions.” Redditors will sniff out a fraud in a second, and they will not treat you well if they feel you’ve been less than honest.
Just remember that you’re representing your brand. As a founder, you ARE your brand in many ways. So behave on Reddit as you do everywhere else: professionally, transparently, and honestly. Don’t cheapen your brand with sneaky, self-serving tactics. And don’t talk about yourself too much. You wouldn’t do it at a dinner party, so don’t do it here.
Take it from the StartUp Bros: “There is a special fiery hatred within every Redditor’s heart towards shameless self-promoters.” Do not be a shameless self-promoter.
Quora is a place to share your authority on a topic. You do this by answering questions posted by members of the community (Quora boasts 1.5 million monthly visitors). Just like on Reddit, the trick to success on Quora is to create a presence in the community and establish yourself as an authority in your field. To give more than you take.
Search for questions in your industry and offer your thoughtful insight. If your product is a little further along and already launched, you can search for mentions of your own product or business and answer the questions people have about it. But even if your product hasn’t launched yet or has no presence on Quora, you can have a presence by answering questions with thoughtfulness and useful information. Think of this as on-demand content marketing.
Further, you can ask questions of other experts in virtually any industry you can think of. Treat Quora as a two-way street: Give information and get information. Show appreciation and respect for other experts and industry leaders.
Most of our advice for Reddit also applies to Quora. Be active and engaged; don’t show up just to promote yourself and then disappear. And remember the dinner party rule: nobody wants to talk to the guy who talks only about himself.
A few do’s and do not’s:
DO create your profile with care. If somebody reads something you wrote and wants to know more, you want to give them everything they need right up front on your profile. Be sure, in particular, to include links to your website and related social media accounts.
DO use the search function to see if anybody is talking about your product or business. If you’re still in the early stage of launching, this may not yield any results at first. But when it does, you’ll know you’ve arrived.
DO show care and concern for others. This is a place people come for help. They’re curious or they’re in a bind and they need answers. Treat them like intelligent people and answer their questions as helpfully as you can, and you’ll begin to build a following.
DO NOT use fake accounts to ask questions that your real account will then go answer. Come on. That’s spammy and weird.
Also, like Reddit, you’re killing a few birds with one stone. You’re not only spending time building your own authority; you’re also benefiting from the authority of others.
It’s great to be active on both these sites; you can find significant traffic here, and more than that, highly targeted traffic. These are people who are actively looking for what you’re offering, and if you engage with them thoughtfully and from a place of service (as opposed to self-service), you’ll find a dedicated customer base at your fingertips.
Start today. If you don’t have accounts, or if you do but they haven’t been active lately, it’s time to spruce them up. Then go find somebody who needs you and do something to help them.