reddit’s Readers Revolt

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Have you stopped by reddit lately? Things got heated on the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet.” In case you missed it: a completely anonymous community boasting users with names like StickleyMan, awildsketchappeared, and horse_you_rode_in_on just fired the CEO of reddit, the 10th most popular website in the United States.

… Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the powers that be at reddit made some mistakes that caused quite an earthquake on the Internet – they violated one of the five common failures that lead to disaster: the failure to develop a Crisis Communications Plan.

In order to analyze their mistakes, it’s important to understand the scope of reddit.

The Front Page of the Internet

Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian founded the online bulletin board, reddit, in June 2005. The site exists for users (redditors) to submit content to different communities (subreddits) for other redditors to vote and comment. “redditors vote on which stories and discussions are important. The hottest stories rise to the top, while the cooler stories sink” source. The “front page” of reddit is comprised of the stories and discussions that users find most interesting.

Originating from //www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/315068778“>humble beginnings, the site has become an icon for the Internet over the last 10 years. From organizing a Rally to Restore Sanity to hosting the world’s largest Secret Santa gift exchange, the entire reddit community has come together to do great (read: powerful) things.

/r/IAmA

One of the ten most popular subreddits is the online community “/r/IAmA.” In their own words:

Basically, /r/IAmA is a place to interview people, but in a new way. “IAmA” is the traditional way of beginning the description of who you are; “AMA” is the traditional way of ending the description; the acronym means “Ask me anything.” The interviewee begins the process by starting a post, describing who they are and what they do. Then, commenters leave questions and can vote on other questions according to which they would like to see answered. The interviewee then goes through and responds to any questions that he/she would like, and in any way that he/she prefers.

This particular community has hosted exclusive interviews from personalities like Sir Ian McKellen to scientists like the NASA Horizons Team to even politicians like Barack Obama.

The complexity behind coordinating these interviews led reddit to dedicate one of their staff members to serve as liaison between the company and the community. Enter Victoria Taylor, or chooter as she is known on the site.

When Users Revolt

RedditReadersRevoltOn, or around, July 2nd Victoria Taylor was unexpectedly let go from her position at reddit. reddit neglected to inform the community, however. As a result, the volunteers that moderate several subreddits set their entire community to “private,” essentially making these sections of the site inaccessible.

Gilgamesh- explains the decision here:

/r/IAmA,/r/AskReddit,/r/funny,/r/Books,/r/science,/r/Music,/r/gaming, /r/history,/r/Art,/r/videos,/r/gadgets,/r/todayilearned,/r/Documentaries,/r/LifeProTips,/r/Jokes,/r/pics,/r/Dataisbeautifuland/r/movieshave all made themselves private in response to the removal of an administrator key to the AMA process,/u/chooter, but also due to underlying resentment against the admins for running the site poorly – being uncommunicative, and disregarding the thousands of moderators who keep the site running.

The Dust Settles

Alexis Ohanian (founder and now chairman) asks the offline subreddits to be put back online: “Get the black out subreddits back online[.] Your message was received loud and clear. The communication between Reddit and the moderators needs to improve dramatically.”

A few weeks later, Ohanian apologizes: “We screwed up. Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years. We haven’t communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes… The mods and the community have lost trust in me and in us, the administrators of reddit.”

But the damage is done: “Ellen Pao [former CEO] resigned from reddit today by mutual agreement. I’m delighted to announce that Steve Huffman, founder and the original reddit CEO, is returning as CEO.”

The community is hurt and people are angry: #redditrevolt trends on Twitter and the search “reddit alternative” spikes on Google.

RedditCEOMsg

Predict.Plan.Perform.®

A lack of clear and methodical communication led to a firestorm at reddit. The team failed to remember that their user base has tangible power. Neglecting to keep the community happy quite literally shut their site down. The revolution of a group of anonymous volunteers had such an impact that the executive team crumbled.

We define a crisis as a situation with the potential to significantly and adversely impact the performance, business operations, or reputation of a company… We now also define a crisis as #redditrevolt.

When experiencing a crisis, you are operating in a period of “business as unusual” (as opposed to “business as usual”). As a result, normal and routine incident management will undoubtedly prove ineffective. It is critical that a company develops a Crisis Management Plan that identifies their team, clarifies roles and responsibilities, and – you guessed it – documents communication protocols among all affected groups.

Instilling confidence in all stakeholders that an organization is responding efficiently and appropriately will aid in rapid resolution. As you consider your crisis communications plan, make sure that it:

  • Defines communication response strategies that can be implemented when a crisis occurs;
  • Assigns crisis communications resources and responsibilities;
  • Establishes crisis communications protocols;
  • Enables your company to reach target audiences with key messages;
  • Enables crisis communications managers to immediately launch public information and media relations campaigns during a crisis.’

Firestorm encourages our clients to Predict.Plan.Perform.® You must identify your risks and vulnerabilities, build mitigants to decrease damages, and effectively respond when incidents occur.

Did reddit Predict.Plan.Perform.®?

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