Reddit users freak out over plan to let brands sponsor posts

"It's so frustrating watching this website die," writes a commenter. "Good thing I have Lunesta to give me a good nights sleep to melt the stress away"

Earlier this week, Reddit unveiled its latest plan to give advertisers access to its 234 million users: Let brands sponsor individual posts after receiving permission from the user who created it. If the user gives consent, his post would be promoted throughout the site, and he would receive a lifetime of Reddit Gold, the site’s premium membership.

Judging by reaction on the site, Reddit users aren’t impressed.

"Users get a lifetime supply of reddit gold if they let companies sponsor their posts? They don’t even get money?" asked one user posting in the subreddit r/news. "Who the fuck cares about gold?"

"It's so frustrating watching this website die," wrote another. "Good thing I have Lunesta to give me a good nights sleep to melt the stress away."

As of Thursday afternoon, at least eight different discussions about the new plan had been posted to Reddit, with the most active thread containing close to 700 comments — the lion’s share of which were harshly critical of the plan.

"The amount of people pandering useless comments just to hopefully get picked up and paid by advertising will likely change the landscape here forever," wrote one typically apocalyptic commenter.

"Authenticity is the one thing that sets Reddit apart," said another. "Certain posts may be fake, but every now and then we get amazing stories or insight from people unburdened by the anonymity provided … I guess that’s over now."

As an almost entirely user-generated site, Reddit has long been a hostile environment to advertisers, a place where users would rather mock brands than engage with them. Subreddits like r/HailCorporate, r/antiads, r/anticonsumption, r/adblock and r/fellowkids make a sport of calling out corporate attempts to interact with users, and the site itself contains little real estate for advertisers to purchase. Even with monthly traffic skyrocketing past 150 million monthly page views, the site, which was sold to Condé Nast in 2006 and then spun out in 2009, has struggled to monetize.

The plan unveiled on Wednesday was presented in an interview with Adage as a less intrusive way to let marketers enter the site. "Reddit users don't like being bullshitted," Mr. Huffman, CEO at Reddit, said. "But when advertisers come with honest intentions, we see a much higher level of engagement with the brand." Huffman noted that the plan was expected to ruffle feathers.

But judging by the reaction on the site on Thursday, it appears Reddit brass may have overestimated the value users place on Reddit Gold, which offers benefits such as the ability to highlight new comments or, ironically, turn off ads. Though Redditors are able to buy gold, more often it is gifted from one user to another as praise for an exceptional comment.

"The value of Reddit Gold is that it's a rare gift given by a stranger, literally a gold star for being funny or insightful or agreeable," wrote one commenter. "That's it, that's all."

"I can't even express what an incredibly bad idea this is," wrote another. "The fact that the users apparently aren't even compensated in any meaningful way makes it even worse.""

Coincidentally, Tumblr also announced a new monetization plan this week that brings advertisers directly into contact with users. Like Reddit’s, it lets advertisers place their brands on user posts. But under the Tumblr plan, users would receive cash payments, an extension of its Creatrs Program.

"Tumblr is taking a very similar approach to YouTube’s: empower their creators, incentivize them to create more content on the platform, and make it look appealing to advertisers because of the quality of the content and the culture of the platform," said Victor Pineiro, Big Spaceship’s SVP of social media.

Still, agency executives were split between which plan would ultimately appeal to clients. "Reddit seems like a more exciting opportunity for creative," said Matt Lang, senior social strategist at digital agency Rain. "It’ll be a new way to engage users and integrate with the site experience and not just a new destination for traditional ad units as in the Tumblr scenario."

Of course, convincing brands to wade into either environment can remain a challenge. "Reddit is a place where brands go to die," said Steve Baer, managing partner at Code & Theory. "We’ll let other brave ones go before us."

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