Last month, my colleague Vianka McConville wrote about Reddit as a potential public relations tool. For the most part, I would agree that PR professionals are still testing the waters with Reddit, but President Barack Obama’s team recently decided to do more than just wade in the waters. On Wednesday afternoon, Reddit repeatedly crashed due to overwhelming site traffic as President Obama sat in front of a laptop for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) chat.
For those not in the know, AMA is part of the “IAmA” subreddit. “IAmA” stands for “I am a,” as in “I am a dog trainer” or “I am an ice road trucker.” For a more thorough explanation of Reddit lingo, go here.
For 30 minutes, President Obama answered questions from Redditors … questions ranging from tough times for recent college graduates to the recipe for the White House’s beer. He fielded questions as well as one could on Reddit with its seemingly never-ending streams of threads within threads, with only 30 minutes and some periods of lag time. He even used a bit of meme humor calling the experience “not bad.” The same day, a page appeared on his website just to lure in Redditors.
President Obama is not the first person to successfully use Reddit to connect with target publics. A number of celebrities have taken part in AMAs. But, it’s not a tactic I would recommend without understanding the Reddit community. Woody Harrelson learned this the hard way when he used AMA only to answer questions about his movie, Rampart, treating the chat like any other interview to promote a movie. When Redditors asked him questions that weren’t about Rampart, he’d say “Let’s focus on the film people” and “I consider my time valuable.” He lost a number of fans that day. So what’s the next big AMA for Reddit? I’ve seen a few requests for Mitt Romney (and Ron Paul) since President Obama’s chat. Perhaps a day may come when using Reddit to connect with publics will not be so uncommon.