What Finance Marketers Can Learn From Reddit’s r/personalfinance

There’s often a big gap between the conversations customers have with each other and the conversations customers have with you. If you work at a bank and you’re speaking directly with a customer, that person is going to try their best to come across as financially savvy. But once that customer goes home, she might discuss looming credit card debt with her husband or stress over the mortgage payment due at the end of the month.

Bridging that gap is a huge hurdle for financial marketers. To assist your customers, you need to get below the surface of those initial conversations. Fortunately, there’s Reddit‘s r/personalfinance board, which has become a public goldmine of honest money conversations.

The subreddit is a strong, supportive community, free of intrusive ads or brand participation. For that reason, it’s great resource for brainstorming content ideas. You can scan popular posts to take the pulse of regular people who need help or study common patterns on the board to inform your brand voice and tone.

To get you started, I’ve broken down the most popular posts and controversial discussions into a few key takeaways. If people who need financial help are your target readers, you can only benefit from reading their open and honest perspectives.

Don’t stray away from unusual topics

No one is posting to r/personalfinance to ask a simple question like, “What’s the best credit card?” People know how to answer that question with content. They go to trusted websites like Nerdwallet or they consult the subreddit’s FAQs, which you can view here. The popular posts on the board are usually more offbeat or specific.

While you’re checking out the list of popular topics, look at how diverse the subject matter is. So many things qualify as personal finance to the point where the board has discussed them to death: living with roommates, end-of-life planning, identify theft, appropriate gifts, what to do if your parents kick you out while you’re underage. It’s easy to fall into a rhythm of writing about your bank’s portfolio of products, but you’ve got to keep in mind that readers are coming from all kinds of unique backgrounds. They want their problems solved directly, which means they might Google “30 day budgeting challenge” instead of “[your bank] + savings account how to.”

Segment your educational content

The personal finance board hosts people of every age and life stage, so over time, the moderators have sliced and diced the content to make browsing easier. Interestingly, the subreddit uses the following age groups:

For older readers, they’ve got a ton of content on retirement and end-of-life and estate planning. (Don’t ask me why segmentation after 45 fast forwards straight to end of life. Possibly it’s because Reddit’s users skew younger, and most readers assume that people in their late 40s are basically on death’s door.)

Like the mods on r/personalfinance, you should personalize your content for different readers. Allow readers to choose the path they want by offering editorial packages for specific demographics.

Treat debt extremely seriously

It can be challenging to address your readers’ financial difficulties without chastising them, but minimizing their situation is also a bad move. As my father told me years ago when I admitted I had accrued some credit card debt, “You have to treat high interest debt like you are literally on fire. It is an emergency, and making payments will put out the flames.”

If there’s one topic mods on r/personalfinance take seriously, it’s debt. Take cues from their team and don’t undersell how seriously a high interest rate can damage your customers’ finances. There’s a time and place to promote your brand’s services in your content, but aim to avoid it when focusing on debt. The promotion needs to align with the tone and messaging of a particular article.

Bottom line: Don’t dole out financial advice on credit cards or loans that you wouldn’t give to your friends and family.

Be specific

Money makes people lie. When they’re chatting in public, people inflate their salaries, downplay debt, and are often unreliable sources on their own class status. You never know a reader’s full financial picture, so make caveats where appropriate.

Perusing r/personalfinance, you can see that mods point out when certain situations are contingent on financial details. If a person is drowning in credit card debt but doesn’t have an emergency fund, it may be in their best interest to make payments before putting hundreds away each month. If they’re considering a job that comes with a lower pay rate, but they also have access to a trust fund, their decision might look different.

A lot of financial content relies on a generic point of view, but the point is to bring nuance to these conversations instead of trying to speak to everyone at once. Build a team of creators who come from different backgrounds, and be specific when you can.

Don’t lie to your customers

This might sound obvious, but marketers need to hear it. If you sort r/personalfinance posts by popularity, putting the top “upvoted” (liked) posts of all time on the homepage, you’ll see that some of the most upvoted posts of all time people have to do with corporate corruption like: “Warning: AT&T applying ‘customer loyalty speed upgrades’ without customer consent,” and “TransUnion burying their credit freeze to sell their own credit monitoring product TrueIdentity.” Readers, especially on Reddit, love uncovering schemes, so make sure your brand isn’t promoting any through your content.

If you’re writing an explainer on a financial topic and you know that your CTA isn’t necessarily the first or most helpful thing a reader should do, then say that! Be proactively transparent, even if you have to admit a shortcoming. Your audience will appreciate that in the long run.

Image by iStockPhoto

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