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Why Obama Chose Reddit Over Twitter, Facebook

By James O'Brien September 6th, 2012

President Barack Obama made a quiet kind of history on Aug. 29, when he sat down for a live public chat via Reddit.com.

In a feature called the I-Am . . . Ask-Me-Anything feature, Obama fielded such an enormous load of questions that Reddit’s servers temporarily folded under the pressure.

In the end, the president managed to reply to 10 questions. The topics included campaign financing, the economy, Internet freedom, and his favorite basketball player.

But why did he choose Reddit to do this, and not a mainstream social-media platform? Let’s take a look at what Obama’s work with the site might mean, and why Reddit might represent something that Twitter and Facebook don’t.

When World Leaders Don’t Pick Twitter or Facebook

Reddit is chiefly popular among 18- to 24-year-old males. According to a New York Times article that followed the Obama AMA session, every month some 20 million users log onto Reddit, creating what is estimated to be 3 billion monthly page views.

While its youthful demographic are the hardcore users that a successful social-media platform needs to survive, fewer folks in the mainstream are talking and writing about Reddit as often as they do about Facebook and Twitter.

“It is fascinating that Obama didn’t choose a more mainstream platform,” said Becca Bernstein, social media marketing manager at Picaboo and former social-media strategist at Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Obama on Reddit verification photo

“From my understanding, the Redditors requested Obama hold an AMA,” she said. “And that’s one of the cool things about the social world, if people raise their voices loud enough, they can be heard.”

But that’s not all.

Reddit, according to Bernstein, is politically well connected, or at least familiar to those on the political playing field. Anthony Weiner and Paul Ryan have already used Reddit to hold a forum.

“It’s tested, approved, and been done,” Bernstein said of Reddit’s reputation in D.C. “I think this is an easy sell internally over there.”

Leveraging the Future: Lessons from a Presidential Reddit

According to Bernstein’s analysis, Twitter and Facebook just can’t keep up.

“A threaded forum on Twitter is available if you search by hashtag but it’s not available in conversation order,” said Bernstein. “It’s sorted by the time the tweet went live. Plus, the 140-character limit means he’d have to spend a long time crafting responses and then editing them down to fit the word count.”

As for Facebook, Bernstein said that during her time as a social-media marketer, she’s seen companies struggle to keep conversations on that platform under satisfactory control, as people with gripes can derail a conversation.

“This is a problem we had at Lowe’s,” she said. “We found that if we wanted to give something away, the masses would flock and then they’d be mad they didn’t win. The threads of hate would undo the good.”

This is not to suggest that everything went right during the Reddit/Obama session. After all, many users arrived to a crashed-service message. And where did they go to vent their frustration? They went to Twitter.

Still, Reddit can point to August 2012 as a month of metamorphosis. The site went from an esoteric, if geek-tastic, hangout to presidential-grade social-media material. That’s not a bad what-I-did-during-my-summer story.

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