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How a Reddit Leader Builds Thriving Online Communities

Round Editorial

It’s hard to find the human online. In the era of filters, automated users, and all-powerful algorithms, people tend to distrust what they see on social media — which makes it hard to genuinely connect on these platforms or build a sense of community around a shared interest. But that’s not the case on Reddit; its communities are thriving. Rachel Weber Callaway, Director of Consumer Product Marketing at Reddit, joined Round to share what makes Reddit different and how other organizations can learn from its example to build a strong sense of community on and offline. Here are three key takeaways.

The four tenets of a strong community are: membership, influence, shared emotional experience, and need-fulfillment.

What makes someone feel like they're part of a community — whether a local book club or a subreddit? Weber Callaway says the first tenet of community is membership, meaning people need to experience a sense of belonging within a particular group. For instance, if you love the TV show Game of Thrones, you might join r/gameofthrones, where your passion for the show — not your social connections — makes you a member of that community. On Reddit, as in real-world communities, members often develop a shared language and ways of relating to each other, which creates shared emotional experiences, the second tenet for community. The third tenet of community is influence. People find influence on Reddit through their contributions, rather than social status or other connections, which helps keep communities healthy and vibrant. The last tenet is need-fulfillment, meaning a community should positively impact its members' lives and provide them with something they won’t find elsewhere (see r/raisedbynarcissists).

Reddit is people-powered and real — and that’s what allows it to foster strong online communities.  

If you’ve spent time on Reddit, you’ve likely noticed how real it feels. Weber Callaway explains that Reddit is powered by humans, not bots or algorithms, with content that is specific, authentic, and relevant to its users. Unlike other platforms that require users to tie their usernames to their real-world identities, on Reddit, users can appear under pseudonyms. Pseudonymous usernames still track a user’s activity and hold them accountable while allowing people to be authentic in a way they can’t be elsewhere online. Reddit also create opportunities for users to nerd out about topics they love. When someone posts to Reddit, and if a community deems a post valuable, they can move that post to the top of the website, sharing it with a larger audience through upvoting.

To build new communities associated with your organization, think bottom-up, rather than top-down.  

Weber Callaway believes that other brands or organizations can follow Reddit's bottom-up approach to create strong communities both on and offline. The first step is to identify your organization's core audience and then to nurture them. "Your core audience is your foundation," says Weber Callaway; you should listen to them, consult them, and take action to address their concerns. (For those building online communities, be aware that in-person social cues tell us what's acceptable behavior and what's not, but we often need to make those rules explicit online.) Once you've identified and activated your core, find out where else and how the people in your core spend their time. For instance, if people in your core audience love a particular TV show, you might consider targeting other viewers of that show to grow a new audience. When your organization's audience has reached a critical mass, you can start the process over again and explore how your core audience has evolved over time.

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