Is Reddit Affiliate Marketing Even Possible?
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Depending on how you look at it, Reddit is either the largest community on the planet or the smallest. Made up of thousands of niche-based communities on everything from auto maintenance to pictures of bread stapled to trees, Reddit is one of the most unique sites online.
This quirkiness is exactly what makes Reddit so special, but its size is what makes it so appealing as an affiliate marketer. If you can tap into these communities and advertise your brand effectively, it could be a gold mine for traffic and revenue.
But is even possible? More than one has tried, but most have been unable to mine its vast internet resources.
What is Reddit?
Started in 2005 by University of Virginia students Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman, Reddit was intended from the beginning to be a virtual bulletin board for different groups. It quickly morphed into the “front page of the internet,” delivering breaking news and on-topic discussions for a variety of different issues.
Every community is technically called a “sub-reddit,” and is represented by the r/ tag. A subreddit on alternate history, for example, is called r/alternatehistory. There may be smaller subreddits similar to that, such as r/alternateww2history, but each community stands alone. They have their own rules, discussions, and moderators.
Some of the most active communities are very broad in nature, like r/funny and r/books. But many of them are also discussion-based, like r/askreddit or r/explainlikeimfive. People can post questions or discussion topics for other “redditors” to engage with.
If you ever want to sort by the top ranked posts in a group or by ones that are gaining popularity, you can click one of the buttons at the top. Reddit allows you to sort by best, hot, new, or trending.
One thing everyone realizes within a few minutes of visiting Reddit for the first time is that there's a language all its own. Between terms like AMA (Ask Me Anything) and TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read), first time visitors are sure to reach for Rosetta Stone to decipher what's actually going on.
The beauty of Reddit is that most people are incredibly friendly and welcoming to newcomers. If you get attacked for any reason, there'll usually be someone that comes to your rescue, so feel free to ask as many questions as necessary until you get the hang of it.
Who Uses Reddit?
With such an active online community, it's little surprise that the vast majority of are young. 22% of all internet users between 18-29 are active on Reddit, while 14% of the 30-49 age bracket are Redditors, too. There's obviously some flux either way, but Reddit is heavily dominated by Millennials and Gen Z.
What's more unique is the geographic makeup of Reddit users. There are nearly thirteen times the amount of Redditors from the U.S. as there are from any other country (221.98 million active users out of total population of 332 million people). Australia comes in second with 17.5 million active users, and India is third with 13.5 million.
That geographic difference also matters for gender, as well. Although Reddit boasts a nearly 50/50 split between men and women across all users, in the US, 2/3 of Redditors are male. (For context, that ratio is reversed for Instagram: 2/3 of Instagram users are female).
Suffice it to say that Reddit is an absolutely massive community if you're able to tap into it. With so many niches containing so many dedicated fans, finding your audience is actually the easy part. Getting them to opt in to your affiliate offers, on the other hand, could prove to be a challenge.
Can You Do Affiliate Marketing on Reddit?
The lifeblood of affiliate marketing is traffic. With so many affiliate offers that feature very competitive rates, matching audience to offer is key. On Reddit, you've got the audience (over 1.7 billion visits in June 2021 alone), and assuming you've got the right affiliate offers, it can be basically like printing money.
Unfortunately, Reddit themselves is aware of this potential and has taken steps to clamp down on anyone that wants to unfairly monetize their platform. For Reddit — both the company and their users — community purity is sacred. Defile it at your own risk.
Reddit's Official Policy
There is absolutely no question where Reddit stands on affiliate marketing and spammy posts — they are 1000% against it. Their official anti-spam policy is ironclad and guards against other community-tainting practices such as vote manipulation and referral link cloaking.
In their own words, they have a variety of different methods of actually enforcing this policy, beginning with “asking you nicely to knock it off.” From there, they'll ban you from certain subreddits, remove the content you've already posted, and eventually ban you from the site itself.
If you're worried about whether or not your activity constitutes you as a spammer, Reddit has a page that lays out nefarious activities they will punish. Generally speaking, it consists of black hat tactics like link farming and bots that auto-post content. Here's the full list from their own site, but Reddit encourages you to contact them with any more questions:
Sending large amounts of private messages to users who are not expecting them
Repeatedly posting the same or similar comments in a thread, subreddit or across subreddits
Repeatedly posting unrelated/off-topic/link-farmed content
Posting content that includes link redirects as a way to circumvent an existing domain block and/or to disguise a link’s source (excluding subreddit sidebars)
Linking to harmful third-party content, such as malware, phishing, deceptive pop-ups, etc.
Programming bots that harm/break Reddit, including bots intended to promote content/products/services
While Reddit can and will ban users from their platform, the real power lies with the moderators of the individual communities. They are the gatekeepers of their specific subreddits and wield the sword with absolute authority.
Most subreddits have their own anti-spam policies laid out in plain sight, pinned to the side of the page for easy access. Here's one example from r/femalefashionadvice that explicitly states your Reddit account will be permanently banned if you get caught using affiliate links. They even encourage their own members to rat you out, so good luck trying to sneak your affiliate link into a comment.
A ban for life means your content also gets removed, which will result in your affiliate promotion getting zero traction. Redditors are very adept at spotting these types of affiliate posts anyway, so it's unlikely to work regardless. They'll report you to a moderator and your post will be removed, sometimes within minutes.
What's worse is you could suffer from a tarnished brand if Redditors identify your company as using spammy techniques, meaning you'll never get to advertise…ever. Redditors have very long memories. They rarely forget (or forgive) people who try to take advantage of their communities for their own financial gain.
Is Reddit Affiliate Marketing Impossible?
In light of the above information, it may seem that doing any kind of Reddit marketing at all — much less affiliate marketing — is next to impossible. Since Redditors fiercely protect their communities from any kind of commercialization, it's seen by many entrepreneurs as a black hole for their business. Reddit is a good place to do market research, gain business advice, and possibly even find freelancers, but that's pretty much it.
Au contrarire, my good friend.
Don't let Reddit's community policies and anti-spam policy turn you away from what could possibly be one of the most powerful marketing channels for your business. The difference is, instead of simply manipulating the platform to drive clicks on an offer, you need to engage in more traditional and time-tested affiliate approaches.
You know, build an audience, cultivate that audience, sell to that audience, and cultivate some more. The way affiliate marketing should work, anyways.
Reddit affiliate marketing should always be about building a long-term, holistic strategy that you can reach into over time. If you build it the right way, it could reap the rewards for years to come.
Build a Branded Community
As I'm sure you've figured out by now, Reddit is all about community — small, micro-niches (or macro!) that address a single need or interest. As affiliate marketers, that should be music to your ears. What more could you want than a group of ready-made customers devoted to you and your brand?
In order to build up that group though, you'll need to create a community that is first and foremost about the topic at hand, not your products.
If you're a BBQ company, for instance, consider starting a branded group that revolves around best BBQ practices. Coordinate with complementary businesses to highlight area events. Sponsor an AMA with a top-flight BBQ pit boss that will feed the community valuable tips and insights into the world of competitive BBQ competitions.
By doing this, you'll build up a group that is absolutely passionate about what your product or service can deliver. Then, when the time comes, hit them with a product offer or announcement. Remember not to force your wares on the community but simply offer it as subtly as you can. Once you build up the authority in your niche, the community will trust you and will respond much better to whatever it is you're selling.
Above all else, remember to be honest with your community. Tell them that though this is a company-sponsored community, this is not a group that will sell to them 24/7. And if people do try to sell them without your authorization, as the moderator, bring the ban hammer down on them without hesitation. Do whatever it takes to guard your people from spammers and bad actors.
Develop Community Expertise
If you don't want to go through the trouble of building and moderating your own Reddit community — and it is a full-time job, to be sure — try becoming an expert in an already-existing group. You can build up your own authority by offering valuable resources and tips and answering questions. Then, ask the moderators for the opportunity to share your affiliate product with the group.
This won't be an overnight job. Many community experts have spent months or even years building up their trust inside the group, attaining “karma points” that reflect their community standing.
But no matter how authoritative you think you might be, nobody is usually allowed to post direct affiliate links without moderator approval. Even then, they may not allow it if it's an affiliate offer. Make sure you are completely transparent with the moderators before trying to make a sponsored post.
Why? Not only because your post won't last long if you try to spam the group, but because the moderators can defend your actions. If someone accuses you of trying to profit from the community, a moderator can jump to your defense. They may even remove the accuser. In the dog-eat-dog world of Reddit, having a moderator on your side is a very good thing.
Drive Organic Traffic Via Viral Posts
As anyone who has been on the internet knows, trying to predict virality is a fool's game. Nobody knows for certain what kind of posts take off and how successful they ultimately could be. Trying to engineer internet popularity is virtually impossible (unless you're already an influencer).
What you can do though, is gain enough credibility within communities that your integrity isn't up for debate. Then, drop an extremely value-rich blog post that blows people away. Redditors LOVE data posts, emotional stories, or anything that they know took a while to put together. Deliver one of those to your community, and you should have people eating out of your hand.
While these posts can be significant on their own, if you decide to drop a link to your own product in the post itself, clear it with the moderator first. It needs to be natural, and it needs to be transparent. Offer the link, then immediately state what it is. This way, it doesn't come across like you're trying to manipulate the group.
Unless the moderators explicitly approve it — and you think the community will allow it — never use an affiliate link inside a post like this. Drive that organic traffic to a landing page first, then get the clicks from there. Though the audience may recognize an affiliate offer when they see it, if you're transparent about the process, they're more willing to forgive it for the time being.
Use a Reddit Ad
Because Reddit has such a non-commercialization stance, Reddit paid ads are notoriously hard to make successful. People generally skip right over these posts without a thought, leaving your affiliate commission low and your CPC high.
In order for Reddit ads to be successful, you need two things: the right niche, and an ad that looks like a post. Make sure that your ad matches the right subreddit. Mask your copy to make it look like related posts on that group (even though it'll have the word “SPONSORED” right next to it).
Make the copy engaging — so much so that people can't help but respond or even argue.
As with most other types of commercial ads, discounts work great too. Consider using a coupon or free trial to get people to take action from your landing page.
Contrary to popular opinion, Reddit affiliate marketing isn't impossible, and it doesn't even necessarily have to be hard. It does need to be thoughtful, long-term, and as white hat as possible. The more you think of Redditors as actual human beings that are waving the banner for their chosen interest and less as an “audience” to sell to, the more successful you'll be.
But isn't that the case with most marketing?
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