Is Reddit’s Controversy About the Content or the Digital Revenue Model?

Reddit’s forums are famous for hosting some of the most vibrant and some of the most disturbing (my personal opinion) discussions on the Web. The New York Times article by Jason Henry stated, “Mr. Huffman reappeared last Friday as chief executive to pull off a turnaround of the online message board, which has grappled with a series of missteps and is embroiled in a battle to win back the confidence of its users.” The San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Greta Kaul wrote, The new CEO of Reddit hosted an “Ask Me Anything” forum to clarify its content policies, which have been debated by free speech advocates and an antiharassment contingent for weeks. The site, known for everything from elevated conversations about political philosophy to photo collections of dead children, rolled out rules designed to curb harassment.

There were more than 40,000 Reddit users tuned in to Thursday’s forum at various times and generated 9,000 comments ~an hour. CEO Steve Huffman wrote, “We’ll consider banning subreddits (forums) that clearly violate the guidelines in my post — the ones that are illegal or cause harm to others. “There are many subreddits whose contents I and many others find offensive, but that alone is not justification for banning.

While most of the controversy is about Reddit administrator’s who have drawn both praise and criticism for their hands-off approach to regulating what could be said on the site and, which leaves many decisions up to volunteer moderators, there is an all together additional issue that not only Reddit has to face, but so do many other brands in this Age of Digital Disruption. In Ray Wang’s book: Disrupting Digital Business: Create An Authentic Experience in A Peer-to-Peer Economy says Digital Darwinism is not kind to those who wait to understand the transformation and choices business have to make, and make now.

My POV: Reddit has to decide what is going to drive their company. Are they defined by the type of brand they want to be or are they defined, as a company, by their digital business model? Over five thousand years ago our marketplaces were the hub of civilization. They were where traders returned from remote lands with exotic spices, jewels, silks, monkeys and parrots and told us fabulous stories. The Internet is still a place for storytelling. That’s not going to change. But what is changing is how businesses make money in this new storytelling-based marketplace call the Internet. Here’s what I mean by that.

Option 1: Choose Your Brand and It’s Values: If Reddit wants to be the “anything goes brand” then they mostly likely will have to change their business model (i.e., if the revenue model is ad-based then with the “anything goes” brand values, Reddit many be rightly worried that many or some of the ad sponsors would stop posting ads. If that would be the case, Reddit wouldn’t have the same revenue base.  And thus if Reddit chooses to the the “anything goes brand,” they would possibly have to look at other revenue sources.
Option 2: Choose Your Digital Revenue Model: Or Reddit can decide what their digital business model is and then that would dictate whether they are the “anything goes brand” or if they want to moderate some of the content. If their digital revenue model is ad revenue, then, depending on the ad sponsors, that might change how much ad revenue they receive.

There are brands out there, like Fiat that used Charlie Sheen in a Fiat TV commercial, that may like to be on the “edge.” I’m not suggesting that the Fiat TV commercial is in any way representative of some of the content that is at the center of the controversy at Reddit. But there are some brands would find some of the content on Reddit “off brand.” So as a brand, a CMO and CEO,  one has to answer the question, “What is the edge, and when have we gone off the edge to a place of no return as a brand?”
For Reddit, either decision means that there are stakeholders  – ad sponsors or the site’s administrator’s and / or volunteer moderators that may be upset. It’s a rock and a hard place and probably the tip of the iceberg for facing the idea that the Internet is the place to be COMPLETELY unedited, authentic, genuine and honest. However, Reddit is not the only brand that is facing this challenge. Many brand face this issue. While it’s not “in fashion” some brands do still take down posts that are not “on brand” to avoid a PR disaster. I’m not saying whether they are right or wrong in doing so. Just looking at what is happening and reporting what I see.
The author’s of the book The ClueTrain Manifesto wrote back in 1999 “Through the Internet, the people in your markets are discovering and inventing new ways to converse. They’re talking about your business. They’re telling one another the truth, in very human voices. You have two choices. You can continue to lock yourself behind the facile corporate words and happy talk brochures. Or you can join the conversation.
Perhaps an addendum to that today is – “You can join the conversation, but have to decide on your digital business revenue model, which will determine how completely unedited, authentic, genuine and honest your conversations are going to be.”
The Bottom-line: For those that are not clear, the digital disruption means that we are having to change our business models. We can no longer operate business the way we used to. And we have to consider how far is too far and how far is far enough to maintain what the author’s of the ClueTrain spoke about – which is the idea that one can step outside the typical, sterile, overstarched blandness of the old days of brands and just be human. But how far does one go, still be human, and not be offensive? How does one decide where the boundary lines are drawn? That is up to each and every individual and each and every brand.
And as I talk to CMOs, Customer Experience Professionals, Customer Care and Customer Service Professionals and IOT experts, these are the questions brands and those that spend money to sponsor those brands will have to decide. We are over the hype-cycle that the Internet is the place to be totally honest. We are now in a new era where we have to get serious about how brands are going to make money and what are the limits to what a brand can and can not do or will not do. Interesting times we live in.
What’s your take on what is on or over the edge in the area of Internet content and the editing or moderating of it?
@drnatalie   VP and Principle Analyst Covering The Digital Disruption and All It’s Consequences





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