A Beginner’s Guide to Reddit AMAs

The front page of the internet? The do's and dont's of hosting a Reddit AMA.

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Reddit calls itself “the front page of the internet,” and while that may be an overstatement, the site has certainly increased its visibility in the past year. Reddit AMAs, or “ask me anything’s,” consist of public Q&As where a person or organization hosts a public discussion. While these reddit AMAs are often used to promote a band’s new record or a comedian’s new album, they have increasingly been used to reveal a previously unexpressed or underrepresented points of view, such as Dan Rather’s response to what it was like doing heroin for his story on the effects of the drug in the 1950’s. These sorts of reddit AMAs often make headlines, as the questions asked by redditors result in information not yet divulged via mainstream press outlets. Consider the reddit AMA to be the modern take on the interview. Instead of speaking with a journalist and having your point of view filtered through the eyes of a third party, you will be speaking directly with the public themselves- for better or worse. No more Brian Williams.

Anyone can post an AMA to reddit, but AMAs that get the most community interest come from public figures, celebrities and people with unique life experiences or achievements. The most popular reddit AMA of all-time was posted in August 2012 by President Barack Obama, who used the platform to discuss small business, jobs, basketball, the White House’s recipe for beer, and other topics.

There are a several different types of reddit AMAs, and if you’d like to post an AMA on reddit, the first thing to consider is what type of AMA subreddit your post belongs in. A “subreddit” is a custom sub-forum on Reddit based on a specific area of interest, and there are a few different types of AMA subreddits to choose from.

If you are a high profile entity, like the president of the United States for example, your AMA would go in the IAmA subreddit. Often if there are limitations to what questions a high profile entity is able to answer, they call their session an AMAA, or “ask me almost anything” instead of AMA. For example, company officials sharing product information with some details that they are not yet able to disclose might post an AMAA instead of an AMA.

Lower profile AMAs and more everyday conversation topics should be posted in either the r/AMA or the /r/CausualIAmA subreddit rather than the IAmA subreddit.  Examples of AMAs that appear in these sections include “I was arrested for jaywalking” or “I am a recovering drug addict.”

Below are helpful hints to keep in mind when conducting a reddit AMA. When submitting a topic (find instructions on how to do this here) reddit advises against writing about “Your day, your girlfriend, being bored or drunk, as well as your opinion on something.”  I also highly recommend that you review reddit’s guidelines before posting an AMA of your own.

  • Prepare ahead of time for a wide range of questions. If you or your topic is controversial in any way, you should expect some pointed questions. And even if your topic isn’t controversial, it would be smart to prepare answers for some questions ahead of time.
  • To post your topic, submit your link 15-30 minutes ahead of the scheduled AMA time. This way, redditors can begin populating the thread with questions. Be careful not to submit your link too far ahead of time though (an hour or more) as your thread might drop off the front page and users will become frustrated that they are not receiving any answers.
  • Correctly fill out the title and text. The title should be fairly straightforward: Say who you are and invite users to ask you anything. For example, “Hi, I’m Kara O’Connor, and I’m a social media analyst. Ask me anything!” For the text section, make sure you provide any additional context needed for redditors to understand who you are and why they might want to ask you questions. You can also use the text section to promote your blog, projects, or other information you’d like to share. You should also use the text section to provide proof that you are who you say you are. This is often done by linking to a photo of yourself with a sign saying hello to the reddit community or by linking to a Tweet or blog post saying that person will be hosting an AMA on that date.
  • Show personality! While your topic may be serious, redditors appreciate a glimpse into the person’s personality. When appropriate, humor is appreciated.
  • Question protocol. When answering questions, people will upvote the posts they most want to see answered. It’s generally a good idea to answer these questions first. Also, remember to refresh your browser window often so that you can see any new posts.
  • Understand the language. Redditors sometimes speak their own language consisting of acronyms that can be unintelligible to the untrained eye. For example, do you know what “ELI5… IANAL but DAE feel like this crosses privacy lines? IMHO this is NSFL.” If you did not understand that, please refer to this acronym index provided by reddit.
  • Remember to say goodbye. Once you’ve finished answering questions, remember to edit your Text box with a sign-off message. Otherwise, you’re leaving the thread open ended and people may not know that you’ve left.

Once you’ve finished your AMA, how do you know if it has been a success? There are no standardized metrics for measuring your AMA, but there are a few things you can do. The number of upvotes your question receives by redditors helps you analyze how interesting people think the conversation is. Reddit will also score your submission based on the number of upvotes minus the number of downvotes the submission receives, with the remaining number being your score. Obviously, you would want a high score for your submission. You can view your submission score in the yellow box on the right side of the conversation.

Your “karma” score can help you evaluate both your and your thread’s commenter’s influence in the reddit community. A high karma means that the user has submitted links that other people have liked and voted for. You can’t get karma points by voting for yourself.

You can also pay attention to the total number of redditors reported to be online at the time of your post, but do not assume that these people are all viewing your post. It is a general number that gives you an idea of the reddit IAmA site traffic at current time and varies wildly depending on when you look at it.

Here is a guide to where you can find each metric on your post:

Let’s take a look into what a bad AMA looks like. I would like to submit Woody Harrelson’s AMA for your consideration, which took place February 3, 2012. Looking at the measurable metrics, it is clear that something went wrong in this thread. Woody Harrelson is a well-known celebrity- why is his overall submission score 0? There are a good amount of comments, but a quick scan of the conversation reveals that somethink3g went terribly wrong. The most upvoted question is “Question to Mr Harrelson’s PR guy, what are you planning to do with all the free time you’ll have now?” Oh dear.

Here’s what Woody did wrong:

  • Only answered questions for 15 minutes.
  • Only wanted to talk about his movie. Though redditors WILL talk about a movie, if you are hosting an AMA, you should be willing to answer questions about ANYTHING.
    • Woody was asked a difficult question about his sexual history. Instead of answering in a relatable way, Woody chastised the commenter and said “Let’s focus on the film people.” Do not assume that people want to focus on whichever product you are promoting- again, be willing to talk about ANYTHING.
    • Answers were very guarded or didn’t make sense, causing redditors to speculate that Woody’s PR team was doing the talking.

Clearly, Woody (or Woody’s PR team) did not go into this AMA having done their homework. The AMA ended up doing some significant damage to Woody’s public image. Do an image search of Woody Harrelson and you will find some pretty negative things related to Woody’s foray into Reddit AMAs.

Alternately, let’s take a look at a successful AMA. I would consider a successful AMA to have received a good amount of community engagement (comments, upvotes) and to have spurred an interesting discussion from with redditors walked away feeling like they understand your point of view a bit better than before. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield hosted an AMA on February 17th, 2013, while orbiting earth. Chris described his reason for conducting the AMA (to connect with you and allow you to experience a bit more directly what life is like living aboard an orbiting research vessel) and shared where interested parties can follow manned space exploration on Twitter, Facebook, and Google +. He also provided proof that it was him hosting the thread.

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Here’s a picture of the first confirmed alien sighting in space.” Chris Hadfield, you sir are a genius

Looking at the metrics, Chris received a healthy submission score of 4,286 points, with 45,209 upvotes in total. There was healthy activity on the page with 7,779 comments, and it is apparent that Chris spent time going through questions and answering in a friendly and thought-provoking manner. He was also able to show a sense of humor- the most upvoted question was “If you discover intelligent life, who should play you in the movie?” to which Chris replied “Someone with a good moustache.” Touche. Overall, redditors walked away with a better understanding of and renewed interest in the space program and the opportunity to speak with a very unique and exciting individual. This can only benefit the Canadian space exploration program.

Hosting a reddit AMA is a great way to get your point of view across to the public and even build awareness for a topic, as long as it’s done the right way. My best advice to you is: don’t do what Woody Harrelson did. Do your homework ahead of time- make sure you’re posting your AMA the right way, have a positive and engaging attitude with commenters, and behave in an open and friendly manner. Who knows? You might just end up on the front page.