Engaging New Audiences on Reddit at the University of Georgia

When it comes to social media for higher education, platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and TikTok dominate the conversation. In this episode, we leave that familiar territory behind to talk about a much less frequently used platform, Reddit. More specifically, we learn how the University of Georgia has been using Reddit to build their brand and reach new audiences with research and science related stories from their newsroom. Joining us in the conversation is Rod Guajardo, Sr. Director for Integrated Media Communications at the University of Georgia.

We discuss:

  • What makes Reddit unique.
  • Why the UGA team decided to establish a presence on the platform.
  • How they’ve used Reddit to reach new audiences with research and science content from the university.
  • Rod’s best advice for those thinking about establishing an institutional presence on Reddit.

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Jarrett Smith:
You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab, I’m Jarrett Smith. Each episode is my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher education and the broader world of marketing to bring you actionable insights you can use to level up your school’s marketing and enrollment performance. When you think of the most valuable social media platforms for higher ed, chances are a few names come to mind. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, maybe Snapchat, TikTok, or even LinkedIn. In this episode we’ll be leaving that familiar territory to talk about a much less frequently used platform that nonetheless boosts tens of millions of monthly active users in the US, Reddit.
More specifically we’ll be learning how the University of Georgia has been using Reddit to build their brand in reach new audiences. Joining us in the conversation is Rod Guajardo, Senior Director for Integrated Media Communications at the University of Georgia. We discuss what makes Reddit unique, why the UGA team decided to establish a presence on the platform, how they’ve used Reddit to reach new audiences with research and science content from the university. And Rod’s best advice for those, thinking about establishing an institutional presence on Reddit. Rod was a generous guest and shared openly about the university’s successes and challenges along the way.

So if you’ve ever wondered if Reddit could be a useful addition to your social media portfolio or just want to learn more about this unique platform, this episode’s for you. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Rod Guajardo. Rod, welcome to the show.

Rod Guajardo:
Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Jarrett Smith:
I’m excited to have this conversation with you. You’ve been doing some really interesting work at the University of Georgia with Reddit, and I just think it’s one of those platforms that we don’t talk about enough, even though a ton of people are on it. I’m excited to have this conversation, both for our audience and frankly for myself. I don’t consider myself to be a Reddit expert by any stretch. For those of us that are maybe new to Reddit, not as familiar as other platforms, could you just give us a rundown to the basics of the platform?

Rod Guajardo:
Absolutely. Be happy to, and I appreciate you saying that, because I do think Reddit is one of those very underutilized social media platforms. It’s definitely not, I think considered in the grand scheme of things with some of the bigger players in the game, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even now TikTok. But it definitely still has the potential and the impact to reach so many people, not only nationally but globally. And so yeah, we’re really excited with what we’re doing with Reddit here at UGA, but also just to help spread the word and get people more interested and involved with Reddit in particular. But yeah, it’s a really engaging and interesting platform, but it is very different than most of the other ones.

But yeah, at a high level, what I call Reddit 101, I was trying to tell people it really is one of the largest in terms of both users and active engagement daily. So roughly 52 million daily active Reddit users worldwide. I think it’s usually considered somewhere in the top 10 most popular websites in the United States, usually somewhere 15th in the world. It’s often referred to as the front page of the internet. So you’ll hear it called that a lot, because the way it’s set up is your front page is really customized for you, and there’s also a trending front page that any user who doesn’t have an account gets. And all the beauty of Reddit is it’s this amalgamation of content from across the internet.

So it does pull in videos from TikTok or YouTube or tweets that people have either screenshotted or embedded specifically within a Reddit post. And so it’s this really great consolidation of the internet where if you don’t have time to go and check all these different platforms, you could really easily just go onto Reddit and scroll and see all the highlights of the day, if you will, from all these different platforms. But one of the most interesting stats, I think specifically to Reddit and why we found it such a good potential to utilize for our efforts is that the average user spends about 10 minutes per visit on Reddit or on their app or whatever platform they’re on. It’s usually about 50% mobile, 50% desktop, but that’s an insane engagement rate for any social media platform or any website visit.

10 minutes of direct engagement on a platform is just huge, and you can see it. Reddit users are highly engaged, they’re highly active, and they’re really passionate about the content and their engagement on the platform. And so it really makes for a fun and interesting platform. There’s some downsides we’ll talk about later. Obviously it’s a high risk, high reward platform, but if you can captivate that audience and really share content that they’re looking for and they want to engage with, there’s some really good ROI potential there. And obviously I think that’s what we’ve seen and we’ll talk about more later. That’s the highlight of the platform as a whole. We can jump into what I call Reddicate, which is the ins and outs of how it works and how post work, if you want to jump into that a little bit.

Jarrett Smith:
Please do. Because for folks who haven’t spent much time on Reddit, the culture of Reddit is very different than other platforms. And as you said, people are very passionate and very opinionated. You have a lot of smart folks that think they’re pretty smart on Reddit, so you do, it is a very different environment. Talk to us about that.

Rod Guajardo:
They don’t think they’re smart, they know they’re smart.

Jarrett Smith:
They know they’re smart.

Rod Guajardo:
No, it is very different and it is a very passionate base, but I think that’s what lends itself to such high engagement and really organic content sharing and really cross promotion of what you’re doing. But it is very different, even just the structure of it and how you engage with post and the metrics, if you will, of how users post and share content. But as a whole, the structure of Reddit I think it’s important to dive into for folks who aren’t familiar with it, in that Reddit is all about these niche communities, and those are called subreddits. So people have probably heard that word here and there, the way that it’s actually labeled as R forward slash and then the name of that subreddit.

So instead of Twitter, Facebook, where it’s all just there, not Facebook groups or anything like that, but it really is segmented into these smaller communities of people usually about topics or themes or whatever it might be. And that’s where they live and breathe their day-to-day engagement. And it can be obviously over many of them. There’s roughly about 2.8 million subreddits across the platform as a whole. So obviously a ton of opportunity to jump into one particular topic that you’re interested in or you have an interest in learning more about. But there’s really literally a subreddit for every possible topic you can think of.

Some of the biggest ones they list them by membership, r/AskReddit has 33 million members, r/movies, 26 million, r/funny, which is memes and videos and things, 37 million, r/gaming, 30 million members. So it really is a populated area of these very specific topics and themes and conversations that also dive into really whatever you want to talk about, including science and research, which is what we utilize it for, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. But just to give you an idea, the r/science, it has 26 million members. Tell me another social media platform where you can find 26 million people talking about science. It doesn’t exist.

But the other thing to keep in mind about how Reddit works, I always like to use this analogy for particularly folks who are going to operate a Reddit account on behalf of a brand or an institution or organization, is that it really does work differently than Facebook or Twitter or even Instagram. I use this analogy of pretend you’re at a dinner party and you are your social media account for the University of Georgia or wherever it might be, and you stand up and clink your glass trying to make an announcement, if you’re on Twitter or Facebook and you make that announcement, only the people who currently follow you or friends of yours, unless you’re talking about paid advertisement to boost a post, they’re going to turn around and listen to your message.
But everybody else in the crowd is going to keep doing what they’re doing because they don’t know you don’t know your brand, they don’t know your organization or your institution. The beauty of Reddit is that you don’t stand up at that dinner party. You’re able to maneuver around conversations that are already existing about specific topics as people do at dinner parties or in life and say, hey, I’m the University of Georgia. I hear you talking about plant biology or cars or a space rocket. Here’s an interesting story about some research that our faculty are doing, and then just walk away. You don’t have to have them follow your brand. They just have to understand that this is an interesting piece of content or story or research that could be interesting to this conversation we’re already having about this topic. So yeah, we’ll take a look at it and let you know how we feel about it. Thanks.

But it’s much more of a different engagement style than the traditional legacy platforms in Facebook and Twitters and Instagrams. And so that’s I think one of the biggest benefits if you are an institution or brand that is interested in captivating those audiences and you have the organic content that can interest them. It’s very much if then that situation, if some of those boxes aren’t going to be checked for you, maybe it’s not the right platform. But that’s where we’ve found our niche, and again, what we’ll talk about here in a minute. I think that’s a good explanation of people who have never heard of Reddit or don’t understand it of why it is so different and why it is really a lot more passionate user base.

Because again, they’re in their space, they’re having their conversations about their topics. Sometimes they do push brands and institutions away and say, look, you’re trying too hard. You’re coming on a little too strong. And so you have to be a little bit more covert with it in your approach I think.

Jarrett Smith:
That’s always been my impression as a very casual Reddit user is an audience that is particularly allergic to being marketed to overtly. And so it really is about the quality of the contribution that you’re making to the conversation.

Rod Guajardo:

Jarrett Smith:
And do they authentically find it valuable? And why are you there?

Rod Guajardo:
Yes, exactly.

Jarrett Smith:
What are you bring to the table? And if you do that right, as you said, there can be reward for that. But if you get that wrong and you send off the wrong signals, you can get punished pretty hard.

Rod Guajardo:
That’s a good segue into the system of how Reddit posts work. So unlike retweets or likes or hearts on your legacy platforms, Reddit works in a both upvote, downvote boat system and then what’s called karma. Unlike other social media platforms, I know Twitter’s experimenting with us now, but your post can get downvoted and even go into negative downvotes if they see right through you and understand that you’re there overtly advertising a product or a brand or an institution. And they’ll make you pay for it, not only with ridicule in the comments section, but downvoting your post into oblivion and just really making you second guess why you’re in existence at all. But on the upside of that-

Jarrett Smith:
Why did I major in communications?

Rod Guajardo:
That’s right. What am I doing here? But the flip side of that is the benefit or the reward can be tremendous. So a post that really does check all those boxes and I think is shared in a very true and organic and honest way that people do appreciate and resonates with the conversations they’re already having, we’ll get significant upvotes and then that impacts your karma. So I talked about this. Reddit karma is the score that you get as a user, as an account, and that really influences what you do on the platform, in that people use that Reddit score or the Karma score to understand both how long your account has been around and the validity of which you’re posting with on these other subreddits.

So if that karma score is super low, maybe a Redditor isn’t going to actively engage with your content and your posts. And also you need that score to be a certain limit or number before you are allowed in some of the larger subreddits. So you as an institution or brand couldn’t create an account today and then jump in and start posting in one of those subreddits with 26 million people. Each subreddit has very specific rules, and those rules are created by the moderators or the admins who created that subreddit or have been handed responsibilities over the years. And so it’s really important, again, for that organic and open honest engagement with users that you’re not just going in and spamming subreddits with clickbait headlines and things that don’t apply to them or they will downvote you and your karma will get crushed into the ground.

So it is really important. Reddit uses an algorithm for how that karma is calculated. They don’t share that publicly. But it’s pretty simple, the higher karma, the more upvotes you get, the more you are commenting, engagement with users, the higher your karma score goes, and the longer your account is active, that helps your karma score. So it’s really again, important to, in this sense, operate your Reddit account in a very open and honest way and try and engage organically with users as much as possible.

Jarrett Smith:
So stepping back a little bit and thinking about where the University of Georgia is active on social, I can imagine that that’s quite a task for a university of your size. I always think every time you add a new social account, that’s another mouth to feed, that’s another channel that you need to monitor. How did y’all go about deciding that this was a place you wanted to be? And I guess my other question is, I assume it must tie up to some larger goal that you have, can you illuminate that for us a little bit?

Rod Guajardo:
Yeah, absolutely. And it is a great point. You go from these theoretical strategic conversations of, we should really look into this or doing this, and then you start trying to operationalize it and you’re like, well, who’s actually going to be doing it and how’s it going to fit into our workflow? And those conversations can often be where things die if the right people aren’t on board or you don’t have the staff or the resources. I get all that. I’ve been there, we certainly have those conversations here. But we felt like the potential was there to really try at least and give it a go and make sure that this was something that could benefit the university and our institutional goals and our divisional goals ultimately. And that’s what really brought this conversation to light. So I joined the University of Georgia in about August, 2021. I’ve been a personal Reddit user for years. I’ve both used Reddit from a personal standpoint and then seen other brands and institutions attempt successfully and unsuccessfully to tap into the platform. And so when I got here, one of the first things even in my interview that we talked about was the strategic plan for the university. And that I think had just rolled out right before I got here. And one of the big pillars from that plan was trying to grow our research innovation and entrepreneurship. And so obviously there’s specific things from a research standpoint that we’re going to do with that, but also there’s a specific sub goal within that, that talks about research communications.

So trying to have people understand the university’s strength in research, science, communication, innovation and entrepreneurship more. I really felt like Reddit was a good platform to do that because of what we talked about before. Because there are millions of people in these subreddits talking about science and research. And then you can drill down even more specific from that larger r/science subreddit into a particular topic, whether it’s a social science or plant biology or health sciences, whatever it is, and find these groups of people already having these conversations about what our faculty are trying to help people understand or actually implementing in terms of new devices or technology, and really sharing that knowledge with this group of people and then having them associate that with the University of Georgia.

Again, it’s just not something that you can traditionally get with a legacy platform like Facebook or Twitter. And those platforms are great at what they do. Our social media team does an awesome job managing that content there and those audiences. We saw this as an outlier to our traditional social strategy. And at the time our social media staff was already doing so much. They were getting into the TikTok space and trying to do that in addition to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We had this conversation of, we’ve thought about Reddit before. You’re the first person that’s actually wanted to try it. If you want it, it’s yours. And so I picked it up and ran with it, made a pitch to our leadership and said, I think this has potential.

Yes, there are going to be some possibilities of negative concern if we start getting downloaded into oblivion, but I understand the platform, I understand how users engage with it. I will do my best to stop that whenever I can, and then we can reevaluate in three to six months and see how things are going. It really did start as this pilot project of there’s potential there. We have the content. My team, the media communications team has some extremely talented science research writers as well as folks across campus who are producing this content already. It’s there. It’s literally just an opportunity that we have to take and repurpose stuff. So again, going back to those operationalizing the plan conversations, this was one of the easier ones to do because it was taking existing assets and having platform knowledge in my head that was already there and just putting all that into play.

And so that’s what we started doing. The social team actually created the Reddit account u/universityofgeorgia on July 20th. That was right before I got here. And then we started posting on August 27th, taking those research stories that we were already producing as part of our daily editorial weekly workflow. And then really having a conversation about platform and audiences. So again, you mentioned how this was managed in addition to our social media strategy, understanding that certain stories, especially the heavy science research ones, might not play well on Facebook and Twitter, doesn’t mean we’re not going to make a run there because the audiences that already know us and already follow us and already trust us and support us, still need to understand what we’re doing from a science and research perspective, but also how do we further that?

How do we expand the understanding and the awareness of our brand as a science research academic powerhouse? And also just to be honest, tapping into that athletics prowess as well. Folks see us every Saturday winning games, winning national championships. That’s awesome. How can we gravitate from that on this national global scale and say, oh yeah, the University of Georgia, I saw them beat Alabama on Saturday, that now they’re doing this. That’s super cool and make that connection that way. And so we really felt like Reddit was a good place to do all of those things, right? Reach existing audiences. Some of them who might not know us, they’re already having conversations about these topics and then just invite them to be part of the science that that’s happening on our campus by our extremely talented faculty.

From a planning perspective that that’s how it all went down and then really just became a let’s try it, you were in the fun experimental phase. I mentioned this before, but in a presentation in D.C. a couple months ago, but we got banned from some subreddits. It was really just getting in there and trying-

Jarrett Smith:
Okay, tell me more about that. Have you had any major screwups or whoopsies, colossal whoopsies where you’re like, okay? It sounds like maybe that’s the case.

Rod Guajardo:
We’ve had a couple stumbles along the way, but nothing that we haven’t been able to pick ourselves back up on. But yeah, again, from the leadership perspective, there was a great opportunity and buy-in early on with this pitch of what it could do and the potential that was there. I also part of my role specifically is to manage issues in crisis management. I do that here. I did that at my previous role at the University of Mississippi or Ole Miss. So no one needs to tell me the potential for posting things on the internet and having your institution ridiculed. Very well aware of the potential there. I do think that helped. Not that social media people don’t have the best gut instincts. I put our social team up against anybody to understand both their audiences and the climate or conversations writ large that are having on social media at any point, at any time.

But I think having that issues management perspective also definitely helped our approach to this, because there were some things that maybe I held back on and said, well, we’re still early, let’s not take that much of a leap here, but maybe we can get there at some point. And so I definitely think that helped. But yeah, we again started taking the content we were already establishing and having conversations too. We have a great team across our division here, plenty of personal Reddit users in the building as well as on my team specifically. And so we would just have conversations about, hey, this research story is coming up. Who knows a subreddit that could be good for this? Or let’s spend some time as a group diving in and finding a couple that would work well. And so that’s how we started initially doing it and just posting and seeing what happens.

And yeah, we stumbled a couple times. Early on we had a story from our school of business about, it touched on Wall Street and investors and CEOs and how they operate their business and how it gives trust to stakeholders or shareholders when it relates to the market. And so saw that story and thought, hey, maybe r/WallStreetBets, which was in the news at the time called the GameStop stuff and everything else, maybe their audiences would be interested in this type of content. Immediately, no, within I think five minutes I was permanently banned from ever posting on the subject. And it was like, okay, heard you loud and clear. You do not want institutions or brands engaged on your subreddit. Totally fine. They have a very passionate audience base as you’ve seen and heard, and they said they don’t want our content on here, and that’s fine.

We understood that lesson and walked away, never to post there again. The other one I like to mention is a stumble that we then adjusted and fixed in terms of our strategy going forward. So there’s a really big subreddit called today, r/todayilearned often abbreviated, TIL.

Jarrett Smith:
Oh, yeah, TIL.

Rod Guajardo:
You’ll often to see that. We, again, I mentioned this before, every subreddit has very specific rules and regulations. So that’s the first thing I try to do when we identify a potential subreddit for postings. Go in there and read all the rules and make sure we’re aligning well there. Because again, you don’t want to just jump in and start posting and spamming and then get booted later, because that will affect your karma score. So anyway, I did that. I was like, we have a great story. I think this will work well for TIL. Went ahead and posted it. A little while later I got a note that we had been temporarily banned because of a specific rule violation. And I was like, I didn’t see that one when I was doing my research. What is it?

And I went in there and looked, and they have a very specific rule that says that research posted onto the subreddit has to be at least three months old before it can be posted on the subreddit. And so that’s their way of getting away from the clickbait, like new study says this, and then a couple weeks later some other researcher comes out and says, no, that’s not true. Here’s my research that proves against that. They have a very specific way of trying to post quality content to their subreddit in that rule. And so I said, hey, hear you loud and clear. I made that note in my files. And now anytime we see a story, it’s like, okay, this one would be great for TIL, but let’s wait three months. And then I note that in our project management software and it dings me in three months and then I can post there.

That’s another good, I think learning lesson from the platform that you wouldn’t get from a Facebook or Twitter of these are so specific rules for this very passionate user base. And if you want to play ball, you got to read those and understand what they are before you jump in.

Jarrett Smith:
And the moderators are serious on a lot of them. They take the job seriously.

Rod Guajardo:
They sure do. Again, that can go for, against you, but ultimately I think that’s what makes Reddit such a cool place, is they do take it very seriously. And so by them doing that, they’re really weeding out what you do see on other platforms, which is just like you’re posting and you’re spamming and your link scrapers that are then feeding into an automated system. And so it creates this much more organic and true space that, again, when you can tap into it and when you play by those rules can really just be tremendously rewarding for you and your institution if you play by the rules.

Jarrett Smith:
What’s been the upside so far? I guess my question is has it been worth it?

Rod Guajardo:
Yeah, absolutely. Again, what we’ve all found from this and what has resulted, so when we started posting in August, we started seeing some initial wins there, finding those subreddits based on our research and posting and engaging with commenters. We were starting to see 79 votes, 89, I think the first big one we had was a little over 500 votes. And again, these are the things that were not happening before, that are bringing us new page views to our new center, new users from out of the state and across the country. We were really excited about that. But at the same time, starting to have these conversations of like, well, is it really worth it for a couple hundred of votes and a couple hundred page views, is the time and energy and the effort worth it?

And then I think three months in, we had one of our, just out of nowhere big hits, we posted a story to the subreddit called r/Futurology. It was about plant-based jet fuel, the study that found that it could reduce emissions by about 68%, done by one of our faculty members. I posted it the morning, we had a big event that day on campus, so I remember it very well because I posted it and then packed up all my stuff and went to that event and my phone just started blowing up. And I was like, what is going on? Usually that means there’s an issue or a crisis I have to deal with. And it was the Reddit app and I checked it and it was like, oh man, we’ve already gotten 1,000 upvotes on this post. And then a few minutes later it was up to two and then three, and then a couple hours later at the end of the day, it had a total of 16,000 upvotes. About 662 comments.

That single post brought in 17,000 page views to our news center alone. It took our karma from 700 to 7,000, which allowed us to access those larger subreddits. And those average time on page for those users on our new center was about two minutes and 25 seconds, which again, for a science and research story is unheard of. So not only were they coming to it, but they were engaging with it. They were spending time with the story, understanding the research or trying to at least, and then bouncing it off to other stories on our news center and really staying with the brand. And so it was like, oh man, this is what we’ve been waiting for. This is so cool. Can we get another one or was this a fluke? And so we kept going and kept posting.

And then I think a month or two later, we got another big one. We had a story about some monarch butterfly research. A lot of the news lately has been that those populations might be going extinct. And one of our researchers found a migration pattern coming from I believe Mexico into North America that showed a lot of promise and potential for that species to continue evolving given weather conditions and everything else pan out. We posted that. This was a little different for us. We thought the subreddit r/UpliftingNews, everybody keeps talking about the demise of the butterfly, the monarch in particular. Here’s some research about how they might be thriving. Let’s try it there. And then we went with r/science in addition to that. And so those combined two posts got 17,500 upvotes. They brought in about 10,000 page views to UGA today.

Those users spent about three minutes and four seconds on that story, and they got about 412 comments. So again, we were just thrilled with that, kept thinking, well, that was one off, maybe everybody loves butterflies, that was just another lightning in a bottle sort of thing. And then in August, so this was one year, almost to the tee of when we started posting, we had this great story. We knew it was going to do super well with earned media because it’s about teenagers and the recommended daily exercise they get in high school. So this researcher found that the school environment that your student goes to is really linked to the amount of exercise they get. So in other words, if they’re getting bullied or the teachers don’t make PE or that opportunity a priority, then it’s going to impact the amount of exercise they get on a daily basis.

We posted that to r/science and it absolutely blew up. This one has been our biggest top performer so far. That single post got 41,000 upvotes on Reddit alone, brought in more than 20,000 page views to our news center, average time on page about two minutes, 33 seconds, 2,500 comments. It got on to the front page of Reddit, which is a feat of its own. It was up there for about an hour or two and just absolutely exploded. So again, those are one-offs in that they’re the big ones, and we certainly have a number of other ones that reach the 1000 or 5,000 upvotes. But those really gave us the confidence to see that, okay, not only is this working, but it’s doing exactly what we wanted it to. It’s bringing in brand new unique users to our website. The majority of whom I think the last time I checked, 60 to 70% are from out of the state of Georgia.

So either somewhere across the country or the world. People who don’t know the University of Georgia already don’t understand the connection between our academic success and achievements and science and research. And then getting them to engage with this content specifically about science, research, innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s exactly what we want it to do. We’ve not gotten banned from any other subreddits along the way. So it’s really showing a lot of promise and potential and we’re just really excited with what’s happened so far. And then also trying to figure out maybe some new ways going forward that we can continue our current strategy, but also adapt and maybe do some new things down the road as well.

Jarrett Smith:
I’m curious how you think you might evolve this if you have these engaged Reddit users talking about a particular piece of research. Is there an opportunity for faculty to engage directly? Is that something you’ve considered?

Rod Guajardo:
Yeah, no, that’s a great question. Yes and no. One of the ways that we’ve already tried to do that is with in the comment section. So usually when I post on Reddit, and I can talk about that process as well if you want to see how the sausage is made a little bit. But once the post is created, I usually go in there and do at least one post, which says a quick summary of the research. It has the faculty member and the school or college name in there. And then it links to the academic publication that that research was featured in, which I think gives credibility to the post and our account and the research and the faculty itself. But there have been a couple times in the past where a Reddit user, Redditor has a very specific question about the research, and I can tell it’s genuine.
They’re not just flying in and trying to throw some shade or just say something for the sake of saying something, they’re truly curious about a facet of the research and they want to know more. And so there have been a couple times where I’ve just copy and pasted that comment into an email to the faculty member and said, hey, if you have time, I realized you’re busy, you’re teaching, you’re researching, you’re publishing, got this question, I think it’s serious. They want to know more. Can you help me answer that? And there have been a couple who have taken time out of their day, thankfully, and given me a response. And then I’ll go in there and paste that and say, hey, here’s a response from the researcher directly. And they like that. They see that direct engagement, they see our brand taking their questions seriously and finding the answer.

And so definitely looking to continue that going forward. That’s also a slippery slope as you can imagine, because you don’t want to spend all your day copying and pasting. And I don’t want to waste the faculty member’s time either. And then obviously you get some comments that are just not serious or if they are, they are throwing shade. But one of the biggest initiatives we have for the coming year that will hopefully link our faculty to Redditors directly is what’s called an AMA or Ask me Anything session. So you’ve probably heard of these on Reddit. It’s literally like a live Q&A but conducted on the Reddit platform. And so typically the most popular ones are with a celebrity or an author or a musician or an actor. And it’s literally just people asking them questions and them answering it in the Reddit chat or comment feature, live and in-person.

And so we’ve thought about doing that before, but we really wanted to be intentional and strategic with how we did it and who we put out there, because the last thing we want to do is ask this faculty member to take time out of their schedule and have three people ask them questions. We need to make sure that the research that they specialize in is broadly understood by the general public and that they have the personality and charisma to want to actually engage in this, because that’s the other thing, they’re going to be at the keyboard and we want them to feel comfortable and at least understand what’s happening and what Reddit is as a whole.

And so again, not wanting to jump in specifically, but we have identified one faculty member who we think would be good. The research she focuses on is plastic pollution, something that everyone has an understanding of at least broadly. She’s recently gotten some big national awards, academic awards, and a big grant. We think all those things are a good confluence to try this and see if it works and then assess afterwards. I will get back to you on how that goes, hopefully the first of the year. We’ll see how it goes.

Jarrett Smith:
Have you received any feedback from faculty? Did they find out about if they blow up on Reddit? Did they find out about that? And if so, what do they think?

Rod Guajardo:
Actually, yeah, there’s a couple of faculty who are personal Reddit users or have gotten an email from someone and said, hey, I saw this on Reddit. Super cool. And they’ve either reached out to us directly or they’re communicators in each school and college across campus, and so a lot of them will deal with their faculty directly. There’s one in particular who wants to do an AMA. They’ve already raised their hand and said, hey, the next spot I’m available. Their research is a little bit more in the weeds, so we’re going to try and see how this other one goes and plug them in. But I think that’s the other cool thing when they get that outreach, is because typically it’s from either another scientist or researcher or someone in the field who does understand their topic of interest and it’s genuine.

Like, I saw this on a community for our group of people, how cool is that, right? It’s not just like your auntie or someone who saw it on Facebook and copied the link. It’s like, no, that’s someone I either know already or have read about, or maybe it’s a peer researcher at another institution and I think they appreciate that, that we’re trying and venturing into this space a little bit.

Jarrett Smith:
You’ve used this to publish research and bring attention to that. Are there other schools out there with other use cases for Reddit?

Rod Guajardo:
Yeah, absolutely. I do think it still is a platform that’s not frequented by other institutions as brands, definitely as much as your legacy platforms. But there are some and definitely want to give a shout out to Texas A&M, fellow SEC institution, because they’re one of the reasons that I started considering Reddit for both UGA and just as a whole. Texas A&M started their user account well before ours and had a very similar strategy to sharing science and research news. And then they also, in addition to that, were doing more of what I call social listening, using Reddit to tap into their community, their Texas A&M community and really engage with primarily students, but also other stakeholders in that way. And so there’s a subreddit called r/aggies that’s not operated by the university, that’s operated by different people, students, former students, alumni, whatever.

But they really started intentionally trying to create a good working relationship with the moderators of that subreddit and then the frequent users, Redditors of that subreddit. And now I think they operate a very strong relationship and partnership from a listening standpoint with the r/aggie community. And they’ve used it to their benefit a lot. I actually did a joint presentation with their social media director over the summer at an SEC conference, and one of the examples he shared, I just think it’s awesome. It’s a perfect example of what the benefit of social can be for an institution. It sounds silly, but it’s one of those little things where the audience that you’re talking to really understands that you care about them. There was a Redditor who had posted, a student who took a picture of one of those hydration stations, the water bottle filling stations at the rec center.

The filter had been on red for two weeks, so it wasn’t working, it wasn’t operational. And they had spoken to seven different people in the rec center. No one wanted to help them out. They were just frustrated and going to Reddit to rant about it. And Nick, who manages the channel for their social account, saw that, jumped on there, filled out a ticket for their facilities folks asking if someone could go over there and check it out. Within an hour, it was fixed. They posted a comment on that post that said, hey, we heard you. We went through and fixed this. Anytime you have a similar complaint, you can fill out the form yourself. Here it is. People loved it. They’re like, oh my God, thank you for listening and taking care of this on our behalf.
It’s like they know the institution is there and they’re listening, but they’re doing it for a good reason to help students and people really get the college experience that they’re there for. And so I thought that was just a really cool example of how you can use it to really boost and benefit your students and help them understand that the social accounts are more than just promotions of stories or marketing messages. They’re really there to help you and they want you to have a great college experience, and it’s just one way to try and do that.

Jarrett Smith:
Really humanized the brand. Right?

Rod Guajardo:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, exactly. I think it puts a face to it, and again, it makes them know that you’re there and that you care. He talks about other things that they posted some stuff like if you could, what’s your wishlist for campus? And people post, I want a monorail that goes around the entire campus. It’s like, well, obviously we’re not going to do that, but it gets conversations rolling. And they have gotten some really good ideas from that, that they’ve taken to administration and said, hey, you always want to know what our students are talking about and care about. And yes, you probably hear from the top performers, your scholars and everybody else, but here’s what everyone else is talking about, the general student population. If you want to listen, here it is kind of thing.

I think that’s just invaluable in this day and age where we know for a fact the younger generation values that organic and true brand more than anything else. They don’t want the overtly marketing messages. They don’t want to see you shove something in their face, but they want to understand that you’re there and they really value that true partnership with them as a brand or as an institution. I think that’s just a great and awesome way that they’re using it.

Jarrett Smith:
What a great, interesting example. Okay, someone’s listening to this and they’re like, Rod, this sounds awesome. I’m ready to sign up. I’m going to talk to my social media team right now. What advice do you have for somebody who’s maybe just getting started and thinking maybe this could be a good fit for their institution?

Rod Guajardo:
Yes. I think I always appreciate, especially when I go speak at conferences or something, and then people come up and they’re like, yeah, we want to do this tomorrow. And I’m like, well, hold on.

Jarrett Smith:

Rod Guajardo:
Just take a step back. Think about it. But in all seriousness I think this platform more than any, right, because there aren’t as many brands and this institutions out there, and because the user base is so passionate and going both ways on that, I think it really is worth having a conversation with your team and your leadership about, what are our goals and is this one of the ways to achieve them? And again, if your goals are either our strategy or Texas A&M strategy or somewhere in between, or you want to try both, I think it’s absolutely worth it to at least do some initial research. Find out the faculty on your campus who are your rock stars or top publication folks, see what topics of research they’re producing.

Go on Reddit, do a couple keyword searches, see if there are large subreddits that match those. See if there’s a subreddit for your campus already, like the r/aggies, there’s an r/UGA. Chances are there is one if you’re a large enough institution. Take a look at that subreddit and see how the conversation looks there. It can change from community and campus to campus. Some of them are very clear, they don’t want an institution involved there. They’re doing their own thing and they’re going to push you away really quickly. Other ones maybe are a little bit more friendly and are having lighter conversations, or seems like there could be an opening there for you to get in and share some helpful information about housing or meal plans or fixing water filtration system at the rec center.

But all that comes with having those conversations and not just jumping in and creating an account and starting to post and then getting frustrated that it’s not working. I think that’s the biggest thing. I think we saw a lot of that with TikTok in the last two years or so with brands and institutions seeing other folks on there and saying, well, we got to do this and no real strategy, no real goals. And then also, I’m a big data guy, so what are your KPIs at the end of this? What are you looking to achieve? And then comparing results to the work that you’re putting into it. I think all I’d say those conversations have to be had first and then the resources and manpower and staffing, and do we actually have the time and energy to devote to this? Because while it is, again, maybe not as much of a lift as the TikTok strategy, it’s not nothing, right?

You can’t just set up a scraper and a feed, an RSS feed and just call it today. It does take some active engagement and research and understanding. I think all I’d say, that’s where you start, have those open conversations. People if they want to reach out to me, I’m always happy to connect with folks and have those conversations or dive deeper into what we’re doing. I always joke with people that they come up to me after presentations and say, aren’t you worried other universities and brands are going to start doing this and then it’s going to take away from what y’all are doing? It’s like, guys, there are two million subreddits out there. Some of these, they have 28, 30 million people on there. We’ll be all right. There’s plenty of Reddit for everyone. Like, jump in, try it out, see if it works.

And then I think the last thing is don’t be afraid to call it a day. If at any point this starts either not producing what we’re hoping for or it goes the other way and negatively impacting our institution or faculty or research in any way, we can hang it up, it’s been a great run. But at the same time we’re not going to keep doing it just for the sake of doing it. We’re still seeing benefit and results, so we’re going to keep at it, but I do think it’s one of those where just continuing to do it for the sake of doing it is not a good strategy, personally that this is my opinion.

Jarrett Smith:
Good deal. Rod, if folks listening to this want to reach out to you and find out more and talk to you about it, what’s the best place to do that?

Rod Guajardo:
I have one of the easiest emails I think on campus and maybe in higher ed in general. It’s just rod@uga.edu. Rod@uga.edu. You can also follow me on Twitter @rodg_uga. Happy to answer a DM on there. Just shoot me an email and glad to connect afterward via Zoom or whatever it makes sense for you or your teams or whoever else that has questions.

Jarrett Smith:
Great. Rob, this has been a really interesting and I think very informative conversation, so thank you so much for joining us today and sharing everything you’ve learned.

Rod Guajardo:
Happy to do it. Thanks so much. And Go Dawgs.

Jarrett Smith:
Go Dawgs. The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave review on Apple Podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion, or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co.

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Jarrett is our VP of Strategy and the torchbearer for all things digital. Since joining us in 2014, he’s made it his mission to help clients seize the power of smarter marketing strategies—and reap the rewards.