Reddit: A Study in Grit

GRIT. Reddit. They (sort of) rhyme.

Thanks to MacArthur genius Angela Duckworth’s NPR/TED Talk rounds, one of our team values is grit. Grit has risen to prominence as the need-to-have success trait that emphasizes long-term focus, motivation, and optimism. It’s the courage to continue in the face of adversity.

I’m a big fan of grit. I ride my bike to work. I bake things from scratch. I generally make life much harder than it needs to be. Along with the rest of team social, I’m a perfect candidate to take on Reddit.

What is Reddit?

Reddit is a link-sharing site that calls itself the “front page of the internet.” The website hosts thousands of topical subpages called subreddits. From there, users post links that spark conversation and debate. Users upvote or downvote comments based on intelligence, relevance, or hilarity, creating rankings of best comments. The Reddit platform is rich in user interaction and heated democratic discussion. It’s also basically the thing that keeps public relations people up at night. It’s flippant, unscripted, self-referential, and hates public relations people. You can see the conflict.

Reddit AMAs

CSU Social initially struggled to balance a Reddit and stay true to its brand. Simply put, much of the voice on Reddit did not match the University’s. Attempts at managing a ColostateU subreddit were furtive: the page was live for only days. But the access! The interaction! The audience! How could we use Reddit and stay ourselves? We batted around the concept for about a year while we worked on entering other platforms.

Ever diligent, we returned to Reddit in April 2014, but with a new strategy. Rather than manage a subreddit’s content, we decided to use the platform as a tool to access new audiences. In particular our strategy focused on the AMA, or Ask Me Anything session.


AMAs are a great way to interact with interested niche audiences. It’s very simple: someone of interest logs on to Reddit and announces that they will answer some questions in a few hours. Over that period of time, interested users type in questions in the comments section below. The host then returns and answers questions for about an hour.

Our first AMA featured Dr. Susan Bailey, a CSU professor leading a NASA twin study. An article on her study had just reached #1 on the science subreddit. Despite our previous missteps, we acted quickly to capitalize on the study’s popularity. Posting from the general AMA subreddit, Dr. Bailey answered a number of intelligent questions about twins, space, and research funding.

Susan Bailey

In the end, the AMA performed modestly, with 361 upvotes and 112 comments. More than that, it showed some grit from our team. And we learned a lot about tacos.

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Oh, Reddit. You are a cruel mistress.