When Reddit was on the verge of revolt last week, we knew the Titanic hit an i. The event had enough firepower to be a scene from a Michael Bay movie: A popular community figure is fired (Victoria Taylor, u/chooter), the community protested, and the already embattled CEO was caught in yet another tumultuous torrent of bird-faeces, flung from all sides. Seriously, Oscar award winning stuff here.
So is there a lesson to be learned here?
The internet is very pro-transparency – and as a startup, you want to try and preserve any community collateral. Dropping key community liaisons on your team, or other staff may have your user base picking up the pitchforks, like Reddit’s. So without further ado, ladies and gents let’s sit down and watch the Reddit disaster film.
It started when AMA admin, Victoria Taylor, was mysteriously let go by the Reddit team. A forum losing an admin is not news, but when she is your most popular staff member, you’re treading a thin line with fans.
Victoria’s tenure with Reddit saw r/AMA grow to be one of the most popular communities on Reddit. Victoria’s participation with guests such as Barack Obama, Peter Dinklage, and the guy with two ‘gochus’ (check it out – and be amused), helped establish her as one of Reddit’s favourite admins.
He has two WHAT!?
When Reddit announced that they had let Victoria go, the reaction by the subreddits and the community was swift and brutal. Many subreddits went private (mirroring what r/AMA did, denying access to the public), and calls for Ellen Pao (then CEO of Reddit) to be fired were rampant.
This follows a series of unfortunate recent events for Pao. When she purged several racist and less-than-ideal subreddits, many Redditors criticised her for attempting to curb free speech in order to make advertisers happy. Pouring salt on the already wounded Pao, courts awarded Pao’s former employer, KPCB, compensation for their legal costs after Pao’s gender discrimination suit against them failed.
Here Comes Management to The Front Page!
Last week Ellen Pao stepped down as CEO and former CEO and Reddit co-founder, Steve Huffman once again took on this role. Almost immediately, Huffman went on to do an AMA largely speaking about future plans for Reddit, Pao’s tenure, and other community related questions.
TIL Internet Drama Has Its Lessons
Last week we stressed the need to integrate your community and speak to them on their level. Hoffman’s AMA is a terrific example of community engagement. A stark contrast to Pao’s last few weeks, marred by secrecy, controversy and mystery. While it is has since been revealed that Pao was an advocate for free speech on Reddit, the decision by Reddit to be non-transparent about Taylor’s firing clearly alienated Redditors.
As a startup you have very little social capital with the community. Your product or service is likely very new and your customers probably know very little about you, your team or your story. It’s enough of a hurdle to get people to buy into your product or service, don’t complicate that with blunders or by giving people reasons to distrust you.
Even with Reddit’s tremendous social capital, the a string of blunders led to a swift change in management. In comparison, a startup probably wouldn’t have lasted beyond an event mirroring community manager Victoria’s firing.
Take note startups: Even with great PR you only have so many lives (more likely, life). Cherish the relationship you have with your users.