Connection, Culture And The Rise Of Online Community

By Reddit’s Head of International, Tariq Mahmoud

Need help mastering a complicated recipe? Inspiration for up-cycling old furniture? Tips on how to homeschool while working a full-time job? Advice for re-entering the world as it slowly starts to open back up? There’s an online community for that on Reddit.

Online communities like the 100,000+ found on Reddit have attracted global attention in recent months, firmly cementing themselves as part of the cultural zeitgeist. But the role of community in the social ecosystem is not new. These spaces have long been home to the most passionate and authentic conversations on the internet. Whether it’s around pets or parenting, online communities provide a level of connection and belonging that is not possible anywhere else.

We need only look at how consumer behavior on Reddit shifted throughout the pandemic to understand the value these online spaces bring to millions of people every day. As news of COVID-19 started gathering international attention in early 2020, we saw people flock to communities like r/coronavirus. They came to be informed, to get trusted information quickly, and to feel a sense of connection in a time of immense physical disconnection. As the months went on, we witnessed a shift in user behavior as people started settling into a new normal. All at once, communities dedicated to cooking and healthy living, exercise and entertainment started surging as people grappled with their new lives at home. As the months went on, we saw creativity thriving in spite of COVID-19, as people shared inspiration and progress on DIY projects and the new, obscure hobbies they were trying to master. More recently, we’ve seen signs of what life beyond the pandemic might look like, with spiking traffic to our travel and adventure communities. Throughout all of this, we’ve not only seen online communities reflecting the world we live in, but affecting the world around them.

Online communities provide valuable information in times of uncertainty, are quick to respond to peoples’ needs and provide positive emotional support via digital interaction. They also make room for everybody. On Reddit, it’s not about the number of followers you have or how high profile you may be, our upvote/downvote system ensures that the best content rises to the top, and everyone has the opportunity to contribute and influence. What’s more, with users empowered to be the masters of their own identity and the option to be anonymous, these spaces have become home to the most open and honest exchanges on the internet. People believe that community sites like Reddit provide up to 48% more authentic and respectful environments than traditional social media sites, and better allow users to be their true selves. The advice and recommendations exchanged on Reddit is even more meaningful and authentic because people have no reason to be anything other than honest.

The best part? Brand contribution is welcome. We partnered with GlobalWebIndex last year to understand how Reddit users felt about brand participation on the platform. We discovered that 82% of online community site users are receptive to brand participation in their communities and that online communities are one of the few places consumers look forward to brands being functioning members, contributing and providing value.

With the world starting to slowly open back up and the legacy of 2020 still lingering, it’s never been more important for brands to humanize and find ways to meaningfully engage with consumers. A clear brand purpose was once a marketing aspiration and is now very much a given, as consumers are more focused than ever on aligning with the brands that share their own values. Online communities provide a platform for meaningful engagement and two-way value exchange. These are real people, uniting around things they really care about, in a trusted environment.

So while the activity that unfolded in r/wallstreetbets a few months ago thrust the power of online community onto the global stage, we like to see it as a high profile example of something we see take force on Reddit every day: passionate people uniting around things that matter to them and driving impact and influence along the way.

And if you thought our financial communities were intense, I highly recommend you check out my favorite community right now, r/espresso, to delve into the fantastical art and science behind pulling the best shot.