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Driving Action & Advocacy Through Online Community | SXSW 2021

Jen Wong
COO at Reddit
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SXSW 2021
March 16, 2021, Online, Austin, USA
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About speaker

Jen Wong
COO at Reddit

About the talk

Online communities are nothing new (case in point: Reddit turned 15 last year); but as the world adapted to 2020, these digital spaces have proven their worth in a whole new way. Reddit has witnessed this first hand, as more people joined its many thousands of communities for connection, distraction and belonging in a time of unprecedented disconnection. While IRL experiences continue to evolve in unexpected ways, the communities on Reddit remain a constant source of conversation and companionship -- as well as a valuable lens from which to examine human psychology, consumer behavior, and general sentiment. Join Reddit’s Chief Operating Officer Jen Wong as she takes the virtual stage with CNN’s Kerry Flynn for a conversation about why online communities were made for this moment, their role in the evolving digital ecosystem, and the inherent value they bring to brands looking to build authentic connection, brand advocacy, and drive action.

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I am Jen Wong. Co Reddit. I'm excited to talk about driving action and advocacy through online community. I'm going to start with the short video. You can stay the night. Cancel. I love that. Hopefully that shows you have a straight. It is it is the world's largest and most vibrant platform of communities covering every interest on the planet around for fifteen years. And we continue to organically expanding breath and depth, and users, and the cover everything from

makeup to gaming to personal finance and our mission is to provide belonging to everyone in the world. And it read it, you know, we connect people to their passions and interests not to their Identity or their individual social crafts. A growth has been really consistent and you know from pets to Parenting from Skin Care to stocks. There's truly community of Reddit for every And I think, you know, if you think about the events of the last few weeks, I think they really demonstrated truly, but we've known for a long time, which is that Community is an hour to

drive real world action because they allow people open access the information. They allow them the ability to find others who share their interests and the ability to collectively move products. They love change Minds, change values. Profound belief, like veganism or their religion, Inspire act, at a personal scale Community scale, and even a global scale. And you know, if you think about the long Arc of the internet with credit has been a part of because we've been around for fifteen years, A lot of it has been around empowering

individuals and democratizing and we always say it. Read it. That everything interesting on Reddit was made and fueled by our users at our communities. Do you think about the ark it started with access to information, right? Instead of only reading professional Publishers, you could write your own thoughts through forums and blogs and talk to other people. Wouldn't live near you and that was access to a new set of conversations and knowledge. You think about the next are? Cuz there's one around e-commerce, right? You could have access to buy things goods and services that are not

near you. You could transcend borders and at the same time with your shop owner, you can find customers not near you and that allowed some of this growth that we're seeing and direct-to-consumer and new businesses. And then there's a snack bar around connection, which involves social media but also has evolved into the idea of real-time presents. And we see this with Reddit live with real synchronous, live streaming even between people don't know, each other sharing, their music, sharing their art, or just sharing an AMA with somebody in the Ukraine and learning about their life.

And all of that has culminated in people-powered action. What we've seen on Reddit, Sterling over the last 15 years, and even more. Now, or things like each other, about how to deal with PPT in covid unemployment benefits, which are changing and Byzantine, you know, sending you do Beauty care, products to healthcare workers were suffering from Mass injuries and inspiring each other for March, for science and health of the planet. We've also seen people educating each other on our financial system and how to participate in it. And you know what we've seen

recently especially over the last couple of months is not new to us and those who have been awhile, know that we see this kind of all the time, it's just that it's even growing and its tail. And I think, you know, right thing. But the last year in the impact of the pandemic, we saw a surge in traffic on Reddit. And, you know, I think what happened is, when you think about, what's important to people's lives, that sense of community and belonging Connection in X unprecedented physical disconnection. You know that we've seen in

the last year has made Community is even more valuable and important. And we certainly seen this play out on Reddit over the last year and specifically when the coronavirus first arrived you do you have this information? What is this know? How do I protect myself house? Do you know I be scared of it. What do I do? And so traffic to communities like ours last coronavirus a science in all-time high. In fact, all of this means collectively over two and a half million subscribers now and it was interesting is that, you know, for a. Of time was

very serious, there's no humor But then there was a shift, the ship from fear and panic to more of us settling into this new normal at home. Your people were connecting with communities to help with their new wife at home, everything from help with their sourdough, baking efforts. And I'm one of those. I'm still failing to make a successful sourdough. I have a lot of enemy to planting a vegetable garden. I did that too. With the help of a lots of Reddit creditors making masks doing home haircuts, also learned how to do that advice for how to homeschool. I mean, you name

it. Whatever people were grappling with in their real life they were connecting about it. I'll read it and they stayed to find even more communities. And that's what we're seeing is just more and more engagement as they as people are coming, discovered these communities. What new Behavior has emerged over the last year. And I think he accelerated and I think online purchasing Commerce as one of them and that path to purchase is really involved in all my communities are playing a bigger role in that. You know, if you think about Ecommerce, one of the

things that's really challenging is your you're looking for real people with real experience with their product because you've never touched and feel yourself and use some of these products. And what's interesting is that communities are really trust it. There's trusted is consumer reviews because it's real people with real experience. And what's happened is that people are coming to communities like Reddit to help research and figure out what are, you know, their options, and they go into their consideration. Before buying they are relying on an information, they're even

able to ask questions about So what's happening is that people who visit Community is like Reddit you know in their purchase that they have a lot more conviction in their decision, they're deciding faster than spending more, they're more loyal and there's just a really important high-quality new customer. So this Evolution you know, in e-commerce has, is it is, it has accelerated and communities are playing a bigger role in it. I didn't really get example of this is actually Tricia. I don't know if you know this company but it's a direct-to-consumer. Brad stupid a company.

And you know what happened in March and April in the pandemic, is that there was no toilet paper in a lot of discussion about no toilet paper and two, she stepped in and said, okay, this is your this is a moment for us to get into that conversation. They leverage humor, which works really well on Reddit. They did something that you do not a lot of advertising, but they turned comments on. And instead of just advertising their products, they actually had a conversation. They ask people about, you know, hey, what should we name our product, they talked about their brand and

you know what their mission was. And what's interesting is that instead of just being performance-oriented, they they focus on engagement and the right creative and in the end they had a major breakthrough in terms of their performance. You know, be out there was right. They were driving sales in the return on assets. Been was so strong because they saw that the value of the view on community drove results for them. And I think that again just Echoes what I meant before about this change in the path to purchase and how important communities are at that

moment of consideration. What kind of wrap here and just say, you know, thanks for letting me share what's been happening on Reddit for 15 years. And now is really accelerating and increasing scale across all areas of culture to financial Market. I think there's one takeaway. I would say, I I think we should expect that online. Communities will be increasingly important to individuals and that they are going to be spurring more action and this brings a huge opportunity for individuals for

companies and advertisers alike, we call Reddit the most human place on the internet and I think hopefully tell you gotten a sense of how fast it is and it's the place where passionate communities drive real world action. So too, I'm running by Carrie Flynn who is a media reporter at CNN is going to be joining me for some additional discussion. Thank you. John, thank you for the great presentation. And this conversation. Presentation has been a year in the making and obviously, so much has happened in the world and so much has happened on

Friday. I like you said, but it is 15 years old. So I'd love to hear from you. What are the major ways you see Reddit has changed but also what ways has it stayed the same? Yeah, thanks for for asking me. Oh thank goodness. Was changed our product and us has a ball to. We are now really heard of a mobile-first company. Remember, we started on the desktop, our communities have grown and expanded substantially, just the top of the top ography and the topics that they cover. I mean, really is so bad from my test of personal finance and we Broan globally

in our audience is grown in Diversified. You know, it's more gender balance and I think people think and while it's Hughes young that really serves all ages and all life stages, you know, everything from an emerging adult to a new parent to somebody dealing with retirement the whole thing. And I think, you know, we have an advertising business, which we built, which is the fuel for our mission and I think we've proven our How you two two brands of all shapes and sizes? And I think that's really exciting. What state, the same with Reddit, is the platform

and Company values. We are a very, very mysterious business and everything we do starts with community, and those values, everything from respect for user privacy Community. First moderation, our approach, moderation, governments, and communities. And users are at the heart of everything we do. Will you release product very differently than other companies is a process of discussion with our communities and adoption and users. And and I'll say you know, the only thing I said that is not change. Also is that

we as a company really know our governance model and our philosophy around how to have civil discourse. And you know, be safe is has has been the same over the last 15 years. And while we've involved are thinking there, you know, that system is really unique to read it and it's still at the core of how we govern. So as you I think I looted to multiple times in the presentation Wall Street bets, really took the World by myself. Included the market, clearly the

government. Yeah, it's it's really not new for those who have been on Reddit for for a long time. It's not new. Maybe not at that scale, we're talkin National global scale Financial Market but you do see that happened, let's say within communities, you see products fly off the shelves because people are like this is, you know, this is an incredible change for our community or you seem like I mentioned the March for science like a movement form. Where does a Consciousness in a belief system that

they're merging? Like to take action is not a new phenomenon. We do see it quite often and yet here you see things like incredible, Humanity. Like we read, it has raised, you know, raise funds for charity just because somebody inspired a group of individuals to do. So, on our side DIY, we've already users donate books to a man who was building a custom book shelf for his late wife and was Help him, you know, with with his grief, over her passing and they helped steal the books out. I mean redditors are spurred to action in these unbelievable way that sometimes our for an

individual, sometimes for a community and sometimes at a global scale, if it's something that we see all the time on Reddit and I, I know that might be surprising, but that is, you know, why I keep saying hashtag communities Drive action, The one other thing that is so cord to run that I know very well that is about, you mentioned the beginning, it's all about interest. It's not about your social graph about what you and your team see as the pros to anonymity but also the cons to having that be. So course she won't read it is

Yeah, you know, it's funny. I don't I don't really see any cons about. I think this is probably a hotly debated by Tears, you know? It is not that we're aware The Advocates of pure anonymity. The principal is data privacy really, right? We Empower users to be the master of their identity and their data and you know, I think the option for privacy is core, certainly to our DNA in our culture and our values and we just believe that no one should have to surrender their privacy to find community

and belonging that you don't have to. I mean, it's your choice. You could shoot to reveal your identity, you can choose a real parts of your identity. And by the way, people do, because we have a lot of, for example, identity-based communities, right? We have people who are lgbtq question your review and aspect of your identity. Are you in your pii? In that case they couldn't access community and belongings if they did. So I think that, you know, as a really important driver for

our mission of bringing community and belonging, we think it feels trust if you was off anticipating and it encourages people to be their authentic true self, which is what is expected on Reddit. And what we see is, greater honesty and net. Net more positive in inspirational exchanges. And other research has proven this out, I think there was an article on my web and next thing I know that there's there are plenty of people who would say no having identity makes you more responsible

and for what you say. And I would just look at, say look at social media. Is that really true? And I am not sure that it is It's a lot lately and misinformation. And so I'm curious about the ways that credit has been keeping a community safe and healthy, especially in recent years for mission is to help everyone in the world find community in belonging. And this means finding communities that reflect our values and respect civil discourse and dignity as so hate harassment and calls for violence there.

And I think that's dance was even further clarified as part of our 2020 content policy update, you know, that we worked on last year released last year. Safety is built into our platform structure. It's one of the things that makes Reddit really unique and the way it works is, we have a multi-layered approach. We obviously have tools systems and policies at the base which Reddit, Inc support. We have a very unique layer of governance, which is around communities and moderators in the middle on users,

or they really are the burden of stated they participated. And what that allows for is nuanced. So, communities can write their own rules, and moderators, help enforce those rules, because they have a lot of contacts for the conversation. And users can help a phone and download content to sit through what is in a wood should be. So obviously, because we're in the advertising business, we've additional layer of safety for our advertising partners and they had a lot of toys. Controlling that they obviously have a hand tearing the long

list for where they run their advertising. They have choices about, you know, how they target or Target away. So they also get controls on top that, you know, our our, our approach to moderation can scale with users. That's, that's really important. And I think over the last couple of years, but you seen is, there are it's challenging for many of our peers to keep up with their scale. But I think one thing is scale, our moderation with how much we throw.

Yeah, that's great to hear it and it's a truth. I know you mentioned the presentation about the ways that advertisers and Brands can participate on Reddit, and when you mentioned that they had their comments turned off. But you said, you know, that's something that's that's rare for a little bit more about the ways that Franz really a conversational is that really core to the way that Moe's on Friends, really participate? I do see that being more, so going forward. Some do and some

don't but I think the ones that are successful, absolutely listen to the community so they're very aware. They go to like read The Virtue Feed, the virtual community really well and then they're created is very very attuned to the communities. Are there talking to that is that is ultimately I think what makes you really successful on Reddit as Brandon and we help with that, there's lots of access to inside to do that. What she did is, they did turn their comments on The Advertiser, does they did, and they engaged in

conversation and that allowed them to show, I think more personality in their brand and for people to get to know them and they actually were able to ask question, right? They are sick with the name. That's what you think about this feature and they got feedback and Reddit users. They in Boy. They like being asked what they think. Like, they're smart that you treat people, smart people like they will help you. And they will share with you and not all brands. I think are able to do that. I think some of the DTC Brands, it's a little easier for them because they have a

streamlined organization that allows them to be nimble and do that. But our job, you know as you know it is to help all of our partners be able to access the amazingness a bad experience. So is certainly part of our aspiration of the do recommended for everybody, but I think she was probably more advanced in their thinking and ability to use Reddit. Lasting for you. I know that it has had quite the start of the year are obviously a vulture that's and all the attention around that

you been a pretty cool Super Bowl ad and you do not too long ago you were acquired a company called dubsmash. So walk me through my God what can you tell me? Yeah. Oh my gosh I can't the last 3 months have been just wild and amazing you really, really feel the momentum and we have no plans to slow slow down. So I am, I'm really really sorry this year I mean look at your first I think you know we are doubling down on our investment and video. You saw that with the acquisition of dubsmash. I think read it, read it to be a red and wash and we seen organic growth

of video on Reddit. We think the back of decency, a bigger part of the experience. You know, we are going to expand globally ready to still not in local language. It's mainly in English. And then you know, we're continuing to build our ads business and revenue which is fuel for our mission and continuing to invest in, we call Direct to Consumer features like our virtual economy where their gaming light feature is that I think they credit just more spot. So I think, you

know, we we have no even though we've been around for fifteen years, we have no fear of continuing to evolve the platform and I think, right? It will look really different at the end of 2021, but even better. Great. Well, I am very much looking forward to an even more fun. Reddit, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. Thanks Gary.

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