Reddit alien stickers

Preparing for the Political AMA: Six Strategies for Success

As the federal election draws closer, political candidates across the country are busy developing detailed strategies for communications and media outreach. Increasingly, politicians are turning to reddit and participating in Ask Me Anythings, better known as AMAs.

The platform makes sense. Last year alone, reddit had:

  • Over 71 billion pageviews.
  • 174 million monthly unique visitors
  • 55 million submissions
  • Over 3.5 million users logged in daily
  • Canada has the second most pageviews per capita in the world (Iceland is #1)

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Toronto Sees Surge in Campaigning on Reddit

As Toronto’s municipal election heats up, candidates for mayor and council alike are experimenting with the potential of reddit to deliver their campaign platforms and messages to an engaged audience online. For the 48,000+ subscribers to the city’s subreddit, it’s been a busy month.

External photo Nathan Phillips square

Flickr/Steven Severinghaus
Toronto’s City Hall illuminated at night. With the election campaign in full swing, many mayoral candidates have taken to reddit.

But what is the point of logging on to this specific community to take questions and deliver campaign lines? What benefits does it afford, and what are the risks associated? I’ve briefly talked about this before, and while this is still far from a complete discussion, it will hopefully offer an introduction to the political AMA on reddit.

Roberto Alvarez got the ball rolling on August 6, when the nominee for councillor of Ward 3 took to the site to answer questions. It wasn’t huge, garnering only 34 comments (which includes his responses) and 64 upvotes. That said, Alvarez spoke oienly and honestly, fielding questions about Rob Ford and the relationship between Homer and Flanders from The Simpsons with ease. More Importantly, he didn’t shy away from tough questions.

By all accounts, it was a good use of campaign time and efforts.

Paul Alves came next. And it was bad. Alves, running to become councillor for Ward 18, went off the rails and the AMA descended into a horrific train crash. After being confronted by one user for using Rob Ford-type tactics, and then being called a Ford apologist by another user, Alves went on the offensive. He accused a user of being a plant for another candidate’s campaign, before saying,

People think the internet is a free for all, it isn’t. I’ll gladly retain counsel and sue for slander anyone who claims I’m what i am not.

From there, things degenerated. Taking on his threat to identify users’ IP addresses and deal with them legally, users began coming up with far-fetched and obvious lies about the candidate (one calling him a Satanist) while others offered definitions and legal interpretations of slander and defamation laws in Canada.

As one user plainly stated: “Threatening to sue voters is an interesting campaign strategy.” Perhaps shockingly, Alves deleted his first account and came back to the site with another new name and has seemed to buy in to the community. He apologized for his outburst, and has since been an active commenter on the Toronto subreddit, as well as another dedicated to British television show Dr. Who.

And so, there are the two directions a political AMA like this can go. Depending on how well you connect with the users, and really how well you fit into reddit’s culture, can make or break it. A negative impression early on can bury you.

Making this case study of the Toronto election even more interesting is the active outreach that moderators of the subreddit undertook to reach out to all mayoral candidates. So far, Ari Goldkind, Mark Cidade, Olivia Chow, and Morgan Baskin have answered the call.

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Obama Opens Up Online

From The Millstone – August 30, 2012


In the early evening of Wednesday, the United States President Barack Obama got a chance to answer questions directly from voters (Democrats, Republicans, and undecideds alike). However, this wasn’t your basic open forum at a debate, town hall, or rally. No, President Obama sat down at a laptop in a room in Charlottesville, Virginia, and answered questions from anonymous askers on the online social news site, reddit.

Shitty_Watercolour, a popular reddit user, welcomes President Obama with one of his works.

Fresh off the heels of a rally at the host city of the University of Virginia where Obama appealed to the youth vote, he further showed his dedication to the youth vote with his reddit Q&A, colloquially known as an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the site.

For those unfamiliar with the site, it’s difficult to explain. The site is an open-source social news site, where users have the ability to post photos, links (to newspaper articles, websites, etc.), or start discussions in one of thousands of “sub-reddits”. Other users then have the opportunity to comment on the original post. The sub-reddits each have a different focus (the list is endless, ranging in everything from US politics, to funny images, to city-specific reddits like Ottawa, to hobbies and jobs), with one dedicated specifically to these AMA’s.

The AMA’s have quickly become a kind-of hidden secret for politicians, as Obama is not the first to face the reddit hive. Previously, the likes of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, Colorado representative Jared Polis, and others have taken to the web to answer questions.

When Obama went up, the site went crazy with excitement (even leading to the site occasionally crashing.) The AMA has received over 19,000 comments at the time of writing, and that number will likely only grow as those from other parts of the world continue to log on and see.And while Obama dedicated 30 minutes out of his busy campaign trail to “be real” with the reddit community, the question of its success is hard to determine.

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