Brand Strategy Social Media Reddit

By killing third-party apps, Reddit is learning all the wrong lessons from Twitter

By Tom Inniss, Writer

Brew Digital


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June 15, 2023 | 7 min read

Brew Digital’s Tom Inniss takes a look behind Reddit’s very public scrap with its own userbase – which, he says, bears a striking resemblance to Twitter’s recent troubles.

The Reddit logo

Are Reddit’s present troubles straight out of Twitter’s own (misguided) playbook? / Brett Jordan via Unsplash

‘Reddit is killing third-party apps to try and make more money.’ That’s the message being circulated by the denizens of the social aggregation website.

Whether that’s accurate is almost beside the point. The website’s recent changes have been seen by the community as hostile moves that restrict choice and provide a less enjoyable experience.

Chief executive Steve Huffman’s AMA (‘Ask Me Anything’ session) did little to calm the growing swell of discontent. And given the loss of two of the most popular Reddit apps, his work is certainly cut out for him.

A highly critical missive penned by Apollo app developer Christian Selig sums up the complaint: “Reddit’s behavior has been so appalling that for any developer I’ve talked to, it has completely erased the indication that they even want us around.”

Numerous subreddits ‘went dark’ on 12 June for 24-48 hours, either locking the forums to new posts or closing them down entirely for the duration of the strike. This wasn’t the first time the Reddit community, renowned for their passion for the platform, have taken matters into their own hands to voice discontent. Back in 2016, the level of anger around a series of communication and strategic missteps by then chief exec Ellen Pao eventually led to her resignation.

The Twitter playbook?

It’s hard not to draw parallels between this and the changes Twitter implemented following its acquisition by Elon Musk. In a series of eyebrow raising moves, Musk laid off at least 70% of Twitter’s staff, and killed off third-party apps by ending support for its API. The social giant later announced API pricing changing for researching, ostensibly to generate income (while reportedly hemorrhaging money after the advertiser exodus), but also to prevent its data being used to train AI.

The result is a service that is less stable and more toxic, with good-will from the community being torched. Popular app developers like Tapbots had to close their apps down without warning, and the mood was certainly acrimonious. Here’s what another (now closed-down) app developer, The Icon Factory, had to say: “We are sorry to say that the app’s sudden and undignified demise is due to an unannounced and undocumented policy change by an increasingly capricious Twitter – a Twitter that we no longer recognize as trustworthy nor want to work with any longer”.

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For all the negativity around Twitter’s approach to its power-users and third-party developers, Reddit appears to be making the same mistakes. Both Twitter and Reddit appear to have lost sight of the fact that their products exist at the behest of users.

As social platforms, they rely on user-generated content, with Reddit being particularly dependent on the goodwill of its community due to the volunteer moderators overseeing subreddits. Without active participation, the appeal of the website plummets, especially when it's the most engaged users who are leaving the platform.

Never forget where you’re coming from

The takeaway? It’s always vital to remember where your website comes from, and who it’s for. It’s a terrible brand strategy to be perceived as trying to snub out the very developers who made your platform accessible to a wider audience. Power users are the most passionate and vocal, and their ire is not something you want to attract unnecessarily.

That’s certainly the case with Reddit, whose decentralized nature gives so much power to the individual communities that comprise it.

Or as Reddit user sabret00the put it, “For the record, neither Twitter nor Reddit treat any of us like we matter and the fact we all insist on propping up these sites with our visits and time only empowers their terrible decisions. If we all stop using Twitter and Reddit and use the alternatives like Mastodon, watch how quickly they’d change course.”

It will be interesting to see whether Reddit walk back their decision – but to some extent, the damage is already done.

Brand Strategy Social Media Reddit

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Brew Digital

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