What is Reddit? (And Why EMS Leaders Should Care)
If you were asked to name the top 10 most popular websites in the United States today, I’m willing to bet that you could guess most of them: they are, in descending order of Alexa page view rankings, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Twitter, Reddit, Ebay, and LinkedIn.
“Wait,” you may be asking, “what is ‘Reddit,’ and how can it be in the top 10 most popular American websites if I’ve never even heard of it?”
As a self-appointed cultural ambassador for the millennial-heavy EMS workforce, I’d love to give you a basic introduction. Seasoned Redditors, feel free to skip this post. But those new to Reddit, or even social media in general, please hang in there—it is increasingly important for ambulance executives of all age groups and technology skill levels to “get” what is going on in influential online communities.
What is Reddit?
Reddit describes itself as “the front page of the internet.” What does that mean?
Reddit (usually styled lowercase as “reddit,” but I’m capping for clarity) is an online community platform allowing users to anonymously share, comment, and vote on links, images, personal stories and more in topic-specific “subreddits.” A user’s self-selected subreddits are merged into a personalized feed, which is often very different than the generic Reddit Front Page generated from the posts voted best across the whole site.
Wildly popular with millennials, Reddit is one of the most engaged and active digital communities in history. Reddit communities’ collective taste-making influence drives modern pop culture and politics in unprecedented ways, and the popularity and sway of the site is only growing.
I am sticking mostly to practicalities in this post, but highly recommend reading a little bit about the history of Reddit (2014 Mashable article, 2016 WSJ CEO interview), if you have a moment. The Wikipedia entry also gives a great overview.
Why should EMS leaders care?
Large swaths of your staff are routinely participating in Reddit communities, likely many times per week. For all that we hear about generational conflict in EMS organizations, wouldn’t it be great to gain some firsthand insight into the candid thoughts of EMTs and Paramedics across the country? Of course this only works if leaders approach Reddit (and the subs and threads of varying merit within) with an open mind—because of its inherently populist and anonymous nature, there is an ever-changing mix of valuable and abhorrent content that sometimes takes a little time to sort through.
Additionally, more and more people are electing to get their news, pop culture, and entertainment first through Reddit or other social media, instead of mainstream news sources. EMS leaders relying solely on information from TV newscasts or even the websites of traditional print journalism outlets are missing the backchannel dialogue and meta commentary that is shaping the way our industry is perceived.
Can Reddit participation help with EMS advocacy?
Many ambulance execs are unfamiliar with the fact that top politicians as diverse as President Obama and Gary Johnson choose to interact directly with Redditors, personally fielding user questions in the r/IamA sub. Reddit’s political commentary subs are also famed for the sometimes prescient, sometimes wacky user analysis of current affairs and election hoopla. Start with r/politics, the largest sub, to get a feel for the Reddit politosphere, then find your niche in some of the more targeted subs below. Not seeing your interest? Search the site for hundreds of other options ranging from radical to reactionary—or start your own.
How can I get started on Reddit?
We all have that kooky relative who doesn’t “get” Facebook, and so posts inappropriate rants or the equivalent of text voice mails on our walls. Don’t be “that guy” (or gal) on Reddit—although most people are nice, not everyone is patient, and some users may report your post to moderators for removal. Also, it is just good manners to follow the norms of any community in which you participate, be it face-to-face or online. Here are some easy steps to ensure that you become a valued contributor to the Reddit community.
- Create an account. Note: Do not use a variation of your real name or company name in your username. This is not Facebook, or even Twitter. It is crucial that unless you are a world leader (u/PresidentObama), celebrity (u/GovSchwarzenegger, u/williamshatner), or other very public figure (u/thisisbillgates, u/ColChrisHadfield) that you keep your personal information as private as possible for your own safety.
- Curate your subs.
- Login to reddit, then visit your subscription page to remove yourself from any default subs that don’t interest you. For me, this meant immediately axing everything related to sports (sorry, I mean, “Go Sox!“).
- Next, find and subscribe to many subs that interest you. There are thousands of subreddits for everything from r/cooking to r/gardening to r/motorcyles to r/parenting to r/books, and that is just scratching the surface. Typically large, general-interest subs will list more niche subs in their sidebars to make them easy to find.
- Lurk and get used to voting. Read your feed, or peruse a specific sub in-depth, upvoting posts and comments based on quality, not your level of agreement with the poster’s opinion. Typically, it is best to lurk (read without posting) for a month or two before you leap into the fray to get a sense for how each community interacts.
- Start posting and commenting. Now that you have some context for the types of conversations going on in your favorite subs, you’re ready to start submitting new posts and commenting on the posts of others, in addition to voting. It is really important to read Reddit’s content rules and Reddiquette guidelines, as well as the sidebar rules for your particular sub, before posting. Also, it is pretty much universally forbidden to share with the group any personally identifying information, even about yourself. Don’t get overwhelmed—most of the rules are common sense, and the time investment will pay off when you experience the thrill of sharing ideas and news with like-minded people from around the world.
Are there EMS-specific subs?
There are many EMS-focused subreddits, ranging from the (mostly) serious to the ridiculous. Here are just a few:
- r/EMS – by far the largest, with 21k subscribers as of today. Diverse mix of jokes, personal stories, protocol questions, opinions on employers, and more.
- r/RealEMS (2k subscribers) and r/TalesFromEMS aka r/TFEMS (3k subscribers) smaller subs focused on the perceived “real” side of EMS.
- r/911Dispatchers – (2k subscribers) – Sub targeting dispatch professionals.
- r/EMScringepics, r/LookImAFireFighter, etc – smaller subreddits where some popular EMS sartorial choices are mocked. Very definitely Not Nice, but may strike your funny bone if you have a certain sense of humor.
- r/firefighting (11k subscribers) – sub serving firefighters, but often touches on EMS topics
Hint: Sort by “TOP” then choose a timeframe to catch up on the best (or at least most popular) posts in a particular sub.
My service is mentioned on Reddit in a negative manner. Should I respond?
If someone posts something negative on Reddit (or Facebook, or Twitter, etc, etc) about the organization to which you’ve dedicated so much time and love, it can be very tempting to fire off your side of the story in response. However, it is almost always inadvisable to go in “guns blazing” on an anonymous message board, particularly if you aren’t very familiar with the norms for the specific sub in which you would respond.
If you really feel you must set the record straight, I suggest asking three other sensible Redditors and your attorney to review before posting, to make sure that you don’t accidentally open your organization up to a lawsuit or media nightmare. You may also want to create a separate “throwaway” username before replying, as anything you’ve previously commented or posted under your usual username is publicly visible. No matter how innocuous your past activity may be, it can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion (see: Ken Bone Reddit controversy).
My service is mentioned on Reddit in a positive manner. Should I respond?
In this case, it is a hard maybe. The tricky thing is that you want your organization to avoid being perceived as “Big Brother,” particularly in response to anything (good or bad) that might have been posted by one of your own employees. Given Reddit’s higher level focus on anonymity than, say, Facebook, even a “thanks so much, so glad to be your favorite employer!” reply can seem creepy or intrusive, depending on context. It may be best to just privately enjoy the knowledge that thousands are reading your unsolicited praises (and likely looking for job openings at your service).
If there are no HIPAA or human resources concerns involved, you can enlist the help of seasoned Redditors in crafting a response that is right in tone for your service.
Can I market my ambulance service on Reddit?
Commercial self-promotion of any kind is very much frowned upon by the Reddit community. Viral marketing, or any post planting or vote manipulation that can be perceived as viral marketing, even more so. For a glimpse at the level of energy around this issue, please see r/HailCorporate, or consider the vitriol directed at users who create alternate “sockpuppet” accounts to upvote their own posts. Any kind of advertising outside of appropriate subs that specifically allow it (or actual Reddit ads) is risky at best, and may completely backfire.
Can I post job listings to Reddit?
Read the sidebar rules of the subreddit you’re considering posting in to see if commercial offers are permitted (for example, counter-intuitively, r/jobs forbids job postings). Your may wish to consider posting to one of the subs dedicated to job seekers, including r/jobopenings, r/youngjobs, and r/jobbit, or your closest local job sub.
Another thing to consider is buying an ad on the Reddit site, then running it in EMS-specific subs, particularly if you’re open to paying relocation for medics from other areas, or if you are willing to train individuals coming from other industries.
Note: recruitment is not yet a primary Reddit focus, so you may or may not have much luck at this point. However, as more people join Reddit and rely on it new and different ways, this is likely to change.
- Default sub—Default subreddits are subs considered to have the right mix of popularity and quality to be automatically included in new users’ subreddit subscriptions. You can remove default subreddits that you are not interested in following on your subscription page after you create a login.
- Karma—When a post or comment is submitted, other users can vote it up or down. “Karma,” divided into post karma and comment karma, is a loose indicator of the quality of a thread. You can track your own karma on your profile page, but it has no monetary or other value. In theory, voting is supposed to be based on the quality and relevance of the post or comment, but this doesn’t always play out perfectly. Some users have high overall karma scores because they post very relevant articles or incredibly insightful posts, others because they draw sketches or write poems related to posts, and still others because they are known for submitting posts or comments that the community finds funny.
- NSFL—an initialism for “Not Safe for Life.” This is used in the title of a post to indicate offensive content that shows or makes reference to gore, death, serious injury, the abuse of animals or people, etc. I would very strongly suggest that even the most hardened EMS folks stay away from most of these posts and the comments sections about them—NSFL posts do not bring out the best in humanity.
- NSFW—an initialism for “Not Safe for Work.” This is used in the title of a post to potentially sensitive content involving any kind of nudity or sex. Depending on context and the subreddit in which it is posted, this flag can be used for posts covering everything from a news photo of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction to actual pornography. Use your best judgment.
- OP—like most other internet forums, on Reddit “OP” refers to “original poster,” and is a generic term used in comments to refer to the creator of the thread you’re currently reading.
- Meme—Most folks have probably heard of memes (pron. “meems”, not “meh-mehs,” “me-mes,” etc), or may even have shared some around the office or on Facebook. Reddit has a variety of inside jokes and memes specific to the community. If someone replies to a post with something that seems like a total non-sequitur, but others seem to find it funny, you may want to Google for inside jokes or check Know Your Meme for answers. Be forewarned: while some are funny or insightful, many memes and Reddit inside jokes are crass, prejudiced, or just stupid.
- Reddiquette—Reddit’s own set of community manners. Read it here before posting!
- Sub / Subreddit—Although originally not officially recognized, “sub” or “subreddit” are now almost universally used terms refers to self-moderated community centered around a particular topic. Here are just a few examples of the tens of thousands of subs you can choose to subscribe to, depending on your interests.
Have questions about Reddiquette or other social media platforms? Please don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to share your own tips in the comments section below. We would love to hear about your ambulance service’s online successes and foibles.