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As communicators working with startups and corporations across different industry sectors, we understand the difficulty of communicating in a way that all stakeholders feel heard and seen. The current media coverage around Reddit is an example of the complexities of connecting with users (customers) effectively.
In the last day, more than 8,4000 of the site’s 8,829 subreddits have gone dark – among them are some of the website’s largest. Why? Because Reddit introduced a new policy regarding API access that users were both unprepared for and unhappy with. This is the latest in a series of companies experiencing user protests, illustrating an ongoing problem in the tech industry and beyond: failure to engage with ALL key stakeholders – including users.
For context, Reddit users have historically felt that the native mobile app is not user-friendly. Moderators have shared with the company how difficult it is to moderate their communities – many with millions of members – using the app. Likewise, users who rely on accessibility tools, such as those with visual impairments, find it hard to navigate.
As a result, third-party developers created tools and alternative apps that leveraged Reddit’s API, which was available for free. That meant users could actively participate in their communities using whatever platform they preferred. The company’s latest policy change will put an end to that on July 1.
In a move similar to Twitter’s, Reddit announced it would begin charging for API access. Not long after the policy was published, one of the most beloved third-party alternatives, Apollo, informed users that it would be shutting down. In a post, the app’s developer, Christian Selig, said that access to Reddit’s API would run Apollo nearly $2 million a month and over $20 million a year.
Other apps followed suit, announcing that they would no longer be able to serve their users. The discourse that followed was further exacerbated by the fear that accessible alternatives would also disappear. Reddit later clarified that certain accessibility tools would still be granted free access, but users have expressed that they feel more details should be provided.
The company hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Reddit CEO Steve Huffman (u/spez) to clarify the changes. According to the participants, the answers given were unsatisfactory. For example, when asked why there wasn’t more user-facing communication around the new policy, Huffman told a user Reddit had informed the community of the upcoming change in April. While that is true, commenters were quick to point out that the earlier announcement lacked details, including new pricing.
Companies will benefit from providing these details in a timely fashion allowing users (consumers) to be properly informed. While it is understandable that business leaders are hesitant to make any firm statements when policies are still being finalized, it is important to realize that a lack of information could lead users to question the company’s intentions.
This brings us to the current blackout. Many subreddits have become temporarily inaccessible while others have pledged to remain private indefinitely until a “reasonable solution” is offered. This strategy is one that users have leveraged in the past to bring change to the platform.
By proactively implementing a comprehensive communications strategy these communications crises can often be mitigated or avoided altogether.
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