Reddit, which is one of the world’s most-visited websites, is known as a haven for user-generated content—from memes and true confessions to rock-solid financial advice. But one format tends to outperform all others on Reddit: the AMA (“Ask Me Anything”), an open, unrestricted Q&A forum. And what appeals more to savvy marketing types than free-wheeling, irresistible social media activity?
A key attribute of the Reddit AMA is transparency: everyone can see all questions and upvote their favorites so they get answered. The format has attracted huge names like Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Snoop Dogg, and popular ones routinely get millions of views. But AMAs aren’t just reserved for celebrities—organizations of all sizes can use them as an informal way to engage with their audiences.
Now you might be thinking: I’m in marketing—should my brand be hosting AMAs? Should I be hosting them myself? And if so, how would I even go about it?
Are AMAs more impactful than blog posts?
AMAs are attractive because of the authentic access they provide. The forum gives individuals with unique insights or areas of expertise (like a historian who specializes in pirates) the chance to flex their muscles a bit. They can elaborate on that expertise, making the case for their ideas or products.
And for audiences, the AMA is transparent and open to everyone. It’s easy to ask a question, get it answered, and follow along with the whole discussion.
But the beauty of the AMA also lies in its unpredictability. Trying to plan or control an AMA is pointless; any audience member can ask a question about literally anything! Take, for example, a recent AMA with a former delivery person for the U.S. Postal Service. He answered many standard questions about his route, his hours, and why some packages take so long to get delivered. But he was also asked about delivering drugs or how to stop unsolicited junk mail. Questions like those are quirky, but they can lead to insightful, compelling, and funny answers.
And so—for better or worse—AMAs are conducted live with little editorial oversight. Yes, they’re more unpredictable, but they also start and finish in the amount of time it takes to write an intro for a blog’s rough draft. And they may reach more people, especially if you promote them well (see more on that below).
Plus, who’s to say that an AMA can’t lead to blog content in the future? Creators can learn in real time what areas of their expertise or experience are most compelling to audiences. Then, a series of blog posts can emerge from an AMA, which might serve to gauge an audience’s primary interests.
Who shines on AMAs?
The key to a successful AMA lies in the risk—it’s an open forum and everyone can see all the questions, even the ones you might not want to answer. It’s all about having nothing to hide, and rolling with the punches. Audiences can see right through inauthenticity. Actor Woody Harrelson was notably ridiculed on Reddit for insisting that his AMA focus on the movie he was promoting. Of course, it’s risky to let anybody ask you anything, and to leave open the potential that someone will laugh at you or make you look bad. But that’s what makes the format so compelling.
Relay, a social network for SaaS founders, is one community that hosts AMA guests, like Timo Rein of Pipedrive and Martha Bitar of Flodesk, with a variety of influence and experience. When founders and entrepreneurs host these sessions, they can give specific information and advice about leadership and their most effective practices.
Additionally, HubSpot caters to its audience of sales and marketing professionals by hosting experts in the industry, like sales influencer Deb Calvert, to shed light on her strategy and tactics. So the brand helps their audience get questions answered, and the expert gets to build credibility while gaining a few new fans along the way.
The Internal AMA
The AMA isn’t only a good way to generate engagement with your external audience—it also presents an opportunity for internal uses. AMAs can be used to introduce new hires or spotlight team executives, building team culture by strengthening personal and business relationships.
When possible, coordinate the AMA around the time of a major company announcement or project to give direction to the open conversation. But be ready to be challenged (and, in fact, encourage it). An internal AMA is a chance to speak with employees across the organization in a transparent way. Don’t offer your team the chance to ask you anything if you’re not ready for anything to be asked.
How do I run an AMA of my own?
Different content management systems (CMS) will have their own ways to host AMAs, but if you have WordPress, there’s an especially easy and direct path. A plugin called Anonymously helps brands quickly get an AMA section up and running by allowing users to ask anonymous questions. It also provides the option to customize the CSS, so the experience can feel unique to the particular brand. One thing to keep in mind with this plugin, however, is that WordPress disables comments by default. Comments will need to be enabled manually for the plugin to work.
If your site isn’t configured to host an AMA, you could also find a subreddit that aligns with your brand and reach out to the moderators to host a session on Reddit itself. For example, if you’re running marketing for an e-commerce company, it might be worth reaching out to the Amazon FBA sub-reddit and offering to answer questions people might have about the day to day of running the business.
Finally, if you’re only hosting an AMA for an internal audience, it can be accomplished right on Slack. Simply create a new public channel (and name it #AMA, for example), and anyone in the company can drop in questions as they arise.
How to Best Promote an AMA
One of the best ways to promote an AMA is by crafting a compelling title—no more than 25 words or so, and shorter is generally better. The title should plainly spell out who the host is and what makes them unique, guiding the questions towards topics for which they can provide insightful answers. Take, for example, this AMA from two execs at a company that “programs DNA so it can grow anything.” Pretty intriguing, huh?
An AMA can be promoted on the same channels as any other piece of content, but keep in mind that time is of the essence. Remind the audience when the window for asking questions opens—and scan the comments of your social pages for questions from users who wouldn’t be able to participate live, dropping them in the AMA thread for the host to see. Ideally, you’ll have a few questions ready to be tackled right when the expert logs on, so that there isn’t awkward silence when you can best hook the audience.
Seth King is a writer and editor based in Boston.