Be wary of buying ads on Reddit, the numbers are cooked.

Reddit, the famous "front page of the internet" works by users gathering & generating the content and posting it to the appropriate subreddit. There are subreddits for everything, even after Reddit cleaned up some of the more famously seedy subreddits. You can find communities that are gender critical, or Paper Mario fans, people who hate stealth ads at Hailcorporate, and serious audiophiles. There are news and political discussion subs of every persuasion, and many languages, there are 70,000 active communities. In 2016 Reddit had 51.4 million monthly users in May, that was up from 28.4 million a year before, according to comScore. In march of last year Reddit beefed up their advertising department, with five creatives, twenty-four in sales and product development staff swelled to thirty. The cherry on top was when they poached Google engineer Toby Segaran to help build the ad-tech platform. Reddit was going to be an ad market to be reckoned with. Put an ad on the front page of the internet.

At The Next Web conference last year Reddit CEO Steve Huffman famously quipped:

"We know all of your interests. Not only just your interests you are willing to declare publicly on Facebook - we know your dark secrets, we know everything"

Since the rise of Trump in US politics Reddit has had an issue with a subreddit called the_Donald. And by issue I mean, the sub has accused Reddit admins of manipulating the algorithm's to prevent the_Donald posts from reaching /r/all as often as they used to do. The sub is massively popular and extremely active, so postings in the sub can get 8000-10,000 upvotes in less than a day.

Yesterday it appeared Reddit has manipulated the subscriber count that the_Donald has. In the advertising interface, it listed the_Donald as having over 6 million subscribers, but on the_Donald's page, the subscription count is listed as only 386,143. If I were in the market to advertise USA flag jean jacket or similar, I would want to select the_donald as the subreddit to advertise in, but I would also need to know what the real numbers are.

When confronted with the discrepancy, Reddit Director of Communications Anna Soellner told Fox tech news that the high advertising counts were caused by a labeling error in a new service:

"When we released the new ads self-serve product yesterday, the ad interface said "Subscribers" in the targeting drop-down list. However, the actual number represented here was not "Subscribers" but was actually "Daily Unique Visitors" to the subreddit."

The same explanation is echoed in Reddit help thread, where an admin has also stated it was mislabeled. But many commenting say the explanation doesn't add up if it was a simple error of mislabeling, why did the numbers change? Instead of six million, the new number is "daily impressions" and that number is a rounded out twenty-eight million.

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Reddit said the issue was fixed by Friday afternoon. "We have just pushed out a change to rename this number ‘Daily Impressions’ and will modify the numbers shown in the dropdown to show ‘Daily Impressions’."
Prior to the fix, there were apparent discrepancies between the advertising count and the count shown to site visitors on other subreddits as well. /r/Politics was listed as having 6.3 million subscribers to advertisers but only 3.3 million to the site visitors. Meanwhile /r/Science was shown to advertisers as having only 10 million users while site visitors saw 16 million subscribers. The image below is created by someone who compared the numbers at ads.reddit.com vs the subscribers on each sub before the change was made, and the_Donald has the largest discrepancy.

When the CEO of Reddit can edit users comments just because he's annoyed with the_Donald, and the advertising numbers differ so dramatically from the numbers visitors see, one wonders how wise it is to put your digital advertising budget on Reddit. Global brands shun Google advertising for their bad practices, as it's becoming a danger to brands to end up in the wrong place online. It remains to be seen if Coca Cola, eBay and Google still find Reddit an attractive place to advertise, but perhaps they're getting other numbers from the in-house advertising team?


Additional info added Sun 2nd April 2017.

I've been poking around the ads interface some more to try and understand what is going on with the numbers. I've discovered that banned subreddits, that is subreddits that no longer exist because they have been deleted, show up in the list if you search for them. If these subreddits do not exist - how can they have an average daily impression count? In short, what are these numbers, exactly?