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We Slogged through the Trenches of Reddit…So You Don’t Have To

Balancing humor, facts and authenticity to communicate effectively with Gen Z
December 10, 2019

Reddit, the social media platform that has coined itself “the front page of the internet” and is home to endless social forums, isn’t as dark and disturbing as some might presume. 

In fact, Reddit can teach us a thing or two about gaining the trust and attention of young people. 

That’s what our team learned recently when we enlisted two high school students to critique our work. The exercise was revealing on multiple levels. 

The students referred us to a subreddit, which is a thread or conversation on Reddit based on people’s specific interests. 

The thread, called r/fellowkids, is a community created by Gen Z to point out “cringey” or “see-through” efforts by brands attempting to appeal to youth.

(The name “Fellow Kids” is based off of a clip of Steve Buscemi going undercover as a high school student during a police operation in the show 30 Rock. This is how young people see adults and organizations that don’t get it right — an undercover cop who thinks he’s slick but is completely obvious).

Reddit’s gigantic user base — over 670,000 members in the r/fellowkids subreddit  alone — illustrates how prolific these conversations are among Gen Z. 

Examples from the thread show young users mocking brands and authority figures:

Brands changing their logo during gay pride month.

Religious authorities attempting to appeal to and influence youth.

The r/fellowkids thread goes deep. In this super-honest forum, young adult and Gen Z users generously spread shame across giant household brands, government social media, and social groups. The feed is peppered with real-world examples of misguided attempts by older generations to influence them with humor. 

Here are a few more examples of brands that got the “cringe” reaction: 

That said, there are also loads of examples of praise for brands and people doing it right, appropriately balancing brevity with wit. (Notice they’re labeled by Reddit users as “Actually Funny”):

Transparency and self-awareness — as demonstrated in the above GameStop post— helps to build trust with the young audience.

The takeaway? Memes and humor are still a great way to appeal to younger audiences. However, they are very tricky to navigate effectively. 

Here are some additional insights from the two Gen Z’ers we engaged on the basic tenets of reaching youth: 

  • Less says more. A clever post with graphics and copy is enough. In some situations, additional copy is too much — leading to “eye-roll” reactions. 
  • Don’t be too authoritative or preachy. You’ll find yourself with comments like “ok, boomer” on your content, regardless of what generation you’re from. 
  • Don’t try too hard. Being transparent and self-aware, or using self-deprecating humor, can build trust with a Gen Z audience — but it’s a fine line between being likable and being lame. 

Say plenty. But not too much. 

Be smart, but not preachy. 

Be cool. But since you’re probably not cool, (few of us are in the eyes of Gen-Zers), own the fact that you’re hopelessly uncool. 

They’ll respect you for it. Maybe they’ll even think you’re cool.