As an online gathering place, Reddit combines many different aspects of popular social Internet services to create one of the most active discussion forums currently in use. Part social network, part message board and part news and content aggregation platform, Reddit allows its users - close to one hundred million in all - to share information and media as well as discuss a wide range of topics. Reddit's unique structure means it's significantly different than social platforms like Facebook or Twitter. Similarly, despite the similarities it shares with bogging thanks to the high number of text-only posts, Reddit is also different from a traditional blog or news network.

Utilizing Reddit for your ecommerce store

Reddit's unique structure means that some common tactics used on Instagram or Facebook to promote merchandise simply won't fly - or will only be effective or accepted in certain circumstances or areas of the website within its various sets of rules.

Reddit is made up of many smaller, topically themed discussion forums called subreddits. These pages, which range from discussion about the National Football League to makeup and historical reenactments, all have unique rules set by the moderators. The users in charge of each subreddit set specific rules that aren't consistent across each page. For example, some but not all subreddits restrict the posting of images, while others prohibit links to commercial business websites or ban the promotion of specific merchandise or products by those who would financially benefit from such an effort.

These limitations are in contrast to the much more open and accepting social media platforms used by ecommerce companies. However, as long as you pay attention to the rules and contribute to the subreddits you post in instead of only visiting to directly promote your products, Reddit offers some unique advantages for small businesses. These include promoting a store as well as gathering advice on the many skills and experiences needed to operate a small business.

Here are just a few of the ways ecommerce store owners can use Reddit to their benefit while remaining respectful of the site's unique rules:

Read before you write

While many new users of any website or discussion platform want to dive right into using it, it's a good idea to take a more passive approach at first. Reddit is no different. If it's your first time using the site - or even the first time using it specifically as a business owner - take time to explore its different corners. Find subreddits that match your interests or needs as an ecommerce merchant. See how the conversation flows, and look into exactly what topics are popular. Take note of any peculiarities in terms of rules about sharing links to one's own products or asking questions about specific subjects.

You'll still be able to soak in the valuable information that appears, but you won't have to take the rookie bumps and bruises of being shouted down for asking a question that's been answered frequently or posting a link to your store on a subreddit that bans such activity. Understanding the communities you want to interact with is crucial to having a successful and beneficial experience.

Help with product design and presentation

While not all ecommerce merchants create their own merchandise from scratch, many are customizing or otherwise adding a personal touch to some aspects of products, packaging, site design and a plethora of other areas. Reddit has communities related to many of these different aspects of creation and composition where valuable advice and guidance can be found. Additionally, many subreddits centered around product, logo and website design all offer the chance for free critiques from people involved in those realms. While feedback can occasionally be brutally honest - or even intended to depress or disappoint the submitter - it's also a valuable source of free information and valuable opinion overall.

Finding the right subreddit to fit our specific product niche may take some time, but once the appropriate forum is found, the process is often worth it. For example, an ecommerce store selling jewelry might have to search though a series of subreddits related to the topic before finding one that is the best stylistic fit for the specific merchandise. However, once that subreddit is located, it's easy to post pictures of jewelry and ask for feedback, participate in discussions, ask for help with a new or complicated project and simply earn more about the craft of handmade jewelry. This example applies to many other types of homemade crafts, all the way up to and including larger, more technically demanding processes such as wood- and metalworking.

Photo, video and design

Nearly all store owners are photographing and shooting video of their own products, regardless of the exact types of items sold. There are subreddits that focus on a wide variety of different approaches and methods to both video and photography, which allow both the experienced and inexperienced to learn more about effectively capturing still and moving images of their products.

The same feedback process can be applied to various aspects of Web design as well. BigCommerce makes it easy for ecommerce store owners to develop their own professional websites, but concepts such as layout, design and general appearance can vary greatly. Subreddits related to Web design and similar concepts can help to provide feedback and realize the best design possible.

Assistance with technical aspects of operation

The BigCommerce platform removes many of the potential issues that new ecommerce merchants encounter when starting their first store. Web design, payment processing, order fulfillment and many other aspects of successful operation are either entirely or partly automated to the benefit of store owners. However, there are a bevy of technical issues that may be encountered on your own side of operations. Everything from the functional health computer a store owner uses as his or her main method of conducting business to the preparation of tax forms and managing business finances can turn into headaches if left unattended or approached from the wrong perspective.

Reddit also offers subreddit pages dedicated to these concepts, from tax and money management advice to repairing computers. While every answer to a specific question isn't always available, Reddit offers the chance to ask specific business questions of a community that often hosts many members with experience in such fields.

Even concepts such as how to best organize merchandise and safely store are addressed in certain areas of the website. Subreddits about DIY construction and organization exist and are popular among both casual handymen and small-business owners. Ecommerce merchants running out of space to store their merchandise may encounter a new or novel method to increase shelf space and keep operations organized.

Talk with other small-business owners

While some aspects of operating a business are functionally the same no matter the size - the need to sell products or services, the necessity of positive relationships with customers, a strong supply chain - the details of those needs are different for large and small organizations. Additionally, some concerns about work-life balance and knowing when to move to part- or full-time operations are unique among small-business owners.

There are small-business subreddits where plenty of discussion about these issues can be found. In many instances, reading posts from other business owners can be particularly enlightening - and your own questions could easily be answered by another post. Even having a space to discuss the problems many small-business owners sometimes face - the unreasonable customers, the flaky business partners and many other frustrations that are part and parcel of running a small operation - can help you let off a little steam and realize you're not the only one dealing with such frustrations.

Connect with fanbases

Depending on the products you sell, there may or may not be a dedicated group of fans or avid buyers who are specifically interested in your merchandise. This connection can arise out of the brand associated with the items themselves, the functionality of a given product, their association with a specific subculture - be it young mothers or fans of a specific movie or television show - or many more. While not all ecommerce store owners will be able to find a group of fans that is strongly invested in their products, many will.

Just a few examples are ecommerce merchants selling makeup, specific types of clothing, educational toys or certain kinds of foods. All of these categories have at least one subreddit that center around the topic, and there are often more than one for the more popular or diverse market segments. The makeup subreddits, to highlight just one area of Reddit, are particularly active and a great source to learn about trends and prevailing opinions of these products. This sort of user engagement and involvement is prevalent across many areas of the site - the makeup subreddits just happen to be particularly active and engaged.

While store owners are often limited in how they can directly promote their businesses, you can certainly ask questions about preferences and even take informal polls about specific colors, designs and other aspects of products. For some store owners, finding out what's popular amongst similar demographics to your customer base can mean more sales and a spike in revenue.

Helpful reminders to follow

While Reddit is certainly a unique platform, there are some common considerations ecommerce merchants have to make if they want to successfully use it. Just like any other venue where you interact with current or potential customers, a professional approach is crucial. Similarly, you should conduct yourself with decorum at all times when interacting with customers via social media or email, the same concept has to apply on Reddit. While it's easy to get caught up in a heated discussion or argument about a variety of topics, those words said out of frustration or anger won't benefit your business and could even come back to harm your business's reputation. If you get caught up in a heated discussion, disengage gracefully and move on.

As always, remember to note the rules related to each individual subreddit and follow them to the best of your ability. Breaking those rules could lead to a temporary or permanent ban. Even if they don't, it means more attention and scrutiny from moderators - and more trouble effectively using Reddit as an informational source and a method to promote your ecommerce store.

Reddit offers plenty of chances for community interaction, education and business promotion when the specific subreddit allows and the time is right. Consider using the website as a way to fill gaps in your knowledge as a new small-business owner and to find out more about demographics similar to your customer base. Ask questions, gather feedback about your various business ideas and become a bigger, more-connected part of the community around your products.

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