Get Together

A systems thinker’s approach to rebuilding trust 🔴 Evan Hamilton, Reddit

Episode Summary

An interview hosted by Bailey Richardson and Maggie Zhang with Evan Hamilton, the Director of Community at Reddit, a network of hundreds of thousands of communities who come together over shared interests. We talked with Evan about how he has built trust with moderators at scale.

Episode Notes

“It's way better if members are passionate and loud than dispassionate and quiet. The fact that they care enough to yell is really a gift.” - Evan Hamilton

Reddit is the mothership for sub-communities known as “subreddits,” each of which covers a different topic from ask historians to cats standing up. Subreddits are each managed by a team of volunteers.

Thus as the Director of Community at Reddit, Evan Hamilton doesn’t have just one community to cultivate. He has hundreds of thousands of very distinct communities he’s tasked with serving. 

These “Redditors” have a history of being candid with their feedback. In July 2015, thousands of Reddit moderators shut down a significant portion of the site’s subreddits to collectively boycott the company. Evan has been instrumental in rebuilding and sustaining trust with volunteers in the years since.  

We talked with Evan about how Reddit builds with transparency and empathy at such significant scale.

Highlights, inspiration, & key learnings:

👋🏻Say hi to Evan!

📄See the full transcript 

This podcast was created by the team at People & Company. 

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We published GET TOGETHER📙, a handbook on community-building. 

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Hit subscribe🎙 and head over to our website to learn about the work we do with passionate, community-centered organizations.

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcript is automatically generated and there may be some errors. Timestamps may vary slightly based on episode announcement & commercial placement.


Bailey (00:07):

Welcome to Get Together!


Bailey (00:13):

It's our show about ordinary people building extraordinary communities. I'm your host, Bailey Richardson. I'm a partner at people and company and co-author of get together. How to build a community with your people,


Maggie (00:26):

And I'm Maggie Zhang, podcast correspondent.


Bailey (00:29):

In each episode, we interview people who have built communities about just how they did it. How did they get the first people to show up? How did they grow to hundreds, more members, maybe even thousands. Today we're talking to Evan Hamilton, the director of community at Reddit, for those who aren't, as they say, Redditors Reddit is the mothership for a bunch of different online communities. The Reddit website is broken up into communities known as subreddits. Each of which covers a different topic and is managed by a team of volunteers. Thus as director of community at Reddit, Evan doesn't have just one community to cultivate. He has hundreds of thousands of very distinct online communities. He's tasked with supercharging. We'll talk to Evan about how to do that. And we'll also dig into how to build trust at scale Maggie. What's one thing you learned from our conversation with Evan,


Maggie (01:26):

Uh, with Evan, we talked about July, 2015 when thousands of Reddit moderators shut down a significant portion of the site subreddits as a collective boycott and Evan wasn't there at the time because he joined in 2017, but we were reflecting on it and he had a really interesting perspective. So that event was pretty intense, but he framed it in a pretty positive way in his eyes. The editors took collective action because they thought the platform was worth saving. And he said that when you have a moment of strong candid feedback from your community, it's actually better that they're passionate and loud rather than the alternative where they just dissolve and leave and give up. Evan basically said, when people care enough to yell, he actually sees it as a gift. And it's hard to receive the gift to hear that really tough feedback, but it's helpful because it shows that people care enough to make your product community platform improve. Even today. That's why Evan values things like meeting with moderators on a road show or Reddit's moderator council, because he always does want to hear that tough feedback and have candid conversations with people.


Bailey (02:28):

Awesome. Evan is so smart, such a good strategic thinker, and we were so excited to have him on the podcast today. Can't wait to share it with you Maggie. Should we jump in? Let's do it.


Bailey (02:39):

Evan, welcome to the podcast! I am so excited to learn from you today, uh, to teach me with all of your wisdom and experience. Thanks for being willing to join us. I want to jump right in to talk about the history of Reddit to, to touch on that. Uh, the site was started by two university of Virginia roommate, Steve Huffman, and Alexis Ohanian. And I'm just curious to go back to those early days. Why did they make Reddit? What was the reason to put that site out into the world?


Evan (03:08):

Yeah, well, thanks for having me big fan of the podcast. Reddit was initially a community discussion where people could post links, post content. It was mostly focused on tech news in those early days, but over time it's really transitioned into being a source for advice, support, discussion, video, pretty much anything under the sun. And it's really evolved over the years with our user base. And so what was once a singular Reddit is now hundreds of thousands of active subreddits across the site, focused on everything from gaming to art, to music, to media, to identity, and really just, we aim to be a home for everyone on the internet.


Bailey (03:51):

It's an audacious goal. And I think you guys are about accomplishing it. One of the things that you've said to me is that Redditers have made Reddit quite literally inspiring some of the core behaviors and culture that is on the site. Can you share a bit about what are some of those things that have literally been invented by Redditors that Reddit's engineers and designers have only codified?


Evan (04:42):

Yeah, I mean, it quite literally that much of Reddit, especially early Reddit was created by our users. Originally you could only submit links to Reddit and an enterprising Redditor figured out what the URL of their own submission was going to be and submitted that as a link. And that was how self posts or discussion posts were created on Reddit. And that kind of


Evan (05:06):

Really set the tone for Reddit as this place that the people shape and own and create the term AMA ask me anything originated on Reddit, but it wasn't something that Reddit corporate came up with. It's something that the community came up with and we feed thousands of communities. Hosting AMA is on Reddit every year. And some of those we're involved with, but many are completely organized by the moderators, by the community. Similarly, on the old version of our site, we supported CSS customization and some enterprising moderators realized they could use that to give individual users flair a little tag next to their name that might say something about them or what they were bringing to the table. And that was something that eventually we built in as a feature in the same way that we integrated those discussion posts and made AMA as core part of what we did from a corporate perspective.


Evan (05:55):

And I think from a community builders perspective, the most interesting one was the development of rules and, and these kinds of unique spaces. We've had an overarching set of rules on Reddit, but as these individual subreddits started to develop mods were creating their own rules. They were creating their own norms within these spaces. And so Reddit just created a little section in the sidebar of each sub Reddit for these moderators to share their rules and their norms. And that's now an incredibly crucial part of what makes Reddit Reddit so that you can go from one subreddit to another and have a very different, unique experience that works for that group. Subreddit about politics is going to have very different rules from the subreddit about puppies or subreddit about needlework. And that's what makes Reddit so powerful.


Bailey (06:41):

I wanted to also ask you, um, a little bit about your personal experience as a Redditor. You told me that you were a user first and what drew you to the site personally? Do you remember starting to use Reddit and what attracted you?


Evan (06:57):

Yeah, I mean, I think I've probably been a Redditer for at least 10 years. I was a pretty casual user, but what brought me to it is it felt like the internet that I had discovered when I was a teenager, this space that allowed people to connect and have real conversations about things and learn new things that they wouldn't learn. Otherwise. One of the things I love about Reddit is sure there are celebrities and big events, but Redditers relish in learning about the real world and the mundane there's subreddits, like explain it like I'm five where people just say there was a great one the other day, why doesn't would melt. It was a fair question. You learned about physics. Okay, well, heat liquefies things, and then turn some into a gaseous state. Why doesn't, what do that? And it was something that was so unique and, and small, but so fascinating to actually learn about from someone who knew about it.


Evan (07:53):

And I think what I see on Reddit and what I saw on Reddit then is these conversations that are both mundane and so powerful people learning about science or ask historians where you can ask real historians questions about history. That may be just more specific to understanding humans, to support subreddits, where because of our pseudonymity, people are able to say things about the situations they're in, that they would never, ever attach to their real name and able to get that support because they are bearing their soul and really sharing this part of themselves. That is very vulnerable.


Bailey (08:28):

One of the reasons I'm so excited to have you on the podcast is that frankly, your job I think would intimidate me like Redditors are very smart. They're extremely passionate offbeat, perhaps quirky anti-establishment are some words that I read to describe them. And moderators have a lot of power over their own separate Reddits and a lot of sense of ownership over the site. How did you feel about deciding to go work at Reddit did feel at all intimidated it's I would be, or how did you approach taking on such a monumental task?


Evan (09:02):

Yeah. I certainly felt a huge sense of responsibility. Redditors again, have created so much of what the site is and there's so much value created for people every day. And so ensuring that that can continue and grow and become richer and more inclusive is a huge responsibility for me. It was about wanting to come in at a point where the community needed that help and needed the expertise I had to survive and to grow. And so while it was a huge responsibility, it was also exciting to be able to ensure that Reddit kept delivering that value. Because I think it's hard for people perhaps to picture now that there was a period in time when Reddit survival wasn't clear and now, you know, we're, we're doing quite well. So for me, you know, it was really about this opportunity to, to keep this unique, special part of the internet alive.


Maggie (09:56):

You came in in a community role, and we've been talking about how Redditors like they have the power, the moderator set their own rules. They very much run their own spaces. So what did it feel like for you in terms of trying to support these spaces?


Evan (10:11):

So we have a site-wide content policy that users have to abide by no matter what subreddit they're within and that continues to evolve. We have an amazing policy team and safety team who handle the safety side of the house in consultation with us. There absolutely is that multi-tiered layer of moderation, where we are enforcing a higher level of rules, as well as allowing them to shape their own spaces. And so some spaces might be more rough and tumble where people want to get into debates and get into it. Some, you know, like rare peppers might be, you know, explicitly very clean and positive, you know, because there they're,


Bailey (10:47):

I think that's for rare puppies. Is, are we talking about rare puppies? What does a rare pupper


Evan (10:52):

Just delightful puppies? Yeah.


Maggie (10:55):

We don't even need to have human voice in there. Just show me the pictures.


Evan (11:00):

Um, the example I always use is, you know, our slash cat's standing up, um, you can only post pictures of cats standing up. Definitely not a rule we would implement site-wide, but it gives those spaces, uh, you know, their unique flavor.


Bailey (11:14):

This moment when you joined the site, you know, around July of 2015 was a day in Reddit lore that I believe the term for is AMA get in. And on that day, you're talking probably about this alluding to this in terms of there was a moment when it wasn't clear how Reddit would survive, but moderators began to set, shut down their subreddits or setting, set them to private and effectively like blacked out Reddit as a collective boycott, thousands of moderators ended up participating and that affected millions of readers. Can you just tell us a little bit about how you to


Maggie (11:54):

That and what you learned in the process or what Reddit has learned in the process?


Evan (11:58):

This happened under previous administration. This was about two years before I joined. They brought in a fantastic head of community who helped clean up a bunch of that fleet Baudette. But I think what Reddit learned over all and what we have taken with us from that is that the most important thing is to bring people into the process. As you mentioned earlier in the podcast, Redditors created much of what was great about Reddit, and they felt this sense of like, this is our space. We love this space. We will do anything for you. And when they started to feel like they weren't being supported, they felt like they had to speak up. And I think it's easy to look at it from the outside and sort of see it as people making our lives hard. But the fact of the matter was instead of leaving our site, they were saying, we are going to take an action that will hopefully make Reddit better because we think Reddit is worth saving.


Evan (12:52):

And what I always say to people at the company who have a moment of candid feedback from our community is it's way better if they are passionate and loud than dispatching it. And exactly the fact that they care enough to yell is really a gift. And certainly it can be hard to receive that gift. Sometimes it can be a challenge to hear that feedback, but I think what we learned as a company is the community is a stakeholder, just as much as the legal team or the communications team or the infrastructure team, they are a essential building block of our site. And when you look at them through that lens, then it becomes a lot simpler in some ways, because you would never launch a major product without checking with your legal team, right? You would never publish a major blog posts without checking with your communications team.


Evan (13:42):

And so by thinking of the community, as another entity that really deserves a seat at the table, in some ways it becomes a lot easier. And I don't think this is unique to Reddit. I think it is, uh, acute at Reddit because of this co-creation of the site and because of the freedom that we give our moderators and our users. But I think really this is true with any community. And when pushed to the breaking point, your community is either going to dissolve, which is what we saw with, with dig back in the day when all their users migrated over to Reddit or users are going to find a way to, to speak up and express their displeasure and try to plot a path forward. And so for us, a lot of the work we've done since then has been around how do we bring the community into the experience and go on that journey together, knowing that sometimes our goals align, sometimes they don't, but we all want the same thing, which is Reddit to be successful and, and growing and the space for discussion.


Maggie (14:38):

I really love that point. Um, it actually reminds me of that term radical candor where, you know, the opposite of that is benign neglect, where if you're not happy with something, you just end up staying silent, you don't, it can improve. You just leave. But it sounds like what you're saying is for Reddit community, they care enough to give the direct, really harsh, honest feedback, because they want it to improve and they respect the product so much. They want it to get better for them.


Evan (15:05):

Absolutely. And I was actually having a conversation with a colleague at another company the other day. And we were talking about which companies really value their community teams. And I think often it's after they have been through a trauma like this, like Reddit went through in 2015, where they come to the realization, how much their community matters. And ideally it doesn't always have to be a trauma, but often I think it is companies go through that experience and recognize, Oh, we've been taking our community for granted and we need to consider them both an asset, but also a stakeholder,


Bailey (15:40):

Such a human thing. You don't realize until you messed up how much you appreciate someone else. Well, one of the things that you're known for, I would say I've been in the old community building world is I would say building trust the word trust. It's something you talk about and people want to know about how you've approached doing that at scale. That was one of the things that you were tasked with doing with the Reddit community. What were some of the projects that you focused on to do that, to rebuild and maybe even advanced trust with the community?


Evan (16:15):

I think it all starts with conversations, which sounds obvious and reductive, but going back to that sense of not being heard, I think you have to give people the space to be heard. And sometimes that means them saying the same thing multiple times. You know, if you've ever called a company and been frustrated with their customer service, you probably tell the person on the line like three times how frustrated you are. You just have to get it out and make sure someone feels it. What Reddit focused on in the first couple years after 2015 was just having those conversations online, via video calls, going out and doing road shows across the country where we met up with moderators and had beers with them and just we're humans together. But I think that's the first step. Transparency has been a really crucial part of rebuilding trust.


Evan (17:02):

And I think there's this weird corporate instinct at every company to like hide your cards, this idea that your competitors will somehow, you know, learn what you're doing and then copy it. But it really doesn't serve a community focused company because again, your community is your stakeholder. And whenever you surprise the community, nobody really likes a surprise, just very few surprises in life that people actually like. And so when you surprise someone, they default to defensive and that has been my experiences. The more surprising an action, the more likely the audience is going to become defensive. They're going to find reasons to dislike it or to push back against it. The more you can ease people into changes to bring them along for the ride, to gather their feedback early and help explain where you're coming from, the more they will acclimate to what you're doing, they will think more deeply and less reactively about what's happening and they will hopefully join you and actually celebrate that progress.


Evan (17:58):

In those early years at read it, there is a real reticence to see Reddit change at all. And we went through a whole site redesign that was my first year there. And you want to make people happy, read this on your face. And that was an adventure, but you know, we got through to the other side of it and we actually changed sentiment about it because we developed in public. We created a separate app called R slash redesign. We shared what we were working on. We had open discussions about what was working and what wasn't. There was plenty of frustration, but nobody felt like they were being blindsided or ignored. And so I don't think we would have made it through that transition without that space.


Bailey (18:41):

I love that anecdote. You just kind of mentioned this in saying that you just went and had beers with moderators. There was a moderator road show and it was really focused around, like you said, go and be human with these moderators from my experience. So that can be kind of hard and it can be hard to hear critiques. And I think often I've found myself whenever I've been maybe in a community role, someone who's in charge of bridging between community members and product people, or decision-makers, I sometimes feel myself have an instinct to like try to smooth out or like kind of calm down community members when they're expressing feedback. And I'm imagining you guys doing this weekend week out and kind of going into these conversations, hearing perhaps critical feedback regularly. And I was just wondering, was that the experience, was it hard or did you all know really clearly that, that was the point was to hear and receive the frustrations people had?


Evan (19:45):

Yeah, definitely challenging conversations. I do think part of it was we needed to hear them. We needed to understand this certainly that frustration and that can be hard to do when reading that feedback on the internet and wondering who this person is, as much as online communities are incredibly powerful. There's also something powerful about real life and seeing a real human being. I also think we made those conversations easier through great work from a member of my team, Greg commission, who was the mastermind of these events. He pushed very hard for. There were to be no presentations, in fact, no formality at all, right. It was purely a, we are coming and hanging out with you. And so we lessened the power dynamic, spread a little bit by not having us get up and present something. And we also, weren't creating a space for people to come and yell.


Evan (20:35):

We're creating a space for conversations. And so the other thing he did is he brought in people from across the company. It wasn't just the direct stakeholders who could immediately act on the thing that the person was complaining about. It was a broad variety of people. And I think that helped in two ways, one, it drove greater awareness of moderator issues and concerns across the company, but it also forced moderators to just have real conversations instead of, Oh, I'm going to just harass you until you build the thing I want. Cause I know you have the power. Okay. You're a designer. Well, let me tell you about my frustrations and maybe you'll ask me some questions and maybe we'll brainstorm a little bit. Cause designers love to sketch things out and maybe nothing specific comes out of that. But I feel like I was heard and I realized that Reddit is not just one person with a magic wand who can do anything, but actually a complex company full of humans who have a number of different goals. So I think it really humanized us and it really humanized the moderators. And that's something that I've focused on in programs that I've run since then is trying to create that sense of we're all humans here and we're all fallible and it's okay to get criticism. It's okay to say, yeah, we haven't solved that yet. And it's okay to say, that's not in our plans right now.


Bailey (21:50):

You mentioned once that one of the biggest drivers of positive sentiment about Reddit is just having an interaction with someone who works there. And it's like a pretty amazing thing to be able to measure and know and understand. I love that that very simple human side is something that you also can kind of strategically factor into your work. I want to ask you also about the moderator council. You have 50 moderators who I believe are under NDA and they have, you guys have regular calls with them, including the executive team. Do you feel like that is an investment in transparency? Is that an investment in interaction? Why build up a moderator council and how do you design that?


Evan (22:30):

Yeah, it's absolutely a crucial part of that whole system of bringing people along for the ride, because the fact of the matter is there are some things that we can't reveal publicly right away. There are some things that we're thinking about, but we're not sure we're going to do. And yelling fire in a crowded movie theater might cause more problems than help. And so the community council gives us an opportunity to go have a conversation with trusted moderator partners who we know are going to be constructive. But also they're going to tell us when we're wrong and say, here's what we're thinking about. Here's how we're approaching this thing. Here's something we're trying to understand and kick off the conversation, the development of a feature or a policy with them, again, bringing them along as a stakeholder. And by having it be that smaller group under NDA vetted by us, we know that we can have that very candid conversation and dig in on very tricky matters and then use that as the stepping stone to being transparent with the larger community and saying, first of all, we are listening to you.


Evan (23:32):

We started this whole project by talking to your peers and here's where we landed because of that. It's an incredibly powerful tool that much more common in gaming than sort of traditional tech in business. But I it's incredibly useful for starting things in the right direction because it's so much harder to change the direction of the ship, right? It's very hard to turn the ship. And often you see companies collecting user feedback when they're very close to launch or after they've launched. And there's only so much you can do. Then the damage may already be done if you've insulted or concerned or alienated a group of people. And so the earlier you get that feedback, a, the more involved they feel and their peers feel, but B the better you can guide your work to actually serve the people that you're supposed to be serving


Bailey (24:19):

For anyone who's thinking about doing something similar within their company of maybe building a council of community members. How do you go about designing those relationships with those people?


Evan (24:31):

I mean, it continues to evolve. So I'll caveat it with that. And we've taken lots of inspiration from similar programs that lift Eve online, other gaming companies. But I think one of the crucial elements is that selection of people who, you know, will both criticize you when you're doing something wrong, but also be willing to work together with you on something. There are folks who are too willing to capitulate and just say, whatever you think, Reddit, and there are people


Bailey (24:57):

That's me for sure. I'm just like, yeah, go you. I know you're working hard, thanks.


Evan (25:04):

Or two combatitive who are just it's my way or the highway, and that's not how things work. And so I think because we were really intentional about choosing folks who didn't swing too far to either side of the spectrum, we started to build this trust with internal teams. And to be honest, in our first call that we had our CEO, I don't know if I'm supposed to share this. The first call we had, it was a video call and our CEO snuck into the room thinking it was just an audio call and then realized he was on camera and sort of sunk down out of sight.


Bailey (25:40):

Did he just melt into a puddle under the table.


Evan (25:44):

And that was kind of the level of, Oh, is this going to go really badly as this is going to be really unpleasant? And what's so thrilling now is roughly two years later, all of our executives sit in on, on these calls. At some point, they're excited to talk to the moderators, our product managers know if they go into these calls, it's not going to be a blood bath. It's going to be a real conversation. And so I do think you have to be really careful about who you choose. And then in the same way, you need to think about who you're representing. We have a huge diversity of subreddits and people on, on Reddit, and we definitely don't have anywhere near full representation yet, but we've tried to be really intentional about making sure we're not just bringing in the meme subreddits. We're not just bringing in men. We're not just bringing in white people. We're not just bringing in giant subreddits, but also small subreddits. So really making sure you're hearing those different perspectives. So especially at Reddit scale, 10% sounds small, but that's still millions and millions of people. Let's jump into that next


Bailey (26:44):

And talk about how incredible, incredible the diversity is of the subreddits, which as you say, all have moderators who are really leading those individual spaces. You're at the helm of a site with more than I think, I don't know the exact data. I'm sure you do more than a hundred thousand active subreddits from what I've read. And I think active is defined as five comments a day. So this is not like a light active definition. And there are subreddits for separated. Some of your favorites that you shared with me are subreddit for stopping drinking, ask historians, subreddit for Corona virus. What advice do you have to someone who's at the helm of a community that has such incredible breadth and diversity? How do you approach kind of leading or serving such a broad group of people? What are some of the secrets in the approach or the, the crucial steps that you take each time to make sure what you're doing really serves those folks.


Evan (27:41):

It's very humbling. Some of these communities, even individual subreddits have millions of members and, you know, any one of them, you know, could be their own site. And so at times it can feel like how could I even do anything in this giant sea of activity? But I think there's a couple things that we try and think about it on the community team at Reddit. One is what systems can we build that scale? Right? So, um, community councils actually scale pretty well because you can, even, if you say maybe there's a hundred different categories on Reddit, it's within reason that you might have a hundred or 200 council members, perhaps. So there are ways to bucket what's happening on Reddit and make sure that you're representing each of those groups. And then thinking about what processes can you build that will help you sort the signal from the noise, because there are endless things happening on Reddit.


Evan (28:34):

And so my team has worked hard on building alerts that let us know if a sub-Reddit season influx of traffic and might need some help building systems that allow subreddits to help themselves. So we have a moderator reserves program where if a subreddit is feeling like they need some emergency help, they can request this group of reserves to come in and help them moderate gentlemen, on my team named Bill Klein built that really awesome work. And so it's thinking at that scale, but then also, you know, one of our company values is remember the human. And I think that weird conundrum of working on a community of this size is if you only think at scale, you will fail because as mentioned, a small percentage of our user base is still many, many, many people. And if you say, well, sorry, that's only 5%. You're going to alienate those people.


Evan (29:28):

Those people are going to start spreading that sense of alienation slowly. You're going to create this, this feeling that the company doesn't care about humans. And I think we've seen this without naming names with other large social where overall their numbers are good. The things they're doing are helping the majority of people, but they try to distance themselves from the human, right? And they make it hard to contact them. And there's not a lot of transparency in what they're doing. My team really tries to pay attention when someone has a situation that is affecting them negatively. And some of the things we do don't scale, right? Sometimes we just have to step in to help an individual subreddit or help an individual person because ultimately, you know, those people are what makes Reddit run and, and without them and their passion and their contributions, we would be nothing. And so it's a very odd mix of those two kind of clashing elements. But I think together, it means that you are not stuck in the weeds of dealing with every individual you're building scale, but you're also doing it in a way that's compassionate and is accepting that these are real humans whose lives are affected by your choices.


Bailey (30:40):

Increasingly it seems as though smart technology companies are accepting the paradox that behind the people are numbers and behind the numbers are people. And it's, I think sometimes profound truths, the opposite is also true. Like instead of the opposite, being false in practice, it's easier to have an absolute or to only operate one way, which is like, Oh, we're just going to make decisions at scale. But knowing when to bring in the human touch is part of the balance and is part of being truly perhaps in touch with your community. But I think that that is the great challenge of a role like yours is understanding that balance.


Evan (31:26):

Yeah. I think that's exactly right. You know, you can look at a number like, Hey, we've increased the number of messages being sent between members, right? And on its face, that is a pure number of like we've increased engagement. People are talking, our mission is to connect people, but what are those people sending, right? Are they pleasant messages? Are they unpleasant messages? You have to factor the human in. And I think the only way to do this is to build those regular touch points. You don't want to wait until someone complains. You don't want to wait until there's press about it. You don't want to have to go out and try and find people to talk to. We've created all these spaces, public subreddits, where people can give us feedback, private support channels, the councils, where we can encounter humans on a regular basis and hear their experiences and start to absorb all of those challenges and figure out how to solve them. And it's not always right away. We have to think about the systems and the company goals, but by having that regular conversation, then the needs and concerns of the humans are just baked into everything we're doing.


Maggie (32:29):

I love everything you're saying about, remember the human bringing in the human touch, but also making it manageable for yourself. And I'm curious if you have any stories to bring that to life have had any really impactful interactions with a Reddit community member that you can share.


Evan (32:44):

One of the things that really just warmed my heart this last year was 2020 the FCC was looking for commentary on section two 30 and the moderators of our slash LGBT reached out to us and said, Hey, section 230 means a lot to us. The internet has been a Haven, a place of support for our community. Reddit specifically has been, we would like to share our story with FCC. And so our submission to the FCC was actually primarily what they had written. It was sharing their story and they've done countless things. I mean, this is just an amazing group of people programming around pride month and pink shirt day and, and all sorts of things. And we actually ended up hiring one of those moderators to the community team because of how fantastic her work was.


Bailey (33:31):

I'm sure once you're like, uh, I would like to talk to the FCC or like you're hired.


Evan (33:37):

And so I think things like that, they've they fill me with so much joy. It's people fighting for each other and trying to make the world a better place. And for us to get to be a part of that. And for us to take the moment to say, Hey, a subreddit asking to submit something to the FCC on our behalf, doesn't fall into any normal process or bucket that we have, but yeah, let's do it. Our policy team said, this is amazing, great. We're going to support it. We're going to make it happen. I think that that is a truly unique opportunity. And I think part of the reason that Reddit continues to grow is that people are seeking a warm, friendly, real place where they can connect with other humans. And they feel like it's run by other humans


Bailey (34:17):

To kind of switch from focusing on bringing the community closer to Reddit employees. So, uh, kind of giving them a more human lens of the people who work at Reddit. Another thing that you've done is the reverse, which is made sure Reddit employees humanize the members of the Reddit community. Redditers would you mind sharing a little bit about how the company talks about making sure that employees respect honor understand Redditors and the programs that you're involved in to make sure that they feel close to take the community and see it as human.


Evan (34:53):

Again, you know, some of this comes out of trauma, right? It comes out of, we need to understand how Redditers tech, because we can't be successful in our endeavors. If we don't, I or a member of my team presents to every new class of Snoopys and new Reddit employees to take them through what Reddit is and what's unique about it. And a lot of people come to Reddit, sort of seeing it as a social network, um, which it's not no offense to social networks, but I see social networks as social graphs of connections and Reddit, as about people gathering around their shared interests within these individual communities and helping them understand both that structure and what drives people, the risks and rewards there, right? The risk communities is that we don't own that social graph people could leave, but the reward is that people are so much more passionate. You don't see a lot of people getting LinkedIn tattoos, but you see people getting Reddit tattoos.


Bailey (35:50):

Everyone does have a LinkedIn tattoo, please do tweet at Evan. And I, we would love to see it depending on where it is, would love to see it.


Evan (35:58):

I'm sure I'm wrong. I'm sure there is at least one


Evan (36:05):

To help employees understand, uh, that difference, understand how to navigate working with Redditers and to our earlier conversation, understand that passion and why Redditors have it and, and how to work with Redditers rather than, than against them. Because I think it can be challenging coming from other companies where the company is just sort of dictator and just forces things on their user base to then come to a space where the community really is a stakeholder at the table. It takes some getting used to, and that's part of how the adopted admin program developed, because understanding the experience of a moderator is difficult. It's a very unique experience, both in terms of the tools they use are not the tools that you see on Reddit every day. And each subreddit may have different style. These are moderation teams. And so they have their own democratic structures and processes for resolving conflicts.


Evan (36:56):

And so trying to explain what moderation is like to employees is always challenging and it occurred to us. Why don't we just show them? And so we tried this out the first time last year, we're now as we record this running our third iteration and we asked moderators, Hey, would you mind adopting an admin for a couple of weeks? And they're going to join your mod team. They're going to actually take moderation actions, learn your processes and your flows. And it's absolutely been the most successful program. I think we've run in terms of building internal empathy, because people are seeing it. And they're seeing how every suburb is unique and the challenges, the tools we haven't yet built, or the unique ways people are using our tools or the issues of scale and the larger subreddits. And they're coming out of this with ideas and with a fresh perspective.


Evan (37:47):

And, you know, we have a Slack channel where people are sharing their learnings and it's just constantly full of these insights. Some that I had connections I had never made, but also things that we've been trying to save for years that just sort of had to be seen to be believed. And that's something I'm absolutely going to take with me to any community I work on in the future is you have to find a way to get your people, to have the experience of your members and especially of your moderators and your organizers, because it doesn't work in the abstract, right? You have to have that visceral experience.


Bailey (38:20):

So interesting hearing you talk, because I hear you say that a lot of these things have been are response to trauma. And one thing that I think I'm thinking of is I feel like so many of the early startups that I talk to the who are just getting off the ground and from my own personal experience of being in that place, when I was at Instagram, talking to users, empathizing with them, interacting with them was so important at that stage. And then if you succeed and you build something for a group of people, you might grow so quickly. And it seems like in that period, if you don't have someone around who ensures that there are these systems, processes, touch points that scale with the company, you might have a period where there's a big gap and your company might accrue kind of debt in that way of creating distance or losing trust with your users.


Bailey (39:19):

But it strikes me that it's totally feasible and possible for a company to not get themselves to the point of, of possible like major trauma. But it takes someone at the different life stages of a company to ensure there are systems and processes and almost rituals that allow the company to at scale, continue to listen, empathize and have trusting relationships. Cause that's what you're doing now. And it's like, Reddit's as big as it's ever been. Right. And you're able to have these stressing relationships with moderators it's feasible even at a larger scale than maybe you've ever been at.


Evan (39:56):

Yeah. And I think that the short version of what you said is like, you have to work at it and you have to iterate. And I remember when I joined the team, there is this sense of like other people in the company don't always understand. Don't always empathize in the way we do and this feeling that they just sort of should. And the philosophy I've really tried to impart is we have to help them get there because nobody's coming in saying, you know, I'm going to be terrible to the community they're coming in. Just not knowing how to wrap their heads around, especially Reddit being such a unique space. And so I think the first part is just like, it's something you have to work at. You have to really build in, like you said, especially as you reach scale, you have to evolve and iterate.


Evan (40:39):

One of my favorites lessons from creativity, Inc, which is book by one of the founders of Pixar, was that he learned that building a great culture. Wasn't about just building it and being done. Then it had to constantly evolve. And the example in the book is they had essentially a hackathon type of event where anyone in the company can suggest ideas and work together and try and solve them. And the first like year or two, it was incredibly refreshing and engaging and brought voices from the company that they'd never heard from a couple of years down the line, they hosted it. And he looked at him and he said, I'm hearing from the same people I've heard from the last couple of years, there's something broken. We're no longer hearing those fresh voices. And it was because people had figured out the system, they were either consciously or unconsciously gaming it a little bit.


Evan (41:26):

It was no longer something that was sort of shocking people out of their day to day. So they changed it and he said, we'll probably change it five more times. That's such an interesting way to think about things is not that there is a solution boom, you're done, but actually that they will constantly evolve. And so I'm sure two years from now adopt an admin won't work as well. Right. It'll need to be revamped so we can try and shock people into feeling that emotion, having that experience. And honestly, I think one of the things that I've had to go through is accepting that that's okay, it's okay to build a system and then grow out of it and build a new one. And we've grown from 250 employees when I joined to over 700. Now it's natural that we're going to have to evolve those processes. And those systems, the sooner you accept that, I think the easier it is,


Bailey (42:17):

Evan, you seem so smart and so humble. I respect that. It's hard to like, let those programs go and you're proud of them. No, you know, you're like, Oh, they worked that the back in 2008 is really great. What is on your mind right now? What are you trying to figure out right now?


Evan (42:36):

Two of the big ones for us, one is international. We already have users all over the world, but we're really trying to think intentionally about how we grow internationally. And it's such a unique community building experience because you're building the same thing, but in a slightly different way, pretty much every story you read about a company trying to grow internationally involves some level of failure of understanding the culture. So it's a lot about, you know, trying to hire local experts, having conversations, doing research, doing experimentation, to just understand what is different. It's been fascinating to learn. You know, what happens if we show German users, the German version of wall street bats, what language do you know Brazilians actually want to read content in? These are all very unique things. So that's been really exciting because it just feels so fresh. And so many unknowns going back to the theme of our conversation of creating this warm, welcoming space, but also dealing with scale.


Evan (43:33):

We've spent a lot of time on moderators, but we're, we're trying to pivot to spend more time on new users, the joy of Reddit being so big and diverse and having all these spaces with there, different rules and styles and topics can also be a challenge. New users come in and figuring out what Reddit is and how to engage with it can be challenging. My team has been working a lot on how do we create that introductory experience where people feel welcomed to read it. They don't necessarily go and post some really low quality content in a giant subreddit that might get removed, but they have a space to explore. And so doing some interesting work with cohorting new users and creating that, that space for them to, um, that sandbox for them to, to learn. Okay.


Bailey (44:15):

I want to have you on the podcast again to, uh, get all your answers to that question. When, when you've, when you've nailed that, that, uh, challenge. Final question I want to ask of you is if you could go back to newly hired at Reddit, Evan, and tell one insight that you now know, what would you share?


Evan (44:37):

I think it's less is more the opportunities for any community, but especially one as massive as Reddit are enormous. The early on I tried to do all of the things and that just doesn't result in a high quality product. And so I've had to temper myself over the years and say, even though I want to do these 20 things, I'm going to do these three things really well. And then hopefully I get to move on to more of my list. I think that's the lesson that I've taken away from this work is just as much as you can see all the flaws and all of the opportunities and all the things you want to do start small, do it really well. And then build from there.


Bailey (45:17):

Heaven. What a master. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. I think Reddit is an incredible community driven company, such a remarkable one. And I'm so impressed by the work that you've done there. And we appreciate your time. Thank you so much for having me


Maggie (45:31):

So many good insights. I was like taking those this whole time. Well like nodding my head.


Evan (45:38):

That's what you get from four years of working at this scale. Four years is like dog years.


Maggie (45:45):

If you want to connect with Evan, head to Twitter slash Evan Hamilton, or check out his Big thank you to our team. Thank you to wild sound for engineering. This episode, Greg David, for his design work and Katie O'Connell for marketing this episode,


Bailey (46:02):

Find out more about the work Kevin Kai and I do. As people in company, helping organizations get clear on who their most important communities are and how to build with those people, head to our website, people Also, if you want to start your own community or supercharge one, you're already a part of our handbook is here for you. Visit get together to grab a copy. It's full of stories and learnings from conversations with leaders of communities like this one with Evan. And last thing, if you enjoyed this podcast, one really kind thing you could do for us. If you're still here, hanging out is review us and click subscribe. It helps get these stories out to more people. Thank you. Thank you, Maggie. We'll talk to you guys next time.