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Tips for Academics: Doing an Interview on Reddit’s Ask Me Anything

AMAs are an opportunity to participate in a conversation with ‘a raging community of people with boundless curiosity’ (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

What is a Reddit Ask Me Anything

Reddit, commonly called the front page of the internet, is an extremely popular and informative social news site. It is place where users comment on links, texts, videos and images posted by their peers.

With 15 million subscribers, Reddit’s most popular feature is the Ask Me Anything (AMA) subreddit. It is a place where experts and people who accomplished something of significance are interviewed by users for an hour. The interviewee begins the process by publishing a post describing who they are and what they do. Jane Goodall, the famous ecologist, started her AMA with “I am Dr. Jane Goodall, a scientist, conservationist, peacemaker, and mentor. AMA”. Users then leave their questions in the comment section; the best ones are upvoted to the top. Once posted, interviewees can respond to any question that they like in any way that they choose.

AMAs are such a popular feature because of the quality of the interviewees and of the questions. Although high-profile individuals garner the most attention, academics do well because having a niche interest is enough to have a successful AMA. Remember that AMA is a friendly community and users will flag and remove abusive or harassing comments.

Reddit’s rules state that AMAs should either be about something uncommon that plays a central role in your life, such as a person’s job or research topic. This ensures that the interviewee has a background in the topic and can discuss it. Or they can also be about a truly interesting and unique event such as being on the International Space Station or doing field work in Antarctica.

Here is a sample of the most popular science AMA.

Why host an AMA

Although they are often done before a launch, AMAs are not to be used to promote a book, movie, service… In fact, doing this is frown upon. Instead, AMAs are an opportunity to participate in a conversation with “a raging community of people with boundless curiosity” (Neil deGrasse Tyson). It will humble you to know the number of people who think that your work is fascinating.

How to have a featured AMA

A step-by-step tutorial on how to a featured AMA is posted on Reddit.

  1. Schedule your AMA ahead of time. Take this opportunity to promote your AMA on your social and professional network. Many research institutions, like Harvard University, also promote their faculty’s AMA on their official website. As an example, this is the press release from Will Mair for on AMA on gene splicing.
  2. Use http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/submit to submit a request to the moderators. They suggest that you post your thread link no more than 15-30 minutes prior to your scheduled AMA to give redditors the time to start asking questions.
  3. On the previous link you will find a box for the title of your AMA and one to write a short paragraph explaining your area of expertise.
  4. In the second box, also include a link to a picture on your Facebook or Twitter with you holding a sign saying hello to reddit. This will be used by the moderators as verification. When the boxes have been filled HIT SUBMIT.
  5. Go to http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/new to see when your thread is live. Refresh the page if you do not see it; approval usually takes 10 minutes.
  6. After it has been approved start answering questions as they come. There is a voting system that puts the best questions on top. You can answer whichever questions you like and ignore those you do not want to answer. Just make sure to start answering at most 30 minutes after it has been posted or the moderators will remove the post.
  7. Once you’ve completed your AMA, edit your text box with a sign-off message.

What makes a good AMA

  • Get scheduled to give you enough time to promote your AMA and work out all the kinks ahead of time. Since scheduled AMA are also advertised on Reddit, you will receive a participation boost.
  • Have an attention-grabbing headline to hook the community. By scheduling your AMA ahead of time, moderators will give you feedback on your title and AMA description.
  • Time your AMA by waiting a few minutes before starting. This will allow participants to filter down bad questions by downvoting them. Be sure, however, to start at most 30 minutes after it has been posted or the moderators will remove the post.
  • Don’t use one-word answers but sound genuinely interested.
  • Reply to follow up questions to engage the community. Remember that it is a conversation.
  • Regularly refresh the page to see new comments.