There are, however, rewards for those who handle the format well. Braff, for instance, although he is a Reddit fan and has done two AMAs before, was savvy enough to steer clear of the section when he launched his controversial Kickstarter campaign to fund his film “Wish I Was Here” last week.
“I find that Reddit has zero appetite for being marketed to,” Braff said. “They smell BS a mile away. It’s like those people who go on Howard Stern and don’t want to answer any questions. It’s not going to go well for you.”
Though he didn’t conduct an AMA, Braff did, however, go on Reddit as a commenter to address critiques of his decision to solicit donations from fans to fund his film.
“That’s what's so cool about Reddit,” Braff said. “You can just go on there and be part of the conversation. I think it’s good to go on there and clear stuff up. On one of my AMAs someone tried to tell a story about how I left a crappy tip at a restaurant. That one pissed me off. I was a waiter myself. I’m not stiffing waiters. So I tracked the guy down and got him to admit he’d been telling that story for years, with no factual basis. You’ve got to deal with things like that.”
Other than damage control, Braff thinks there is publicity value to be had from doing an AMA, but it needs to be handled delicately. Despite its massive growth in recent years, Reddit is still a community with values of its own – sincerity paramount among them. As with traveling to a foreign country, it’s best to do some research before you touch down.
“Actors get put in there by their publicists, but if you’re not part of that community, they’ll sniff you out," Braff said.
Arguably the most infamous public relations failure in Internet history, not involving a sex tape, is the AMA that actor Woody Harrelson attempted last year while promoting his film "Rampart."
As with Freeman, an actor of Harrelson’s celebrity attracted huge interest. In turn, Harrelson was immediately greeted with a question about an alleged illicit liaison with a recent high school graduate.
The actor could have dealt with the question head-on, ignored it or even just laughed it off. He chose none of the above.
“First off, its [sic] not true, and second off, I don't want to answer questions about that. Lets focus on the film people.”
Harrelson then spent the rest of his time on the site refusing to answer any questions that didn’t have to do with “Rampart.”
“Ask me anything ... about Rampart” is still a running joke on the site. Six months after Harrelson’s AMA, director Kevin Smith of “Clerks” fame fielded questions in the section under the banner: “IAmA relic from the 90's named Fat Kev Smith. AMA about Rampart.”
Smith has done five AMAs and is a regular on the site, addressing such topics as comic books and his autoerotic habits. Though his film success has cooled since his heyday in the 1990s, Smith’s fluency with Reddit has arguably made him one of the most popular podcasters on the Internet -- a career turn that helped land him his television show “Comic Book Men” on AMC.
After years of cultivating a publicity machine designed to carefully and selectively restrict the flow of even the most trivial nuggets of information, Hollywood may need to come to terms with the fact that letting go is increasingly emerging as the formula for success in the brave new world of online publicity.
Publicity representatives for Smith, Braff and Burnham all say they had nothing to do with their clients’ AMAs -- all three are Reddit fans and tackle the medium of their own.
"I have nothing to do with AMAs," said one who did not want to speak for attribution about the platform. The client "lets me know what's happening and handles the whole thing himself."
“A lot of entertainers feel like doing an AMA is part of the job,” Braff said. “But I get pleasure out of it. Sure, you’re going to get negative comments and people trolling you. But this is 2013. If I got into the fetal position every time someone said something mean about me, I’d never leave my bed.”
Follow Matthew Fleischer on Twitter @Mattefleischer