Audience Engagement New Publishing Tech
4 mins read

Q&A: Subtext, the platform BuzzFeed and Gannett trust for texting their audiences

Subtext is the fourth product spun out of Alpha Group, the in-house tech and media incubator for Advance Local, one of the largest media groups in the United States. The platform gives newsrooms the tools to message their entire audience or to engage in one-to-one conversations with subscribers in a direct and private manner. WNIP caught up with Mike Donoghue, CEO & Founder, Alpha Group, to find out more…

Can you give us some background about Subtext? 

Since launching in March 2019, Subtext has grown to support over 185 hosts who communicate with a subscriber base exceeding 210,000 individuals. Clients include Gannett, BuzzFeed News, Advance Local, Hearst Television and McClatchy.

The Subtext team is led by myself, David Cohn, JulieAnn McKellogg and our heads of development and product. We have offices in New York City and the Bay Area.  Imagine a community where subscribers have a direct line to journalists and personalities in the same intimate way they do with friends or family: by texting with them.

Social media promised this level of conversation and engagement but algorithm shifts, vitriol and clutter have made it more difficult than ever to create genuine connection and exchange ideas – that’s why we created Subtext. Subtext is a platform that cuts through the clutter of social media and the din of newsletters to create meaningful connections and valuable opportunities for engagement and monetization. It allows subscribers to text with the personalities they care most about, on the ideas, news and information that are a crucial part of their lives.

What business problem is your company addressing?

The relationship between media companies and their audiences is fundamentally broken. The initial promise was that social media would provide unprecedented access to the people and information that audiences care about most. Unfortunately, what was intended to be an empowering shared experience, has devolved into a noisy and caustic environment where the most outrageous voices have outstripped influence and normal users are apprehensive to open up an earnest dialogue.

At the same time, consumers have higher expectations than they’ve ever had of the brands they support. They value authenticity and personalization, and they expect unique access to the subject matter that affects their lives. A lot of news and information is now ubiquitous and devalued, private conversations with the people that have their finger on the pulse of what is going on are extremely valuable. With this in mind, many publishers are now looking to expand consumer revenue offerings to open up a more personalized channel of communication that can foster greater loyalty while also being financially self-sustaining. 

How is your core product addressing this problem?

Subtext is uniquely positioned to help publishers, journalists and other creators develop loyal and long lasting relationships with their audiences. The platform gives newsrooms the tools to message the entire community or to engage in one-to-one conversations with subscribers in a direct, private and familiar space. With an open rate of about 90%, text messaging is a natural communication tool for quick and meaningful conversations that provides subscribers with the insights, information, and access to the personalities and brands they are most interested in.

In addition, Subtext gives publishers the option to offer the service for free or to charge a monthly fee as a way to monetize the relationships they’ve worked so hard to build. The Subtext team provides not just a platform, but hands-on support to all of our hosts so that our customers can focus on the content and relationships that are critical to their businesses. Here’s an example of our technology in action in the Bay Area.

Subtext delivers true, one-to-one communication and the ability to text an unlimited number of subscribers, at once. Much like our platform prioritizes relationships, we do the same with our customers, offering as much hands-on support as our customers want or need. Subtext is quick to startup and is “opt-out” at any time. We are also committed to the highest standards of data ethics and privacy, and as such, we do not buy or sell personal data.

Can you give some examples of publishers successfully using your solution?

Subtext supports a wide variety of journalists, personalities and brands on the platform today. Most recently, BuzzFeed News, Gannett and Advance Local organized 14 individual texting campaigns on the platform in order to communicate critical updates to their subscribers about the COVID-19 crisis. With a shared sense of uncertainty at this time, subscribers have been given a private channel to receive expert responses to their most pressing questions. In turn, newsrooms now have a direct line to their subscribers in a way that was not previously possible through newsletters or comment sections. This has provided newsrooms with the feedback they need to tailor their coverage of an unwieldy story to the needs of their communities. Reporters from Cleveland.com, an Advance Local news property, are not only using the platform to send updates each day about the status of the situation, but they’ve also used the questions received to produce over 15 stories in the first few weeks alone.

Since launching the COVID-19 campaigns a month ago, the total subscriber base has increased by 700% to 210,000, which speaks to the incredible dedication that Subtext hosts have to helping people understand how to best care for themselves and their families during this unprecedented time.

Pricing?

Subtext offers three different campaign types: free, paid, or a value-add for a media organization that lives behind a paywall. It is up to the host to decide what type of campaign they want to run.

How do you view the future?

The vision for Subtext is to continue growing sustainably while giving all types of creators, from journalists to politicians, to chefs to podcasters and beyond, the right tools to reach their audiences and build lasting relationships. 

In terms of product updates, we’re working to add platform functionality to better support international hosts. We are looking forward to working with a variety of different hosts outside of the U.S. in the near future.

For publishing specifically, the media organizations that will succeed in the years to come will be the ones focused on differentiated ways to engage their audiences while creating business models that support that level of access and personalization. 

Thank you.

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