Media Companies Are Going ‘Old School’ With Texts To Woo Readers

Media companies who are finding increasingly difficult to “connect” with their readers distracted by the 24-hour news cycle are betting that targetted text messages will deepen the bond between content creators and their audiences.

The idea is being pushed by start-up Subtext is to create a more “intimate” experience for a reader than they could get from an interaction on a social media platform like Twitter and Facebook or an email newsletter, especially during these politically fraught times, according to CEO Mike Donoghue.

“Twitter, Facebook and the majority of the social media platforms are a bit of a vitriolic morass at this point,” he said. “It’s really, really difficult to feel as thorough you are creating a real connection “

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Subtext is designed for passionate fans whether they are of a particular sports team or a journalist who want to get behind-the-scenes information that they can’t find anywhere else. The service appeals to media companies eager to regain control of their relationship with their audience which they have surrendered to social media companies in recent years.

“To be perfectly blunt, Tweeting does not put money in our pockets where subtext, because it’s a subscription offer, does,” said Inc Editor-In-Chief  Scott Omelianuk, who was pleased with the organization’s recent test of Subtext, in an interview. “Frankly, at a certain point, I would rather see us communicate with a smaller, more passionate audience who cares more about our content and is willing to pay for it.”

 Other news organizations including BuzzFeed News, USA Today and National Public Radio are also using Subtext, which has about 450,000 users overall.

According to Donoghue, Subtext messages are opened at a rate of 90 percent, which is almost five times the 22 percent rate marketers get from direct email campaigns. The service’s churn rate is less than 2 percent. . 

Subtext, which launched last year as Project Text, is being funded by The Alpha Group, an in-house media and technology incubator backed by Advance Local, which owns 24 newspapers including New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, The Portland Oregonian, and The Birmingham News.

“It’s interesting that newspaper publishers are realizing that they can communicate with subscribers via a medium that’s been around since pagers,” said Gordon Borrell,a media analyst and the head of Borrell Associates, in an email “That’s not a criticism, just an observation. My only concern is that publishers realize that texting is a very personal form of communication and that they do a little research regarding what customers want both on the editorial AND, perhaps more important, the advertising side of their business.”

According to Borrell, readers want texts of news that’s relevant to them not just information that a publication thinks they need to know something like an obituary of a close friend or relative along with other items such as coupons for a store they like to frequent.

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