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Cutting through the noise—How Subtext empowers meaningful, direct conversations between creators and readers

Subtext is a text subscription platform that connects creators with their audiences in a more intimate way. Subtext hosts have the ability to communicate with their subscribers one on one or at scale through a medium that feels like an unfiltered conversation with a friend, free from the noise of social media.

The Results
percent average open rate
million text messages sent on Subtext

Now more than ever, sifting through an often overwhelming amount of news and information to gain a thoughtful understanding of any timely topic seems nearly impossible.

In the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, those seeking a deeper connection to content, media, and news are often left out of luck.

Subtext seeks to change all that.

Subtext lets reporters and other creators send text messages to subscribers in a one-to-many fashion, and allows subscribers to respond one-to-one to engage in a deeper, more meaningful conversation about the news and information being shared.

To power the conversation, Subtext turned to Twilio.

Creating a real, authentic connection

“When we created the platform, we wanted to give hosts—journalists, creators, and everyone else —a way to connect with their audiences in a way that felt more intimate and direct,” explained Mike Donoghue, Subtext co-creator and CEO and founder of Alpha Group. “What we’re facilitating is communication; a healthier conversation, and meaningful interactions with the insight that subscribers really want.”

To test if the Subtext service was something readers and journalists would be interested in, the founders—who originated from Alpha Group, an in-house tech and media incubator for new technology and media properties inside Advance Local, whose portfolio companies includes Condé Nast, American City Business Journals, and more—hacked together a basic version of the idea in a day, to positive results.

“When we first tested out this idea we invited a reporter into our team’s slack channel and bought a burner phone. We set up a simple site to collect phone numbers and input those by hand into our phone. The reporter would slack us and then we proceeded to hand-text people, five numbers at a time until everyone received that day’s text,” he explained.

“While we’re proud of our bootstrapping ability, it was pretty obvious we had to switch to something that would scale and Twilio was by far the best option. We wanted to first test if a reporter could text interesting content that people would want and respond to. We also wanted to test to see if it was the kind of thing that could fit into their existing workflow,” he continued. “Once we realized the answer to both of those were ‘yes’ we knew we wanted to build a platform that would allow for multiple hosts to each have their own campaigns. That would have been impossible without Twilio.”

It was pretty obvious we had to switch to something that would scale, and Twilio was by far the best option. We knew we wanted to build a platform that would allow for multiple hosts to each have their own campaigns. That would have been impossible without Twilio.

Mike Donoghue, Subtext co-creator and CEO and founder of Alpha Group

Ensuring messages are sent and received without fail

Using Twilio Programmable Messaging, the Subtext platform allows subscribers to sign up to receive communications from their creator or journalist of choice. The “host” then has the option to create campaigns, choose if those campaigns are free or paid subscriptions, and then engage with readers directly via their mobile devices.

Twilio, Donoghue said, was the natural choice to power the text messaging capabilities within the Subtext platform, for several reasons.

“We knew that we needed to pick a partner that had the reliability in terms of message delivery and also the underlying infrastructure to make us feel confident in what we were putting forth for our hosts and for our subscribers,” he said. “We needed a partner that we felt that we could grow with and scale alongside.”

Through programmable messaging with Twilio, Subtext enables a far more meaningful connection between hosts and subscribers, Donoghue said. It’s a more sustainable ecosystem and doesn’t leave hosts victim to the algorithms and business decisions of other platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.

A healthier dialogue

For subscribers, the conversation is far more real, in every way. Because subscribers are using their personal devices and their private phone numbers, conversations are healthy and don’t devolve into the anonymous trolling and name-calling that often plagues social media, Donoghue said. And, it gives both parties a chance to receive quality insight (on the subscriber side) and create an ongoing, sustainable business model (on the host side).

“From a business standpoint, we have always been really careful to be able to allow our hosts to financially support the work that their subscribers want to see,” Donoghue said. “We’re giving people the ability to charge for the subscription so that they can create a sustainable business around engagement and these real, meaningful, intimate conversations with their readers.”

Supporting real community engagement

As Subtext expands—it now boasts 200k+ subscribers across 175+ hosts and growing—it continues to add value for both parties, by ensuring healthy conversations between hosts and subscribers, and by providing hosts with data and insights on engagement to create even more meaningful content.

“We look at this as a platform that is owned by our hosts, and we want to give them as many tools as possible to make the most of their presence on Subtext,” Donoghue said.

The organization is also exploring ways to support different types of content creators and “hosts”—those who have built powerful communities and engaged readerships, but who don’t have a good way to engage them in a direct, meaningful way.

“I think for us the future is really about diversifying the base of hosts that we have on our platform because we have people coming to us every day, new hosts saying, ‘You know what, I’m not a journalist but I do have this community that I’ve worked really hard to build. Can I get on the Subtext platform?’” he said. “So we’re continuing to rapidly expand and diversify the number of hosts that we’re working with, to give creators, or influencers, or thought leaders—anyone really— the ability to reach their audience and build community.”