GroupMe Featured Groups, which debut Monday, give brands an opportunity to both create and engage in group messaging conversations about them. Through the “Featured” tab within GroupMe’s app, users will now be able to create and join groups relating to the TV shows, artists and events of select launch partners, which include MTV (which previously employed Fast Society in a group texting campaign for Skins) and the Coachella Music Festival.
The idea, says co-founder Jared Hecht, was born out of looking at how users were already interacting on the service. “We found these use cases that were pre-existing on GroupMe … [so we] amplified them and added value,” he told me in a conversation last week.
GroupMe users at SXSW may have already seen similar, as during the conference, the company encouraged attendees to create SXSW-related groups, which resulted in more than 2 million messages being sent through the service.
Now, the company will use the “Featured” space to routinely showcase brands, such as Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club” and rock band Bon Jovi. Once users create or join groups relating to them, the brands will then have the ability to engage by sending messages, answering fans’ questions, sharing photos or posting special promotions, among other possible activities.
Hecht sees this type of interaction as one of the most engaging ways we’ve seen to-date in the social media space. “When you look at how brands have traditionally used social media, it’s about broadcasting. … What we have here are real life groups of people that engage around specific content on a regular basis. I think this is the first time where brands have the ability to intuitively and in a value-add way tap into those relationships on a real-time basis,” he said.
Hecht wouldn’t reveal whether his company plans to charge brands for this opportunity, though it’s hard to imagine Featured Groups aren’t a big piece of GroupMe’s business model. He did say, however, that it will remain a controlled environment for now. In other words, although brands will get a dashboard and tools for managing their campaigns, Featured Groups will only be made available “on a brand-by-brand basis” and the company is “not going to put a brand out there that makes no sense for our users.”
Ultimately, the approach and how it’s likely to evolve reminds us a lot of what we’ve seen with other social startups –- a gradual, measured and largely manual introduction of brand marketing with an obvious ability to scale to something more self-service in the future. Of course, whether or not the group messaging medium becomes one in which users respond positively to brands is what will dictate GroupMe’s success in executing on that strategy.