GroupMe Announces First Sponsored Topics, Hint of a Revenue Source


GroupMe's notorious 18-month product roadmap, brought to you by conjecture.

GroupMe’s founders consistently demur on details when asked about the company’s revenue model, but an announcement today suggests business development arm Steve Cheney has been working the phones. Today GroupMe announced partnerships with Oxygen Media; MTV and Warner Horizon Television; Bon Jovi’s band and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, who will all sponsor “topics” on the GroupMe platform.

Sponsored topics appear as suggestions when a smartphone user signs into the GroupMe app. GroupMe then allows brands to send special offers, news and tips to the users who are talking about them. “The brands can also offer the opportunity for celebrity personalities to join the groups or call the groups, giving fans direct access,” a press release said.

This initiative is probably what co-founder Steve Martocci was thinking of when he gushed recently about GroupMe’s potential revenue sources being “more like features” during the group texting panel at South By Southwest.

The challenge now is that GroupMe is entrusting brands to use the platform in a way that enhances their audience’s experience of watching a Bon Jovi show or “America’s Best Dance Crew.” Most big brands still struggle with how to be cool on Twitter and Facebook. It’s not easy to find that sweet spot between boring and crazy.

What’s to stop brands from annoying their GroupMe followers with spam? Betabeat asked.

“We are working closely with brands to develop their content along with how and when they’re using GroupMe to communicate. We are helping them use the product in the most effective way possible with the goal of enhancing group conversations,” 24-year old CEO Jared Hecht said in an email.

“Some examples of cool promotions include having talent from these brands directly engage with groups. Last year, we tested ‘celebrity mode’ with MC Hammer, allowing groups to win a chance to have Hammer join them and text/conference call. We’re taking this concept to the next level with the new brand release. We will also be able to give away VIP tickets, backstage passes, exclusive content and other great promotions that will all happen inside the featured groups. This deeper communication allows brands to directly engage with their most passionate fans,” he said.

GroupMe was sending a million texts a day in mid-February; they’re now up to two million SMS and in-app messages, Mr. Hecht said. But the game isn’t won yet. Start-ups have attempted to establish a group texting standard for a decade, and the relatively recent arrival of the Twilio API which made building such apps much easier has caused a glut of group texters (Beluga, recently bought by Facebook; Fast Society, the New York start-up with almost the same exact functionality as GroupMe; as well as GroupFlier, TextPlus and dozens of others).

Disclosure. GroupMe Announces First Sponsored Topics, Hint of a Revenue Source