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Influencers describe what it's like to use Community, the invite-only marketing app that lets them text message with their fans

Joshua Weissman YouTube creator
  • The text-marketing startup Community has raised tens of millions of dollars from investors like Ashton Kutcher to build an app where celebrities and influencers can send texts directly to their fans. 
  • Community's app remains invite-only, and the company is sharing very little publicly about how its product works. 
  • Business Insider spoke to influencers testing out Community's app to learn more about the platform. 
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.
The text-marketing startup Community has generated buzz in recent months as celebrities and influencers like Ellen DeGeneres and Jake Paul have signed on to be early testers.
Community's platform is essentially a text message version of a standard email-marketing tool. The company gives influencers a unique phone number that they send out to their followers. Their fans then get a customized text message inviting them to sign-up to receive texts, similar to how a brand or media company might ask customers to opt in to receiving promotional emails or newsletters.
The company's value proposition — that consumers will find texts from influencers more personal and engaging than email or social-media posts — is still being tested. But influencers told Business Insider that early results from the platform show promise.
"I've only been promoting it a little bit, and I've got around 10,000 people on my text platform," said Joshua Weissman, a food creator with 1.7 million subscribers on YouTube. "I sent out a text message and it went out to 9,900 [people]. It had a 98% open rate."
"I would compare it to Mailchimp, but the text version," Weissman added. "It's very similar in that fashion, but it's run through an app on your phone."
While Community's soft launch made waves last year after it drew in celebrity users like Paul McCartney, The Jonas Brothers, and Jennifer Lopez (Ashton Kutcher is also an early investor), the company remains highly secretive. Its app isn't yet publicly available on mobile app stores — it's only accessible through the app-testing platform Test Flight — and it's still offering its service on an invite-only basis (though the company is asking some of its early users to pay a fee). The company declined a request for an interview for this story.
Business Insider spoke to influencers testing out Community's app to learn more about the platform.
Here's how it works:

After signing up for Community, the first step for an influencer is to promote their new phone number on their social channels

Early adopters gain access to the Community app by downloading Test Flight, an iPhone app that enables users to test beta versions of iOS apps before they're released on the App Store.
Once they're signed on, an influencer can set up a custom "Welcome" message that fans receive when they text the creator's Community phone number.
Here's what Weissman's welcome text looks like:
Weissman - Community welcome message

If you call Weissman's phone number instead of texting, you hear a custom voice message that directs you to text him.
Here's what the voicemail said:
"Oh hey, well hello there. You've reached my voicemail. Yes it's Joshua Weissman, the flakey-salt, sausage boy, whatever you want to — alright. I'm just gonna cut that there. Look, I can't receive voicemails, but you can text me and I can respond to you and we can give each other little kissy faces, so go do that."
Weissman told Business Insider that he promoted his Community phone number on 10 to 12 Instagram stories and in a YouTube video. He's also listed his number in his Twitter and Instagram bios with the prompt, "text me."

For fans, signing up to Community means giving the company some personal information and agreeing to its terms of use

When a fan clicks Community's sign-up link (which is sent automatically alongside an influencer's "welcome" text), they're taken to a webpage where they're asked to provide their name, gender, birthday, city, and email address (optional).
community_signup
They also agree to the company's terms of use and privacy policy, which highlight some of the ways that a user will end up interacting with influencers and Community itself.
The company acknowledges in its terms of use that not all texts will necessarily be sent by the influencer or celebrity who's associated with a particular phone number. "A message sent by a Customer may actually be sent on his/her behalf by a public relations or other social media representative," the company says.
Its terms of use also offer some insight into the types of communications the company expects influencers to send, including "personal messages, personal photos or videos, offers, advertisements, contests, sweepstakes and promotions, images, videos, files, and links."
The company also outlines in its terms that any texts that a user sends back to an influencer can be used by the influencer and Community in whatever manner the company chooses, including for "developing, producing, and marketing products and/or services," with the ability to "publish in searchable format."
On its website, Community says that it doesn't advertise or sell "personal info" that a user provides through its texting service. But its privacy policy does grant the company the option to share personal information with "service providers or other strategic partners" and "nonaffiliated companies with which we have a business relationship" (including influencer and celebrity clients).

Once fans have opted into receiving texts, an influencer can respond to them directly

The "Messages" section of the Community app looks very much like the native text-messaging app on an iPhone, said Alex Stemplewski, a photographer and digital creator with 7.6 million TikTok followers who's testing out Community with his audience. Influencers can see what each fan has texted them and respond directly to a particular message if they choose.
"I try to find ways to engage them in a way that's exciting for them," Weissman said. "Maybe I'll promo, 'Oh guys, I'm writing down a bunch of ideas for future YouTube and TikTok videos. Go ahead and text me any ideas that you want to see.' If I see somebody's text that I like and I like the idea, I'll write it down and take a photo of that and then send them the photo of me writing their idea down."
Influencers can also see how many of their followers have a birthday on a given day.
"It shows up as a button at the top of your message inbox, and if you click that button, you can send a message to all the people with birthdays today," Stemplewski said.
Weissman told Business Insider that he's been leaning into the birthday notification feature to connect with fans.
"If it's like 10 people's birthdays that day, I'll just take 30 minutes and I'll send a video selfie message of me saying 'Happy birthday' to that person," he said.

Sorting fans into groups allows influencers to more efficiently communicate with their followers

In addition to messaging fans individually, influencers can also organize their followers into groups in the "Community" tab of the app.
Grouping followers into separate categories allows an influencer to send customized messages to certain fans and avoid sending irrelevant texts to others. There are a couple different ways to create sub-communities in the app, Stemplewski told Business Insider.
A creator can ask new followers to text them with a pre-determined keyword or emoji, which will automatically group them into a sub-community in the app. When Stemplewski announced his phone number on TikTok, he told is followers to text him the "camera" emoji.
An influencer can also filter messages to their fans based on attributes like age, location, gender, and the date they joined Community in order to send a customized message to a particular audience.
"Let's say I had a meet and greet in LA, which I plan on doing," Stemplewski said. "Obviously I don't want to message people all the way in New York. I can create a new message, and in that message it will allow me to filter who I send it to. I can do a radius around a location like Los Angeles."

Community gives influencers a more reliable way to connect with their fans than social media

While it's still early days for the app, Community could eventually become a staple marketing tool for digital creators looking to reach their fans off of social media.
Having a fan's cell phone number — which could stay with them for a lifetime — provides access to a far less volatile means of communication than social-media platforms like TikTok or Instagram, whose popularity can rise and fall with shifting consumer taste.
And as influencers continue to develop direct-to-consumer products and build out their own merchandise lines, having a way to mass text followers presents obvious benefits.
"I'm 100% all in with Community," said Weissman, who has dipped his toe into selling branded merchandise. "[Community] will probably go up in the next couple of years as a pay-to-play service, and I don't imagine it being cheap because it's insanely invaluable."
For more stories on how influencers are turning to startups and tech platforms to grow their businesses, check out these other Business Insider Prime posts:
  • Meet the startup helping YouTube creators earn millions in extra ad revenue by reposting their content on Facebook and Snapchat — including $68,000 from a single video: Posting videos across YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat can be a headache for creators. Startup Jellysmack is trying to streamline the process.
  • Marketers share what it's like to use TikTok's invite-only tool for finding the right influencers to hire for brand deals: TikTok is growing up as an influencer-marketing platform with the release of new audience-data tools for both creators and brands.
  • Inside YouTube's secretive Google Preferred program, which can boost a creator's income and signal they've 'made it': Business Insider spoke to creators and individuals familiar with how Google Preferred works to learn more about YouTube's top-tier ad product.
  • What influencers should know about Facebook's new app for video creators, Creator Studio: Facebook created a new mobile app version of its publishing and analytics tool, Creator Studio, as it continues to make moves to compete with YouTube.
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Source
https://www.businessinsider.com/inside-community-the-invite-only-texting-app-for-influencer-marketing-2020-4

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