GroupMe to Let Brands Talk to Consumers (No Really . . . We Mean It This Time)

March 28, 2011

How many times have marketing and social media consultants spoke boldly about how social media have enabled brands and corporations to talk to consumers in ways never seen before?

Let’s take a step back: how many are doing it right?

Raise your hand if you’ve seen brands put up press releases on Facebook or Twitter? Raise your hand if you’ve seen post a Facebook status up that says something like “And how are you enjoying (whatever their product is) today?”

That’s not talking with consumers. That’s talking at them. Big difference.

Well, GroupMe thinks it’s got a new approach. If you’re not familiar with GroupMe, it’s a text-messaging service that works with smartphones and dumbphones alike. You create groups of friends, co-workers, etc., so you can all see the same text message at the same time. Think of it as a private group chatroom for cellphones that either uses your text messages or your data usage.
At South by Southwest (SXSW), it was a must-have app for me and my colleagues to find out what panels to go to and what parties to show up to if we wanted to get dinner together, etc. Some of our colleagues even interviewed them outside their free grilled cheese stand. I liked the service enough that I recently bought a GroupMe hoodie and am in fact rocking it right now as I type this.
In the official blog post, GroupMe announced featured groups. These will be brand-sponsored groups that allow fans to not only talk with each other . . . but with the brands themselves. Likely, its social media person who may come bearing a boring marketing messaging or perhaps a deal/offer, but a celebrity showing up to take questions isn’t out of the question either.

You can start a featured group under any of their brands through the “Featured” tab in the Android and iPhone apps. Brands call also do the same thing.

The initial partners include Oxygen Media, Bon Jovi, Coachella, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and MTV. They’re clearly focusing on live events whether it’s in person or on television.

TechCrunch warns that “the only way these branded topics will work, however, is if they don’t feel like marketing. And that’s always been the case with social media. Brands need to have real conversations with their consumers. But as we’ve seen with Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media, that is easier said than done.”

Outside of Bon Jovi, none of the brands above interest me. But if any other TV shows jump in – hello, Fringe! – I would definitely try it. I’ve always said I used to love live tweeting (both on Facebook and Twitter) about Lost with my friends Joanne, Suzanne, Patrick and Caitlin, but I’d like to do it in a more private setting. GroupMe seems to now offer that.

And I’m willing to let a brand come along for the ride if it provides something worthwhile — a deal, a celebrity guest (doesn’t have to be an actor; a writer would be cool), etc. But if they come with messaging straight out of a press release, it’ll be about 10 seconds before it and the GroupMe featured group is deleted from my phone.