SXSW Darling GroupMe Ramps Up Its Work With Brands

Latest Partnership is Group Texting for Cancer with American Cancer Society

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Group-texting app GroupMe -- the darling of tech conference SXSW -- is capitalizing on its trendy hipster startup status by partnering with marketers and allowing brands to create groups, which gives companies access to the real-life networks that GroupMe users build on the texting platform.

Last week at the Ad Age Digital conference GroupMe Co-founder Jared Hecht announced his company's partnership with the American Cancer Society. ACS will be encouraging cancer patients, their friends and families to use GroupMe as a way to create mobile support groups, or as a way for users to organize for cancer walks or similar fundraising events. The partnership came out of a cancer patient reaching out to the GroupMe founders -- Mr. Hecht and co-founder Steve Martocci -- telling them about his experience in a group.

Messrs. Hecht and Martocci created a downloadable app that lets users text-message groups of up to 25 people who self-organize around any topic. Once a group is set up, users can message or conference-call the group and receive comments made by everyone in the group. After a group is no longer useful, it can be deleted. The company has raised two rounds of funding, totaling $11.45 million, has 17 employees and has yet to create and executive board.

Despite being less than a year old, GroupMe is working with brands and advertisers, partnering with TV networks like Oxygen and large-scale multiday music festivals like Coachella. Mr. Hecht said marketers approached GroupMe before GroupMe had a chance to approach the marketers.

"We had brands reach out to us," he said. "They said our fan base loves to text and the fan base is already organized around a brand, so the brand follows the fans."

The company created a product called Featured Groups, which works a bit like Twitter's promoted trends in that it suggests topics around which groups can form -- such as Coachella or Bon Jovi -- and appears under a "featured" tab in the GroupMe app. If users form a group around those brands, they can opt in to get special offers, enter contests, sneak previews and event reminders. Since GroupMe's group limit is 25 members, group size stays manageable and based on a user's real-life friends, an important distinction from Facebook pages and Twitter follows, which can grow into the millions depending on the brand's popularity.

The company hopes that the GroupMe featured groups concept will give brands direct access to consumers who choose to opt into the branded groups.

Oxygen's "Bad Girls Club" and "The World According to Paris Hilton," MTV's dance competition "America's Best Dance Crew," Bon Jovi and the Bonnaroo and Coachella music festivals will appear as suggested topics on GroupMe. When users form groups using these brand names as topics, the brands will send special offers, free tickets, news, schedule changes and inside information to their fans the groups . The brands can are able to drop in celebrities into the groups, giving fans direct access. A group of fans of the Oxygen Network's show "Bad Girls Club" were rewarded last week by having one of the Bad Girls from drop into their group text.

"GroupMe is made of real-life networks. It's a social platform where people are comfortable having real, honest conversations with their close friends," Mr. Hecht said. "Now brands can tap into these networks, inspire meaningful conversation and higher engagement."

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