Build Your Own Adventure - Q&A with Tony Guzman of The Washington Post

At Subtext, we’re fortunate to work with amazing partners across media, sports, entertainment, events, politics, and more. We love learning from our partners to highlight the great work they're doing and to improve our own offerings. With that, let’s get into our discussion with Tony Guzman, the Principal Product Manager for The Washington Post.

Q: Your campaign is probably the most unique campaign we have on the platform. When we were setting it up, obviously the setup process was a whole lot, which we'll get into. But when we were setting it up, I don't think I really had a full grasp on how well-thought-out the entire campaign was until I started to see the launch and started digging into the campaign. So Tony, could you just go into describing what the campaign is and then a little bit about what inspired you guys to make it?

A: It's a really exciting project we're working on. I am on a team called Next Gen at the Washington Post. Our mission at the Post is to figure out new, interesting, innovative ways to attract younger and more diverse audiences.

And so when I started last summer, I started immediately thinking about SMS because I just sort of knew that it's, in a lot of ways, an untapped channel and there's a lot of potential with the channel if you're smart strategically.

This particular campaign is in partnership with “The Home You Own” section of the Washington Post. It’s part of our home and garden lifestyle section. Its mission is to offer our readers very practical, very doable tips on everything from cleaning your house and apartment to gardening to organizing and decluttering, and things like that. Ultimately, the whole goal is to empower our readers.

And so when we started talking to them a few months ago, it just made a lot of sense to partner because their whole mission is to offer practical advice on making your living space better and we were thinking about using SMS in new and interesting ways.

Q: What about “The Home You Own” speaks to a younger audience? Why was that your first choice for SMS?

A: We kept coming back to “The Home You Own” is practical. It’s not just owning a home, it's where you live, right? And so when we think about that and how they sort of structure their reporting and their journalism, it is really about the most practical or impactful advice that they can offer that anybody can do, whether they're a renter or homeowner. When we think about audiences, something that they value a lot is “give me what I need to know.” People are busy. The more practical, and utilitarian you can be, the better, so it made sense to work with the “The Home You Own” team in this SMS experience.

Q: So what goals for the campaign did you guys set out from the get-go?

A: We want people to get the most out of this. Then the question becomes, “how do we know that, how do we understand the value that people are getting?” So we had to quantify that.

So on one hand, the user, the subscriber is in control, they're in the driver's seat, and they're going at their own pace, which is great. That was intentional. We wanted them to be in the driver's seat 100%. On the other hand, people are busy.

So the thing we really put an emphasis on was this concept of nudges essentially pushing people down the funnel of the course. We did realize how important these nudges are, sending reminders, sending tips, asking for feedback, and being mindful that people are busy. It’s more that we have to play the role of facilitator to help them through the process. That’s been really surprising to see how valuable those nudges have been.

The way we’ve been able to measure value is essentially how deep into the course someone gets and nudges have been an important tactic to push people down that path.

Q: Would you consider nudges more of a tool or a metric in determining the success of someone’s progress through the course?

A: You described it well, that it’s a tool, a tactic, to push people to continue to get people to get value out of the course. We know people are liking it. We’re getting good feedback from it.

Q: Can you talk about the automation aspect of it?

A: Yeah. The idea of making it fully automated happened by accident. Basically, we knew a couple of things from the get-go when we started thinking about the actual content of the course. We wanted to have four different topics that somebody could learn about. So organizing, cleaning, houseplants, and the fourth was DIY projects.

So right away, we wanted to give people a choice of which path to go down. Pick the first path you want to go down, and then it just kept evolving. We went from four topics with one level of automation to “Well, why don’t we just keep going?”

Q: When it comes to nudges, what are the criteria for targeting users? 

A: At the end of the day, it’s, hopefully, very simple. Anyone can come on any given day, so they're starting at step one. Even with all these decision trees and branches, there is an endpoint too. So we thought “When would somebody be ready to be nudged?” 

Time is a criteria we look at. When did someone sign up? The other is distance. By that, I mean how far into the course are they again? And that’s the criteria we really look at to nudge people on a weekly basis. And so far, it’s worked and it’s helped. We see good returns in terms of sending out those broadcasts.

Q: How did you come across Subtext?

A: When the Texas Tribune was using texting in 2021 during the massive winter storms. I saw they were using texting to communicate with their readers. I thought it was very cool. I saw they were using Subtext as their platform. I’ve seen David speak at conferences and been around. So it was one of the first places I reached out to when I knew that we wanted to experiment again with text.

Q: Is there anything that has surprised you so far?

A: I guess I would say we're getting a lot of anecdotal feedback that people want more. People are saying things like “How do I organize my desk where I work from home.” So we're thinking, how do we expand this? But ultimately, we’ve gotten good feedback.

Q: How’s the reception at the Washington Post been towards your campaign?

A: Very positive. Very excited. It’s sort of spurred more conversations and brainstorming about other ways we can use SMS, and how can we potentially replicate this course in other sections. So more to come there.

Q: Do you have any next steps with Subtext? Anything you’d like to share?

A: I’m excited about the platform. Excited about some of the new features that are being talked about. I think being able to segment, there’s a lot of potentials there because as campaigns grow, everyone’s at a different point.

For tips to give other users, be both mindful and thoughtful at the beginning of who you’re targeting, and what their expectations are, but also be able to adapt because you will be surprised.

Thank you to Tony and The Washington Post for taking the time to talk to us about your experience with Subtext. If you want to learn more about Subtext, schedule a demo today.

See the full interview here: 


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