From Skeptic to '1,000% in.' A Q&A With Buckeye Talk's Doug Lesmerises

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 in mind, please check out this week's Q&A with the Buckeye Talk's Doug Lesmerises, discussing their text campaign

Q: How did you get started on Subtext? 

A: When I started it was just me doing it for about Ohio State football. And honestly, there was some skepticism at the beginning. We were thinking about what we would text and how often we'd have to do it and in the end, I said 'I'm always up for trying anything in the journalism model.' I get worried when companies stop trying new things.

So we started and we fell into a rhythm pretty quickly, and I realized that if you're invested in a beat and you're working on it every day, then Subtext is not an extra burden. I figured out pretty quickly that I can just mold what I'm already doing to fit into Subtext. I started to give the audience tidbits that are going to appear in [future] stories, or a note that I just got off an interview and here's a thought or analysis like 'Hey, I was just thinking about this. I don't have a place to put it in a story and I'm sick of giving it away for free on Twitter, so I'm gonna give it to you.' 

Once you figure it out, for any invested beat writer on any beat, it makes a lotta sense. 

Q: Can you tease out a little more how it fits into your beat? How does Subtext fit into the various things you juggle as a reporter and somebody who produces stories, a podcast, social media accounts, etc. 

A: When it comes to audience engagement it should be front of mind. I've talked to enough people who don't quite get it because they think of engagement as an extra, like I'm here to write stories and this is an extra thing I have to do. If you're still thinking that, as a digital journalist in 2022, you're doing it wrong.

We're far beyond just writing stories. So you have to view text as an opportunity. Nobody writes a story in 20 seconds, but you can write a text in that time. If there is breaking news, some people act like they don't have 20 seconds to send out a text, but guess what,  you do have that time and using it to text breaking news is the best way to get it out. You're conveying it to your most loyal audience faster than they could possible get it in any other way. You can send it as fast as you type it. 

Once you make it part of everything you think about and report on, you can see how text can be a part of it all. Once you get there, it's easy and flows. 

And then you think 'why am I giving it away for free on Twitter?' You also have to detach yourself from the trying to be cool [on social]. Your Twitter followers didn't make your company any money. You felt cool for 30 seconds, but that's all you got. Subtext is something where you're getting something out of it and once you figure that out too, it makes you want to text.

Q: What is your relationship with your Subtext audience? How does it compare to your podcast/social audience? 

A: When we started Subtext, we'd been doing a podcast for four years. A podcast's audience  aren't just consumers. Even though a podcast goes out one way, people want a way to communicate with you. And we used to do it on Twitter and it was okay, but Subtext officially closed the loop on the podcast audience communication. 

When we were doing the podcast once a week, we said Subtext was like our daily podcast. It's the stuff we'd say on the podcast, but we don't have a new episode every day. Today we do podcast five days a week, but we still text stuff as it happens. The loop is still there. It's part of your job to close the loop with your audience. Subtext can do that. It's how we get questions for the podcast. We only get it from our text audience. It's how people give us ideas. You combine Subtext with something like a podcast and it's fire.

We also do brackets now on Subtext, where we do audience voting. Then we talk about the votes on the podcast and I think the podcast drives a Subtext audience and Subtext drives the podcast audience. So that was really fortuitous. 

If you have a podcast, Subtext is gangbusters 1,000% and if you don't have a podcast, I'm sure it's still really good.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you about your experience with Subtext? 

A: I enjoyed the feedback and interactions from texts more than I anticipated. There are no trolls on Subtext. Twitter is a minefield. People on Twitter respond just to be a jerk and get a reaction out of you. There are people you don't even know who come across your Tweet or robots, Russian propaganda and more. But there are no robots or Russian propaganda on Subtext. These people are invested in news. They're paying money! Nobody pays money to be a troll. So the level of discourse is significantly elevated from Twitter. 

The typical back and forth that I have with Subtext is on a different level, because they care about the topic. They think that my two partners and I are experts and they can't get our take anywhere else. So they like the topic and they like us and boy, that's a great way to develop a relationships. 

Sometimes they give us tips. Sometimes they think of things we haven't thought of. 

And again, polls have been huge for us. Before we had to do polls using a third party tool on our site. But polls on Subtext are magic because it's right there. People feel empowered and it's a way to get their opinion. And we receive it without relying on the back and forth of normal texting. We get hundreds and hundreds of votes on all of the polls we do and it's like a focus group. I think people really like receiving the polls and participating and they like hearing from us what the vote was. So that has been something that I didn't anticipate and I would highly encourage that use of Subtext because we get a lot out of it.

Q: What has been your experience of marketing Subtext. How did you let your audience know? 

A: I would pitch it really hard on the podcast. Like 'If you're listening to us right now, you like us, you wouldn't be here if you didn't. You like the subject and you like the people. Well, you will like getting our texts.' I just try to push it all the time. Our Subtext campaign is setup for a two-week free trial, so I tell the podcast audience, if you don't like it, just quit. If you give me 90 seconds to talk through it on a podcast, I can make a good pitch and I can explain it. Because if you trust me as a podcaster and I'm shooting straight, and I just say, sign up and then bail if you don't like it. That works. 

I try to hit it at times of the year that are newsy, you know, spring football, the NFL draft, pre-season camp. 

Q: What do you want to see from Subtext in the future?

A: We send pictures sometimes, and it's easy to do from desktop, but because there's a size limit a lot of times the photo that you take on a cell phone is too big to send from the mobile interface. You have to resize it on your cell phone. So I think something to fix that would be of great value We could send a quick text like "Hey we're in the Ohio State Football practice, don't you wish you were here and here's a picture." I would say this, I'm used to glitchiness for news products and Subtext is totally NOT glitchy. 

NOTE: We take all hosts feedback and this has been fixed!

Q: Any last thoughts to share with others? 

A: Yea. Subtext is not a news service. It's about personality. We fall into that trap ourselves sometimes. But it's not a news service. If it's just news, people get that anywhere. They don't want 'just news,' they want the news delivered by you. So if you have a personality, use it. You can add analysis, insight. Say what the news means. Act like they're your friends. You can't keep them at arm's length. That doesn't mean texting a bunch of personal information. They don't care how your kids are doing. But you do have to get around to texting like you would with your friends. You can't be stilted or too professional. They have to trust you and trust that the news you give them is true and the analysis is smart. And it can be fun too.

Click here to check out the case study on Buckeye Talk.

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