Subtext as Push Notification - a Q&A With Block Club Chicago

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 Block Club Chicago's Hannah Boufford, discussing their text campaign. 

Q: In your own words, can you tell us a little bit about Block Club Chicago and also your history with texting the audience?
A: Block Club Chicago is a nonprofit newsroom. Our focus is to cover Chicago's neighborhoods, so most of our partners are actually based in the neighborhoods they cover. We had more of a remote structure even before the pandemic. The editors, myself, and some of the reporters work out of an office, but most people work out of their neighborhoods every day. It helps get them in their community to connect with neighbors. They really know what's going on because they are there all the time. So our mission is to focus on the neighborhoods and make sure we're really telling community stories.
We use Subtext for breaking news. People can subscribe and they'll get breaking news updates. We also send breaking news emails and we've done a little bit of general messaging on Subtext around elections and just like things we could think could be helpful, like Covid information.

Q: What is the value of SMS for you as you see it?

A: One thing that I think about a lot is we don't have a mobile app, so we can't send push notifications. We do have breaking news emails and lots of newsletters that people can get email push on their phone, but most don't. I see text partially as like a push notification and a little bit more instant and direct. I know I don't always check my emails even if I'm getting them on my lock screen.
It is also a really great way to get to our readers and make sure people are actually getting the news they need, especially for breaking news. If something's happening downtown that people need to know about, we want to be able to get that information out as fast and direct as possible. We don't want to have to rely on social media algorithms or people getting spammed in their inbox all the time. So, it's really good to help us connect directly with our subscribers and our readers.

Q: What is your approach towards writing or crafting content for a text?

A: We don't necessarily craft the stories specifically for text. Our texts are often just the headline with a breaking label on top of it and a link. We don't want to get people bogged down. We want them to click the link and see what they need to see. 

When it comes to sending a text, we do it on the same basis as when we send our breaking newsletters. One major difference is that we make sure we're not sending really late-night texts or really early mornings text. We don't want to bother people and wake them up. But we do try to do it on the same business of our breaking newsletters. If we think it's worthy enough to send a newsletter to X amount of people, then we also send a text to go along with it, to make sure our readers know.

Q: What is the relationship with the audience like via text?

A: Because we're just sending breaking news texts, we don't do a ton of engagement texting. It's mostly people reacting to the news, in which case, we don't do a lot of back and forth. Because it's an election year, I do expect us to do more engagement this year with Subtext.
I do think we have a really tight-knit dedicated audience on our Subtext that they've signed up for the text. So I definitely want to tap into that and see what they think of what we're doing and how we're using the platform.

Q: Has there been anything that has surprised you about your experience with Subtext?

A: I mean, I grew up texting, so it's pretty ingrained in me. I'm slightly surprised that I don't see more newsrooms doing it. I definitely think it's the next step from newsletters. Texting feels so much smaller scale because it's much more personal and I really think it's a good way to build relationships with readers without anything else getting in your way like filters and algorithms.
Q: Is there anything you're missing from Subtext? What would you like to see from us? 

A: The big thing for a while was the keyword opt-in and automated messages, which have come through.
[NOTE: Subtext released these features recently because we take feedback from our clients.]
To learn more about how to launch your own text community, reach out at 

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