SMS Savants

SMS Savants
Community team: Josh Rosenheck, chief product officer, and Diankha Linear, chief executive officer. (Photo by Ringo Chiu)

Marketing campaigns often struggle to reach their target audiences using email and social media. Algorithms on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter can bury ad content, and interaction between brands or celebrities and their audiences can be stifled. In addition, clickthrough rates for ads aren’t what they used to be.

Enter, an SMS marketing platform that is stepping in with a new channel for brands and celebrities to reach consumers. Clients can send messages and alerts to subscribers, and subscribers can then respond and receive personalized messages in reply.

Co-founded by actor and venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher, Josh Rosenheck, Matthew Peltier and talent manager and investor Guy Oseary in 2019, the company announced a $25 million series B funding round in late April, which brings its total funding to $110 million. It was originally headquartered in Santa Monica, but is now operating on a fully remote basis. Rosenheck serves as its chief product officer; Peltier stepped down from his role as chief innovation officer in January and is no longer involved in the company.

“For a lot of the marketing tools and communication tools (out there), messaging is thought of as, very similar to an email or a push notification, a one-way experience,” Rosenheck said. “I think it leaves a lot on the table, because messaging is like the most intimate and personal channel.”

Increasing engagement

According to MailChimp, the average email clickthrough rate for a marketing campaign is 2.6%. By comparison, Community said it has a 45% average clickthrough rate, with a 30% average response rate from subscribers and a 98% open rate within the first five minutes of receipt.

Originally launched as a platform for celebrities to communicate with their fans, the company’s client base has since expanded and diversified. Community Chief Executive Diankha Linear said that after having high-profile clients early on, such as rapper P. Diddy and Kutcher himself, Community saw that enterprises would also be a lucrative market. The company said it has more than 8,000 clients on its platform. 

“We started to realize that, much like large public figures and celebrities, brands have a huge audience,” Linear said. “They have loyal fans who want to hear from them and hear what’s going on, to receive exclusive merchandise updates first and be the first to know about what’s happening and where a tour is happening.”

While still used by celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Kerry Washington, customers now comprise sports teams, including the New York Yankees and Utah Jazz, brands such as Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Showtime, and public-sector figures including Michelle Obama. The White House also has an account.

Community clients are given a unique 10-digit phone number, which they use to spur individuals to sign up for text alerts. Clients decide which types of data they collect on their subscribers and have the option of sending subscribers surveys to collect demographic information or asking questions to garner data, such as what their favorite sports team is. Insights and data from surveys or from conversations between subscribers and clients belongs directly to the brand, and that zero- and first-party information is not monetized by Community or given to any of the company’s other clients.

Community said that the opt-out rate among subscribers is less than 0.5%. Linear attributes this to the fact that people personally opted in for whichever marketing and mailing lists they are subscribed to. 


Community is not the only SMS marketing platform out there. Other similar Los Angeles-based companies include Century City-based Textedly, which can facilitate payments over text for retail items or subscriptions, and downtown-based Emotive, which provides two-way conversational marketing for e-commerce businesses. What makes Community unique, its officials said, is how it permits clients to personalize their communication with subscribers and not take a “batch and blast” approach, and how its clients can collect and own their first- and zero-party data. They said it was also among the first companies to give clients a unique phone number and area code rather than a short code or “1-800” number.

“(Community) makes you feel like you are building an authentic and unique relationship with someone, or, in this case, with your favorite brand,” McDonald’s social media director Guillaume Huin said. 

When someone subscribes to Community texts from an individual or company, they can reply to the messages they receive and get an actual response from the public figure themselves. Brands and celebrities can send out news, such as a product launch or concert schedule, or ask questions designed to solicit responses, such as, ‘do you prefer shorts or skirts?’

“There’s always a human who responds,” Linear said. “What we do is we cluster all of the people who responded one way, and the people who responded another way … and we make it easy for that business leader or public figure to do a one-to-many response.”

Linear said Community’s platform has use to the public sector as well. A Community number could also be used to send out information to the public about a resource, such as the location of a cooling center during a heat wave or a new bicycle lane in a city. 

Community’s revenue comes from a platform fee it charges to set up a client, plus a monthly subscription to maintain a phone number and utilize Community’s services. The subscription cost varies depending on the size of the enterprise and volume of responses coming in, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Linear said the company plans to use its new funding to develop generative AI to improve the platform and its technology; several updates are expected to be released later this year.

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