GroundSource is Helping News Organizations Build Community via Text Messaging

GroundSource enables journalists to connect with communities via text message.
GroundSource enables journalists to connect with communities via text message.

Within a relatively short period of time, bots have emerged as one of the more intriguing new technologies available on the market. However, the question of how to most effectively utilize it remains a bit murky for news organizations.

Andrew Haeg, founder of GroundSource and Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow, is exploring how his community engagement platform can transform bot-driven messaging to improve news coverage and strengthen the relationship between newspapers and their local communities.

“The age of conversation offers up the potential for every reader to develop their own personal relationship with a newspaper,” Haeg said.

When a company or organization first signs up with GroundSource, they can set up a unique phone number that is used solely to interact with sources via text or voice. By sharing that specific number to the community, ordinary people can message in a particular issue on their mind or respond to a question posed to them by texting in a key word.

As more sources interact, GroundSource automatically develops detailed profiles of each source by occasionally asking them demographic questions. Additionally, users can label and organize their audience into different segments by selecting people who respond to specific prompts, or by filtering for demographics.

Users can also now set up Facebook Messenger bots and link them to GroundSource as well.

“We’ve had quite a bit of interest from newspapers, and have a good deal of success with four or five newspapers during our beta phase printing a phone number in the newspaper, and generating many dozens, if not hundreds of response, with minimal promotion,” Haeg said. “The problem has not been generating response, or getting thoughtful answers, but figuring out what to do with all of the good stuff.”

Haeg noted that early-stage projects with several news organizations have suggested that when properly deployed, people enjoy corresponding with bot-driven messaging.

At the Center for Collaborative Journalism in Macon, Ga., a partnership with the Macon Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting to build a community-wide listening post through GroundSource is already underway. Local residents have been encouraged in print, over the air and at community meetings to text into the designated number and opt in to ongoing communications.

According to Haeg, his team is looking for a few additional newspapers to serve as test sites for a more “full-fledged deployment of GroundSource.”

“It would involve putting the phone number on every story published, essentially as a replacement for the contact number often printed next to a reporter’s name,” he said.

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