Diddy wants you to text him. So do Paul McCartney, Sophia Bush and Marshmello.
Over the past few months, some celebrities and influencers have been posting phone numbers on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube and encouraging fans to reach out to them.
"I'm sitting here and I'm thinking, I'm about to go into this next era of my life and I'm going to be doing a lot of positive things, a lot of disruptive things, a lot of things I really don't want everybody, like everybody to know about," Diddy said in an IGTV video posted on October 2. "On the 'Gram, everybody knows about everything. I want a deeper connection with my fans."
He explained that he got a special phone number for his family, friends and closest fans and asked people to text it in order to stay in communication.
"When I'm in your city, I'll be able to hit you directly. I will be answering people, accepting résumés, giving information for parties. I'm just going to give out my number," he said. Diddy promised to distribute "special unique content" related to "getting money," "vibrations" and "inspiration" through text messages before promoting the number: 917-746-1444.
Don't expect to become best friends. Texting these numbers generally results in a stream of automated updates. (If you dial the number, you'll hear a custom voicemail message, asking you to send a text message. "Text me, I don't ever answer my phone calls," Paul's says.)
After I sent Ashton Kutcher a message in July, I received several texts full of disjointed thoughts and a photo. Eventually, I unsubscribed. Sorry, Ashton.
Is it their real number?
No, the phone numbers celebrities are sharing are not their personal cellphone numbers, unless it's a mistake. Chances are, they have teamed up with a startup called Community, a tech company in Los Angeles that has raised US$35 million to help corporations, stars and other high-profile clients manage direct messaging with a mass audience. The company isn't currently working with politicians, according to a spokesman.
Community spun out of a previous company, Shimmur, which was founded by Matthew Peltier and Josh Rosenheck in 2014. According to TechCrunch, Shimmur was meant to be a Reddit-like mobile app where users could create and upload content about their favorite YouTubers and influencers.
In early 2019, with a fresh round of investment from Kutcher and Guy Oseary, a Hollywood talent manager, it restarted as Community.
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The company requires users to opt in to its terms of service via a link they are sent after they text the celebrity's number. The service is free, but standard messaging rates apply.
"Community is a fresh start for communication," the company's website reads. "We understand the value of direct dialogue between you and who you care about. Community enables direct, meaningful conversations at scale. It's a new way for community leaders to talk to community members — via text. Let's start over together."
Community monetises by charging its high-profile users a fee to use the platform. The company's spokesman was adamant that Community will never sell ads or users' personal info.
Will they respond to me?
Maybe. Messaging via Community is largely a one-way interaction. While you can respond to incoming texts, it's unclear whether or not the celebrity will see it given the volume of messages they are likely receiving.
For instance, I texted Scooter Braun's public number several times asking for updates on Justin Bieber's wedding weekend and have yet to receive a response.
But you could get lucky. Earlier this month, Gary Vaynerchuk, an entrepreneur and marketer who uses Community, tweeted a video of himself responding to messages on his iPhone.
Vaynerchuk said he has been a Community user for about six weeks and so far loves the platform. He said Community does a good job of organising the messages. He goes through and responds to them within the Community app, and those messages are then distributed to his fans via text.
Kutcher has also teased personal responses. His initial text reads: "hey it's Ashton. this is an autotext to let you know I got your message, everything else will be from me. make sure you click the link and add yourself to my phone so I can respond to you."
Why would a celebrity want to text me?
While many high-profile stars use Twitter and Instagram to promote their work, make announcements and engage with fans, social media platforms have issues: Algorithms are increasingly crowded, making it hard for stars to ensure that their messages reach their intended audience, and responding to one DM gives a user unlimited access to their primary inbox.
"This is basically what I did on Twitter from 2007 to 2011," Vaynerchuk said of Community. But he added that the conversations he has had through Community have been different. "I think some people are more comfortable asking personal questions on text than even on DM," he said.
Vaynerchuk estimates that about 15 per cent of people simply text, "Is this really you?" Another 30% send random funny things, but the majority "are some really meaningful conversations," he said.
Those personal conversations are hard to have on platforms like Twitter, which has struggled to control abuse. Kutcher announced in July that he would be responding to messages only through Community going forward, declaring that the "open web has just become too toxic."
Many celebrities are seeking to engage in private spaces with only their most dedicated fans, away from the spammers and the haters. Several celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and Taylor Swift, have started their own apps, and companies like Escapex and Disciple have cropped up to help celebrities communicate. Unfortunately, the largely user-driven apps don't offer the intimacy of text.
@Pink hey any chance u can do that Community phone # thing a lot of other celebs are doing? It would be really cool to be able to text u via phone! I know you’re already super busy and you probably don’t have time but if you do have a change that would be pretty amazing! Thanks!— Amelia Gerson (@agerson24) October 10, 2019
Users too, are seeking something different from seemingly algorithmically organised feeds. Private messaging has been declared "the new (old) social network," and in March, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a manifesto declaring that "private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication."
Besides, what could feel more personal than having a celeb's number saved in your phone?
Written by: Taylor Lorenz
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES