In May 2017, the social networking and hookup app Grindr contacted Zach Stafford with a bold proposition: become the company’s first editor in chief.
Stafford, a veteran journalist who had worked at the Guardian and at the magazine Out, said he was immediately intrigued at the idea of building a queer publication from the ground up.
“What Grindr realized was that there was a really big appetite among LGBT consumers,” Stafford said. “They called me and floated this idea: Could we reasonably create a magazine that’s digital that could make queer people see themselves in new ways and feel like their stories were being told?”
A year in, Stafford continues to helm Into, an original content shop at Grindr that now has more than a dozen staffers and publishes about 20 pieces of content a day on Intomore.com, a website that doesn’t mention its Grindr ownership and whose black, white and pink branding is a far cry from Grindr’s black and gold logo.
Into’s mission, Stafford said, is to deliver news to LGBTQ readers and amplify gay, queer and trans voices in the media. The publication is also helping Grindr build deeper connections with the communities it serves, Stafford said.
“Grindr has sometimes struggled to be seen as more than just a hookup app,” Stafford said. “Into has become a space where LGBTQ people are featured as part of this big community who do lots of other things beside have sex. … For Grindr to be thought of as bigger than just those one-to-one connections and interactions, Into had to be created.”
The foray into original content is also a big advertising win for Grindr, said Landen Zumwalt, Grindr’s head of communications. The digital magazine gives brands and advertisers access to Into’s audience, which Zumwalt said is a diverse group of millennials, including trans people, queer people of color and other groups who have historically been underserved in traditional media.
“We believe we can play a critical role in helping advertisers and brands reach this younger millennial demographic and their allies in a way that truly resonates and is authentic,” Zumwalt said.
Launching a digital news outlet isn’t easy. Grindr had experimented with some photo galleries and pieces of content on its own website but realized that investing in a full-blown content team was the best bet to getting it right. And Grindr had to overcome some skepticism about its plan, Stafford said. “Grindr is infamously referred to as a hookup app—not a platform for queer journalism,” he said. “… It felt like people were rooting for us to fail.”
Grindr wanted to build a news site separate and distinct from Grindr that could authentically serve LGBTQ people around the world. “For a lot of people, Grindr is the only gay bar they have, the only gay coffee shop they have,” Stafford said. “Having more content [on Grindr] can show them that there’s a bigger world, a bigger community, and it shows them that we hear them.”
Stafford recruited a staff of reporters and writers and began testing out which types of content Grindr users wanted to read. The site covers hard news along with cultural and lifestyle coverage, and some of its reporting has been recognized for its journalism with award nominations and wins. Into started producing video for the site in May, and the publication has already uploaded more than 12.9 million minutes of video content on YouTube. A Facebook Watch show is planned for the fall.
Right now, Into readers who access content through Grindr navigate outside of the app to a mobile browser to access articles and videos. But by the end of 2018, Into’s content will live natively inside Grindr’s app, giving users who spend an average 54 minutes a day on Grindr even more reason to stay engaged. And Grindr is partnering with the lesbian social app Her to reach even more readers on mobile.
Brand-safe publications can’t be beat.
Dating apps can be a hard sell for some advertisers, but Into offered Grindr’s brand partners a new opportunity to reach a similar audience. Into has struck a number of ad and content deals with brands like BMW, FX and Halo Top ice cream, and the site in June launched a video series about being HIV positive that Stafford said is sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Gilead, which develops HIV treatments.
Combine forces—and data—to deliver.
Into has direct access to Grindr’s network of nearly 4 million daily active users, and Into editors can send messages to Grindr users with relevant news and stories if Grindr users sign up. Into can also leverage Grindr’s troves of user location data to deliver the right content to the right people. An Into story about a proposed bill in Tennessee to ban drag queens performing in public spaces, for example, was targeted to Grindr users in the Tennessee area, and the story took off locally before the ACLU ultimately intervened.
Own your brand identity.
It’s hard to overstate Grindr’s influence on gay and queer culture, and Into gives the app another way to build a relationship with that community. “Being queer, we have to take a stand on social responsibility for our users’ sake,” Stafford said. “… Into is able to [take a stand] by telling these stories.”