It all started as a joke—just a Twitter account shared by three guys that they used to talk shit about each other’s rival high schools. That is, until someone put a Google doc link in the head of the account, allowing other high school students to submit their own smack talk. Before long, the concept took off, with tons of submissions from around Massachusetts. And by the fall of 2013, the creators started seeing submissions outside of Massachusetts—which is when they officially incorporated a startup company, SmackHigh, to pursue the idea further.
And no, it’s not a drug reference—with “smack” meaning “trash talk,” and “high” a reference to high school.
“What we started to discover through all this growth is that there really is no outlet for high school students to curate all relevant conversations regarding their school on a bigger scale,” SmackHigh co-founder and CEO Giuseppe Stuto told me. “And it just so happens that Twitter is the backyard most of these kids hang out on all the time. They use Snapchat and Instagram a lot—but those aren’t open forums.”
Thus, the broader mission of SmackHigh became clear: To filter out the Twitter noise and provide a place where all of the news, ideas, opinions, photos and humorous anecdotes that high schoolers care about are easily accessible. As an entity, SmackHigh currently consists of a series of Twitter accounts, but Stuto told me that the team has a mobile app in the works.
The user process is simple: high school students submit sports and in-school news to SmackHigh, and curators then pick what’s most attention-worthy and use the startup’s handle to get the word out. Now, the media outlet boasts 600,000 Twitter followers across 24 states that generate more than 100 million monthly Twitter impressions. The Massachusetts account alone has 75,800 followers—and the startup’s higher ed version, SmackCollege, has 63,800 followers.
Now, the media outlet boasts 600,000 Twitter followers across 24 states that generate over 100 million monthly Twitter impression.
Stuto, a Malden native and BU Grad, tells me that he and cofounder/CMO Frank Iudiciani, a Harvard student, were quickly running out of thumbs to manage all the Twitter accounts. So they brought on a volunteer high school student in each of the 24 states to manage and curate all the content that comes in via direct message or the website form. Under the account managers are press reporters/representatives that supply most of the hyper-local content. More recently, SmackHigh hired a CTO and two marketing associates. Meanwhile, well-known angel investor Joe Caruso and Baystate Financial CMO Christopher McIntosh have all been acting as advisors for the startup.
This winter, the team decided it was time to take SmackHigh to the next level. So mid-January, they launched a mobile site to further localize the reporting of what’s going on at all of the high schools. To support this effort, they’ve been recruiting columnists to perform the same job as the state Twitter account managers do, but on an even more hyper-local level. In return, they get an opportunity to potentially reach an audience of tens of thousands of peers.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from these columnists is that at their particular high school, the student newspaper model is somewhat broken today,” Stuto said. “It’s printed once a month, and it’s not relevant to what they want to talk about. And they don’t really trust it. Take that into context with the way they behave today: everything they do today is in real-time—because of the technology they have at hand—and everything they do is raw. When they talk to their friends on these channels, they have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”
In an age where cyberbullying is rampant, Stuto assured me that that the team has put a number of policies in place to hamper any hurtful content, as happened with YikYak, or defamatory accounts, like Collegefession page. Curators are trained to only post satirical content if it’s written in a more general format—and if it’s targeted at one individual, it’s not going to get posted. And since it can take too long to report an offensive post on Twitter and get it taken down, users are advised to email the SmackHigh team immediately if they come upon anything of that nature.
Last fall, SmackHigh was approached by Atlanta-based Fox 5 Sports. After coming across the startup’s Georgia edition, they proposed a partnership on their high school sports news initiative. The collaboration has been mutually beneficial: SmackHigh crowdsources the opinion of its users to find out what the most popular game of the week is in the Georgia area and relays the winner to Fox. In return, Fox sends out a full broadcasting crew to the selected game, and brands all the highlights on two weekly on-air broadcasts. Stuto noted that pursuing this partnership allowed SmackHigh to better understand how valuable the startup can be to potentially other third-party media outlets down the line.
In 2015, Stuto says the top priority is to build out SmackHigh’s tech team. And stay tuned for funding news—SmackHigh is anticipating closing a seed round in the coming months.