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Building a Content Empire with Social Chain Founder, Steven Bartlett

Re-watch our exclusive session with Steven Bartlett, all about making your content world-leading.

Sophie Thompson
16th April 2021

The name Steven Bartlett is a prominent one in content marketing, and for good reason. After stepping away from the incredibly successful marketing agency he created from his university bedroom, at just 22, the now-28-year-old has continued to find success as an investor, award-winning podcaster, and author.

Social Chain, founded in 2014 by Steven and fellow student Dom McGregor, quickly became Europe’s fastest-growing social media agency. With clients including Apple, McDonald’s, BBC, and Boohoo, it's no surprise that by 2016, it had an audience of over 200 million millennials.

Having achieved such marketing success at such a young age, we asked Steven to share his secrets and advice in a fireside chat with ContentCal CEO, Alex Packham.

Watch the session below, or keep scrolling for a summary of the topics covered.

Looking to do more for your clients? Take the Agency Skills Diploma to discover how you can get the most from ContentCal's agency-feature offering.

Where it began...

Steven kicked off the conversation talking about his entrance to business - and it was a little different from the Social Chain we know. At 16, he began selling Japanese clothes to the English market, before launching his first proper start-up at university - Wallpark. Wallpark was a place for students in the same cities to connect, buy and sell old textbooks, and share upcoming events. It was the behavioral learnings of online habits, that Steven picked through Wallpark, that led to the creation of Social Chain.

Steven explained that he managed to secure his first Social Chain Facebook page for just £50(!), and the company has since grown to a stock market valuation of a whopping $350million. That’s a pretty impressive ROI!

The first actionable tip we picked up from Steven was that 70% of Social Chain's revenue for its early years came from Steven speaking on stage and building a personal brand, making him the face of the company, and humanizing the brand. Something that we can all apply as marketing tactic.

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Is personal branding the future?

When it comes to personal branding, Steven is undoubtedly an expert. He reaches over 1.2 million people on Instagram alone!

Some really interesting (and actionable) key points Steven made on personal branding, could convert even the biggest skeptic to the concept, and help anyone just getting started to form a clear action plan. They include:

  • Going to networking events is no longer the best way to get clients - if everyone is doing it then you’re not going to get results!
  • Thinking outside of the box is almost impossible because all we know is the box, so it’s important to derail yourself from worrying about what others think and attempt to get out of it wherever you can
  • People buy from people. In the psychology of influence, authority sells. For example, having over one million followers adds trust to your message, as your audience become your validation
  • LinkedIn values personal profiles over company profiles - so focus on building your team’s profiles rather than your brand

Steven went onto attest that the biggest hurdle you’ll face with personal branding is yourself.

“I made the decision to walk through the office every day with a camera and there was a concern that my colleagues would think I was a narcissist,” Steven said.

“But, at no point in my journey was I being anyone other than myself. The guy you’re speaking to today, is the same guy my colleagues work with, the same guy you saw in videos, and the same guys you hear on my podcast.”

With the level of confidence that was starting to seem necessary for impactful personal branding being a little daunting, Steven had some words of wisdom on how to deal with the potential negativity that can occur when putting yourself 'out there':

“If being you is something that causes you to lose people, then that really isn’t a loss.”

What does it take to stop getting lost amongst the noise in a saturated industry?

Simple - stay on top of your game!

Steven spoke about Social Chain’s employee WhatsApp group: ‘ever-changing landscape’. Each morning, the team receives an update when they start at work at 10am (yes, that's right, they start work at 10am) on everything that has changed in social in the previous 24 hours.

It allowed the team to carry out experiments on new platforms, test new algorithms, and form the ‘do now, apologize later’ approach that Social Chain takes to their content. That meant they could create huge campaigns in under one hour, not going through the long sign-off process that so often hinders creativity. And if it didn't work - they'd apologize later and try again!

Steven attributed a lot of Social Chain's success to experimentation and being brave.

Because social media is constantly changing, strategy books become redundant in six months and content marketing tips expire almost immediately. Steven believes experiments are the best way to get real, current answers, faster than everyone else.

Move fast, and make things

Speed is a big factor in content success. So Steven introduced the ‘move fast and make things’ group to Social Chain. It went a little like this…

  • Move fast and make things only allows four people in any project group, if you want a fifth person, one person has to be swapped out. This gives everyone full responsibility and a proper role to play. Any number above four and groups get too slow!
  • Turn all of your ideas into action within 2 weeks, or you’ll simply keep putting it off. The hardest part isn’t the ideas, it’s the action.
  • Incentivize failure!

Social Chain now successfully applies these rules to most of its large-scale campaigns, but many brands still struggle to adapt to it. It can feel a little experimental and the results are never guaranteed - but no results ever are!

CEOs, it's time to pay attention...

Steven insists that Social Chain’s unique approach to marketing is what has made it a stand-out, and that’s because they treat the Social Chain brand, exactly the same as they treat their clients. A common downfall of agency marketing is that businesses are so focused on their client's needs, they neglect their own brand.

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The proof is in the pudding. Within six months of putting Social Chain at the forefront of everything they did, it was the front page of The Daily Mail, and earned a place on The Gadget Show. The learnings here are:

  • Give your brand its own personality. Create a tone of voice and decide what you want to be known for
  • Launch campaigns FOR your brand! If clients see what amazing branding you do for yourself, they'll definitely be intrigued by what you can do for them
  • Success is dependant on the people in your team. Don't only hire people who are great at what they do, hire people who will be a great face for the brand too

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