We Built This Brand

Dive into the fascinating world of digital innovation with Mat Micheli, co-founder and co-CEO of Viral Nation. This episode takes you on a journey from Viral Nation's roots in 2014 to its emergence as a global leader in digital and social innovation. Mat recounts his entrepreneurial ventures with Joe Gagliese, detailing their shift from a liquidation business to the forefront of social media and influencer marketing.

Explore the complexities of influencer marketing, the role of AI in shaping Viral Nation's services, and the secret behind crafting viral content. This episode is a treasure trove of insights for entrepreneurs and marketers, highlighting the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing and social media trends.

About Mat Micheli: 
Mat Micheli, a dynamic entrepreneur and Co-CEO of Viral Nation, has transformed the company from an influencer marketing agency into a global digital and social innovation group since its inception in 2014. Under his leadership, Viral Nation has flourished, working with thousands of influencers and major brands like Anheuser-Busch and The Coca-Cola Company. His expertise in athlete influencer marketing and social technologies has earned him features in Business Insider, Forbes, and Vox, as well as the prestigious EY Young Entrepreneur Of The Year award in 2019.

Show Highlights: 
(00:00) Introduction to Mat Michelli and the formation of Viral Nation.
(02:20) The story of Mat's early entrepreneurial efforts and how a chance encounter with Joe Galease at university sparked the creation of Viral Nation.
(08:20) The expansion of Viral Nation
(16:00) Viral Nation's approach to selecting influencers, with a special emphasis on the power of niche markets.
(22:45) Viral Nation's support for creators, incorporation monetization strategies and content distribution.
(36:32): The Role of AI in the Creator Ecosystem
(40:28) Mat's admiration for innovative brands like Fanatics and ESPN, and their successful integration into the cultural mainstream.
(43:53) Closing remarks and contact information 

Links Referenced: 
‣ Viral Nation: https://viralnation.com/
‣ Matt Micheli - LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mathewmicheli/
‣ Sportico: https://www.sportico.com/
‣ Fanatics: https://www.fanatics.com/
‣ ESPN on TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@espn
‣ Charles Leclerc’s Meta Campaign: https://www.instagram.com/charles_leclerc/reel/C06_4DYRKeE/?hl=en

What is We Built This Brand?

Branding is a powerful tool that creates lasting impressions on individuals. Although people may only see ads and logos, creating a successful brand takes time, effort, and creativity. We Built This Brand is a podcast that delves into the process of building a brand by interviewing founders, marketers, and creators who have successfully created powerful brands. Through this podcast, listeners will gain practical applications and a better appreciation for the brands they encounter every day.

[00:00:00] Chris Hill: Welcome back to We Built This Brand. I'm your host as always, Chris Hill, and today I've got an exciting podcast for you. We are talking to Matt Michelli from Viral Nation. He is the co-founder and co-CEO, along with Joe Galease. They started the business back in 2014 and Matt helped lead the company from being an influencer marketing agency.

[00:00:20] Chris Hill: To a global and digital social innovation group that powers the social ecosystem through integrated solutions that align in strategy, talent, media, and technology. Now today, Viral Nation works with tens of thousands of influencers across the landscape, helping brands like Anheuser-Busch, the Coca-Cola company.

[00:00:39] Chris Hill: Hasbro Meta, Oculus Tencent, and Uber Grow. Matt has even been featured in Business, Insider, Forbes and Vox, and he provides industry insight into outlets like Sportico. Matt, along with Joe, are also the recipients of the Twenty-Nineteen Ernst & Young, young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. This was a fun conversation, getting to [00:01:00] learn about their humble beginnings and how the company has grown over the years.

[00:01:03] Chris Hill: I talked to Matt about everything from what makes a good influencer to how they're using AI to help stay on top of trends and stay relevant to the audience they're trying to grow. And even just asked him about what makes things go viral, both in the past and in the present. So this is a great conversation.

[00:01:21] Chris Hill: Like I said, I really enjoyed it. I'm really happy to have Matt on. Hopefully we'll do another one. We can get Joe on the podcast too. But for now, without further ado, here's my conversation with Matt Michelli from Viral Nation.

[00:01:36] Chris Hill: All right, well welcome back to We Built This Brand. I'm your host, as always, Chris Hill, and uh, with me today is Matt Michelli. Matt. It's good to have you here. Thank you, Chris. Looking forward to being here. Yeah, happy to have you and happy to chat with you a little bit more about Viral Nation and, um, the brand, the business you've built and the brands that you continue to help build for other people today.

[00:01:57] Chris Hill: So yeah, let's, let's dive right in. I'd [00:02:00] love to talk to you about how this all got started, because I noticed like you're not just a founder, you're a co-founder. You know, Joe, unfortunately couldn't be with us today, but really happy to chat with you about. Everything that, you know, how viral Nation got started and everything that that entails.

[00:02:17] Chris Hill: So how did you all meet? How did this

[00:02:19] Mat Micheli: get started? So, Joe and I actually went to high school together in the greater Toronto area. We weren't friends. We were in completely opposite social circles. I. But we ended up reconnecting a couple years later when we were in university. And it was coincidentally, we were in this class of the reintegration back into university class because him and I, um, self-described as the degenerate scholars, and for the exact same reason, because we were both thoroughbred entrepreneurs.

[00:02:48] Mat Micheli: That weren't really cut out for going to class and doing your typical degree where we were. We had many startups, many businesses, all the way through, um, school. So we ended up doing [00:03:00] that and we, we connected and it was this funny moment and I always date back to it, which was I. I was, I had this cell phone case accessory business at the time.

[00:03:09] Mat Micheli: Keep in mind, this was like 13 years ago, so the iPhone was still becoming a very prominent part of our society, and cases weren't a thing. So I had imported a. Palettes of cell phone accessories from China and I would sell them locally. And it was one of those moments very similar to Wolf of Wall Street where he had his cell phone sitting next to me and he didn't have a case on it.

[00:03:34] Mat Micheli: And I went into my bag. And I said, you know what? I think you need a case for your phone. And then this is where it all started. So he then said to me, because we're very similar in our entrepreneurial thinking, there's many ways that we can increase your distribution. 'cause I was only selling them online.

[00:03:51] Mat Micheli: So to make that part, you know, long story short, that day was like the pinnacle and the changing of our lives basically. [00:04:00] Because ever since then we've basically been inseparable where we've started. You know, multiple businesses, some, none of them being successful up until Viral Nation. But there was a little bit of success before Viral Nation where Joe and I started a liquidation business.

[00:04:15] Mat Micheli: And we would buy and sell pallets of product damage, packaging, online returns, um, demo products, and really sell them. And make it accessible for virtually any income class to be able to afford, um, different types of products. So at the time it was, it was really difficult for us 'cause we were probably like 21, 22 years old and we were working 18 hours a day and our families like, and we were still in school.

[00:04:40] Mat Micheli: And our family said to us, it's like, you know, you guys can't keep at this pace. You're not gonna be able to do it. And um, we were still in school and we still had hopes of finishing our degree, even though, I mean, we dropped, God knows how many classes during our tenure, but it was that where we said, Hey, you know, this isn't something that we can scale, you know, [00:05:00]exponentially, um, being a liquidation business.

[00:05:02] Mat Micheli: So there was this moment I'll never forget 'cause Joe and I used to carpool together. And he 50 50, he'd be late. I'd be late. So one day I meet him, he's in the car, and I get in the car and he's basically showing me how, you know, I think that is going to be a place where people consume content and where we can potentially think about advertising.

[00:05:27] Mat Micheli: And I, and I said to him, because like, how, how can you even, you know, rationalize this in your brain? I mean, we don't, we don't know anything about advertising. We failed the marketing class, uh, in university. So, but it was one of those moments, because I always saw him, he was obsessed. I, I was a Facebook user.

[00:05:45] Mat Micheli: Joe was an Instagram and Vine user, and it always be scrolling. I'm like, what are doing? And it was, it was that time where he said, I love watching these people. They make super cool content. So we had this concept and it was very [00:06:00] centered around how can these people on social media make money. So there's three founders.

[00:06:05] Mat Micheli: Me, um, Joe and Tony. Tony's best friend, um, is a prominent hockey agent. He had these, a bunch of players, one of them was drafted fourth overall in the NHL draft that year, and he, um, introduced us to this player's name, Sam, and he said, Hey, can you help Sam think about how he uses social media to eventually get sponsorships?

[00:06:27] Mat Micheli: But we realized that athletes, especially that had guaranteed contracts, really didn't care. About doing social media endorsements or thinking about how social media can make them money. Because remember, they were getting paid 15, 20, 50 grand to go to a car dealership and sign autographs. Like they didn't really, at the time, they didn't really care about doing social media deals.

[00:06:48] Mat Micheli: Like nobody understood what that was. But there was this whole other world of normal people like us that you know, are just regular average Joe's, no pun intended, [00:07:00] but. Um, that had a huge social media following and there was this one gentleman, or he was a kid at the time, basically his name's. And we had sent probably 400 emails out that day.

[00:07:13] Mat Micheli: Um, one night where we said, Hey, every local influencer in the Ontario region, we sent an email to insist, Hey, let us help you. No charge. We're gonna be your agent. We're gonna help you make money. So this one young gentleman responds, his name's Ray, and he takes a meeting with us. So we end up going to meet him the next day.

[00:07:32] Mat Micheli: And he was a parking lot attendant for an OHL hockey team. He had about three, 400,000 followers, and the most money they ever made was a hundred dollars, and it was one of those moments where we met him and we just sat, we guaranteed him. We said, listen. This, our only guarantee that we're gonna make you is we're gonna make you more money tomorrow signing with us than you were doing before.

[00:07:55] Mat Micheli: And he signed a contract literally on the spot, didn't read it. He is like, I trust you guys. I think you guys [00:08:00] know what you're doing. And he, he took a big leap of faith. So fast forward a little bit, a little bit, being two weeks, we end up making him almost $6,000 in two weeks. And we were one of the first people.

[00:08:13] Mat Micheli: Put a big brand on volume, and this was Sugarcress cereal, and it was so interesting because. It sent a shockwave through the Viner community where everyone was asking How did you get a big brand deal? Because remember, this was twenty-fourteen-ish, and big brand advertising on social media was virtually non-existent.

[00:08:39] Mat Micheli: Like people didn't even understand what the concept of an influencer was. So this deal ended up. Cascading into almost representing 50 influencers in six months, and then within a year, almost a hundred, where we were quoted in a Vanity fair article as being like the CAA of influencers. And you know, keep in mind we were [00:09:00] twenty-three years old at this time, and one of our secret sauces is we actually could really work with these talent on a one-to-one level.

[00:09:10] Mat Micheli: And we got them personally and what they were going through and how they were doing because we were like in their age gap, in their age range. And it worked really well. And then we just started scaling and more and more talent wanted to sign with us and we were making people full incomes off social media.

[00:09:29] Mat Micheli: But really we then started seeing that there wasn't really a need for middlemen in the equation. This was about a year, year and a half in. Where you'd have a brand go to an agency who would then come to us and we would do everything. We would do the creative, we'd work with the talent, we'd come up with the entire stream of work, and then what ended up happening was, Hey, let's go and own the brand equation.

[00:09:50] Mat Micheli: Let's cut out the middleman and let's think about how we can scale as a marketing company and a talent company. So our talent benefit from the more brands we have internally and everything grows. [00:10:00] So that was really a major catalyst for our growth. Um, when we really decided to own the brand side of the spectrum, and that started every year.

[00:10:10] Mat Micheli: We kept doubling and doubling. Um, and really every year was all about adding core competencies to our marketing stack. So it was influencer, then we added social, so we managed social for large organizations. We'd helped them create social media content. We did paid and performance media, then we did events, and then we really became a full-service, social and digital AOR for organizations.

[00:10:36] Mat Micheli: And then the third pillar, which is the one we're in right now, is a tech platform powering all of it. So it's, uh, it's been a, a hell of a journey, but it's a, a lot of, uh, a lot of interesting times that, to say the least. So

[00:10:51] Chris Hill: I know, I know from personal experience that starting a business with a friend is always an adventure, you know, figuring out how to.[00:11:00]

[00:11:00] Chris Hill: How to start the business, how to get it off the ground and all that. So like, I, I think it's really cool that you've been able to, to go at it and to build this company up the way you have. So when you, when you started the company, like you, you mentioned, you mentioned that the influencers like just didn't need a middleman per se.

[00:11:17] Chris Hill: Like what was, what was some of the early challenges? Like, was it the middleman? Was, were there other challenges, um, that you faced? When you were starting and when did you really see validation in the business? It sounds like pretty early on, but was there a moment where you were like, oh my gosh, this is it.

[00:11:33] Chris Hill: We know we've got something here. Yeah. I

[00:11:36] Mat Micheli: think that there was, I think that there was a couple of major things. One was I. Proving worth of what influencer marketing was, both to the creator and to the brand because nobody understood how much to pay for X, Y, z deliverable. So what? What ended up happening very quickly is we started getting into traditional kind of marketing metrics to be able to prove value.

[00:11:59] Mat Micheli: So [00:12:00] CPM based off viewership, CPM based on audience, like those type of metrics had to come in, go, Hey, you know, give us a of dollars. And then to the creator, Hey, you know, you get paid X, Y, and Z., and then the creator's like, no, I want a million dollars. And then we have to say to the creator, no, it's not worth a million dollars.

[00:12:21] Mat Micheli: But proving that was always a major, major headache because creators had their own sense of worth, and brands had their own idea of what things are worth. 'cause it was not programmatic, like there was no this stuff.

[00:12:39] Mat Micheli: Marketers to start putting marketing dollars into this concept called influence for marketing. Like I'll never forget, just talk in these early discussions and people are like, what's an influencer? What do influencers do? Why am I giving it to these people on social media? Um, and that's how early we started in this game.

[00:12:58] Mat Micheli: Um, and, and that [00:13:00] was, and, and remember, we were not marketers. And we were not, like we, we didn't even know what CPM was until like a year or two into this business. Because remember, we were hustlers. Like we were pure, like sell stuff out of the back of our trunks type guys before we started this. And we're farmer entrepreneurs.

[00:13:18] Mat Micheli: That's the way we call ourselves. Like we. Our first business, we together, we started literally on a farm. What was it by the way? It was the liquidation company. Oh, okay. Gotcha. Our overstock and all of our product we kept on Joe's grandmother's farm. Um, 'cause that was the only place we could store it. So, uh, we don't come, come from glamorous upbringings.

[00:13:38] Mat Micheli: We're not, you know, well-educated from that sense. Like we. We just learn and we adapt and we do the, like. Even to this day, our mantra is always do by our clients and ensure our clients just are successful and then the rest, um, will

[00:13:54] Chris Hill: come. Yeah, and I mean, I'm sure when you're dealing with influencers and people that, you know, [00:14:00] they have their own brand to put out into the world, right?

[00:14:03] Chris Hill: Like they've, they've gotta look a certain way and, and communicate a certain way, like that's. That's always a challenge when you're bringing an advertiser into the picture and it's like, what's it gonna cost me? How, how is this gonna be a challenge? So, yeah, that's, that's really cool. So that kinda leads into kind of the next thing.

[00:14:19] Chris Hill: So you've, you've built this business, you've grown it. Let's talk a little bit more about, you know, how you, you choose influencers to work with. I'd love to hear a little bit about like, how do you, I even identify, I mean, you can look at a lot of followers on. You know today on TikTok and say, well, there's somebody with a million followers that should be an influencer.

[00:14:37] Chris Hill: Right? But I'm sure it's more than that. So what do you all do? How does that approach work? So there's

[00:14:41] Mat Micheli: really two, two aspects, and it's both qualitative and quantitative decision making. So tech has been an important part of our journey. So we are extremely data focused in. We look at factors such as demographic, geographic, and then whatever you can pull, um, both [00:15:00]psychographic, which is very difficult to really understand because one of the things that you really want to do is really get into the data to understand things like where's their audience?

[00:15:11] Mat Micheli: What's the makeup of male to female? What countries, you know, are they predominant in? What's their growth rates? Um, because one thing amongst influencers is growth trajectory is incredibly important because growth trajectory is usually indicative of, um, popularity at that time because a, a declining audience usually means viewership isn't as active.

[00:15:34] Mat Micheli: So it's really both. You know, both sides of the spectrum. You know, there's, there's obviously human expertise in going in, in making these decisions, which our team is, um, fantastic at, but really bringing in the data to help harness it. And then the other thing is just looking at what brands they've endorsed before and how they performed for those brands.

[00:15:56] Mat Micheli: Um, because one thing that you see a lot is. You know, [00:16:00] you can have an influencer with an average of a million views on a piece of content, but the minute they do a branded endorsement, that million turns into 300,000. And what the brand thought they were paying for, um, was, you know, 30% off their averages.

[00:16:14] Mat Micheli: So these, it, there's a lot of math involved in. Um, projections and understanding success and like, that's, that's really the core part of where we advance our technology is to be able to do that. That's

[00:16:26] Chris Hill: really cool. And I'm sure there's a lot of algorithms and things like that that you all have developed to, to figure that stuff out.

[00:16:31] Chris Hill: So I. That's really neat.

[00:16:33] Mat Micheli: My favorite one of these that we've encountered was, um, and this was more prevalent pre-COVID was around audience authenticity. And it was, it, I, I did this eye test once where, um, I would look at an influencer and by just literally looking at them and looking at one post, I can tell what percentage of their audience was fake.

[00:16:56] Mat Micheli: Um, because I saw, and I saw this a lot [00:17:00] where. Especially in the blogger and photography community and people that called themselves bloggers, there was this entire circle of, of these creators that would all promote each other's content. So these comments on all their content and the likes were actually from this huge network of people that were like-minded.

[00:17:20] Mat Micheli: So it created this artificial engagement and, um, stickiness, even though it didn't really exist. And I found this whole thing and I uncorked it, and I actually created this algorithm to be able to detect this kind of stuff. So, because that, that was a, it's like, it's borderline fraud, how bad it was, and it was all managed through Telegram.

[00:17:42] Mat Micheli: Like, you should seen this, it. It was this network effect of what happened.

[00:17:48] Chris Hill: I've, I've heard of some of that and, you know, definitely heard how it can Artificially boost the algorithm, so to speak. So that's crazy that you have to have to do that. But yeah, you wanna make sure when you're [00:18:00] dealing with, you know, creatives or a, you know, someone's gonna represent a brand, you know, you wanna make sure that they're gonna, you know, do well by the people that are paying you to bring this person in.

[00:18:10] Chris Hill: And by, you know, the other side, you wanna make sure the other person's happy too. So I. Yeah, I get that, man. That's, that's wild to, to even think about. What other traits are you looking for? So you, you said you can do an eye test and figure it out. You said you've got an algorithm to figure out. Is there anything like that you're like, oh, this makes a good influencer?

[00:18:27] Chris Hill: I've always

[00:18:28] Mat Micheli: been a big believer in niches. Um, I've, because like, listen, there's. Everybody's a vlogger. Everybody does funny stuff. Like there's especially the TikTok revolution, like ninety-eight percent of them are identical. I mean, they all do dances, they all do whatever. Like it's, there's not much differences.

[00:18:49] Mat Micheli: But I've always found in one of our key areas of success is diving deep into, um, and start owning verticals. Of niche type influencers and really it, it ends [00:19:00] up also helping the brand side case in point, um, we've had in incredible success around splitting up verticals like, um, family, like food DIY, nurses, doctors, teachers.

[00:19:14] Mat Micheli: Breaking it out into those types of things has been incredible because then we can go to a brand, you know, say. Like our nurse pod, right? Like where we have maybe four or five of the biggest nurses on social. We can then go and we can create campaigns and packages of our talent specifically for these brands that are looking to promote against nurses.

[00:19:35] Mat Micheli: So that's one thing that I've seen be incredibly successful in the past. Um, but really like on the brand side, it's working with brands that both have digital and, you know, digital footprints as predominant. Angle and then also thinking it's very difficult to measure performance and effectiveness for a retail only client that doesn't do anything online.

[00:19:59] Mat Micheli: So [00:20:00] really digitally first type brands we've had some great success in, but. It's just anyone that's really willing to push the envelope to explore different creative ways of engaging influencers. I think that's very important. But yeah, with influencers also understanding, you know, who's, who's growing, who's.

[00:20:20] Mat Micheli: Really prominent right now, who's trending. Those are all important variables. Yeah, that's,

[00:20:25] Chris Hill: that's definitely important. And how far down the niche rabbit hole do you get? Meaning like, do you, do you work with some folks that are like hyper niche and like they're not gonna have a giant number behind them, but they're really influential?

[00:20:38] Chris Hill: Or do you try to keep it more to the pop culture side of things? No,

[00:20:42] Mat Micheli: we definitely will, will dive deep into niches. Um, I'd say there's still like. We typically, like follower count doesn't mean anything anymore to me anyways, but like if you had to benchmark it, I mean, we have, we never work with anybody usually under 50 k [00:21:00] unless it's a very, very hyper niche type person.

[00:21:02] Mat Micheli: But I've seen two crazy ends of the spectrum. I've seen the most popular influencers in the world and, and our test is always how much product could they sell? Out of something specific to their audience, how much product can they sell? We've done tests. Someone has like 30, 40 million followers. They may sell $10,000 worth of product.

[00:21:21] Mat Micheli: One of the most successful influencers I've ever seen do anything sold $2 million worth of product and only had a million followers. So it's very hyper to. Niche influencers that have a calling, that have a content focus, that have a clear path of why they're influential are bar none the most successful influencers.

[00:21:46] Mat Micheli: Um, and they do the best for the brands.

[00:21:49] Chris Hill: I'm thinking of some of the times that I've, you know, bought products from people that have done. Deals and things like that. And it's always the ones that take the time and be creative with it. Like Joel Haver, I [00:22:00] think that's how you say his last name. Um, but Joel on, um, on YouTube right now, like he, I don't know if you know that creator or not, but he just did a promotion for Baldur's Gate three.

[00:22:09] Chris Hill: I. And he told him, you know, I can do whatever I want with this and I'm gonna do it this way. You know, they let him have free reign and he did it. And it was just, it was great. It was creative, it was engaging. Um, made me wanna buy the game because I was just like, this is funny. This is entertaining. Oh, I didn't know this was an element of the game.

[00:22:25] Chris Hill: This is actually interesting to me. And yeah, I, I can see how that influence means a lot. 'cause you, I mean. I talk about this a lot with podcasting. If you have a connection with your audience, you're going to draw more people in and you're gonna have a stronger influence on people. Podcasting for us is one of the ways we really see that benefit.

[00:22:41] Chris Hill: And, you know, there's a lot of stats to show that there's a good draw and a good conversion rate on listeners to, you know, purchasing products and advertising and stuff. So I, I see where you're coming from on that and I see why that matters, but that's, that's really cool. So. Neat. Um, so as we move on now, so you're, um, [00:23:00] so let's

[00:23:00] Mat Micheli: talk about, it was funny because it wasn't called Viral Nation to start.

[00:23:05] Mat Micheli: Um, it was actually called Go Viral Nation and the whole thing was go viral, right? Like that's kind of how we had initiative. We were gonna be the country of people that go viral. That's kind of the thought process of starting it. But what ended up happening was this was one of those Facebook moments where.

[00:23:21] Mat Micheli: Um, our logo, it looked like Gural. Um, that's the way it initially, and this was like 60 days, so it wasn't exactly like a long-term thing, but it looked like Goverowl. And then we just decided let's drop the go because this doesn't make sense. We're just viral nation and this was the collective of. You know, keeping it open to say we are where things go viral.

[00:23:45] Mat Micheli: And it was initially like we're how creators, you know, ultimately can go viral or viral creators, but it's adapted. Right? And brands, you know, their whole thing is virality. Um, that. And this was early. Keep in mind, [00:24:00] this was very early and no one understood the concept. But we've run into some issues in the past where our emails, um, may go to spam or something depending on the company servers because they think we're selling some sort of pharmaceutical or something like that.

[00:24:14] Mat Micheli: So, and then when Covid happened, oh my God, right? We're like the virus, the viral nation. So. Uh, yeah, that's, uh, a little bit of a back story.

[00:24:24] Chris Hill: I, I laughed hard at the beginning because like, one of the questions I got, I started a, the business I started with one of my best friends years ago that did not end as well as we would've hoped, was actually a social media marketing business.

[00:24:37] Chris Hill: And it was right after Facebook said, okay, businesses can have a, you know, a place on Facebook and all this stuff was happening. And the question we got asked a lot in the south was. Will this go viral? Can you help us go viral all the time? So when I hear go viral, I'm just like, yeah, that's the. We get that from people all the time.

[00:24:53] Chris Hill: So I do have to ask you though, what does make something go viral? Like what? What, in your experience, I mean you have a [00:25:00] lot with influencers and brands and things like, what have you seen that has made things successful and become viral?

[00:25:06] Mat Micheli: I'd say it's changed a lot in the past couple of years as the algorithms have shifted.

[00:25:11] Mat Micheli: I shifted. Incredibly difficult to do what you used to do like before, I'll never forget, there was ways that you can easily hack the algorithms to basically make any video, get millions and millions of views, especially Facebook like that was the easiest one. I'll never forget the revolution of Facebook where these guys were growing millions of followers and millions of views.

[00:25:33] Mat Micheli: But, um, now I think it's, it's timeliness and luck. Timeliness, because jumping on a specific trend at the right time or doing the right content at the right time is I think probably one of the. Quicker ways now to do it. And this is where the integration of pop culture and social media have really taken, you know, to each other, like case in point right now, like [00:26:00] the quarterback on the Giants, right?

[00:26:01] Mat Micheli: Tommy DeVito. Perfect example. His agent, who looks like a mob boss. Has now gone viral, you know, since yesterday on social because of what happened in the game. But it wasn't people watching the game that did that. It was social media showing that, hey, this is the, the quarterback's agent who looks like he's from, uh, you know, the Godfather.

[00:26:21] Mat Micheli: So like social media is using everything from pop culture and making stuff viral. It's not actually Netflix or these other channels that make something viral. Social media takes it and goes viral. Look at the Beckham. Documentary, right? Like you literally saw on Tik-Tok and Instagram, millions and millions of people, um, doing the whole thing around that song.

[00:26:43] Mat Micheli: It wasn't Netflix that did that. It was the fact that people hopped on the trend on social media. So timing, timing is crucial for this kind of stuff. Long gone are the days where you see this random video, um, just get millions and millions and millions of views for [00:27:00] no reason randomly. Just because it's funny, like it happens, but it's very rare compared to the way it used

[00:27:05] Chris Hill: to be.

[00:27:06] Chris Hill: Oh, that makes sense. And yeah, there's, I can see how, especially with the way the algorithms have gotten more sophisticated, you would see that change and you would see that growth. So that's really cool. Thank you. Let's see here. So in, in terms of branding the business, you know, in terms of like.

[00:27:21] Chris Hill: Positioning yourself as Viral Nation now, what have you learned about the brand and how has the name itself played into getting clients growing the business? How has all that gone? One of the

[00:27:33] Mat Micheli: things that we've really worked on a lot was. Thinking of balancing the whole concept of Viral nation and itself as a brand versus the end goal of obviously getting customers, which was, you know, on the brand side.

[00:27:49] Mat Micheli: Interesting. Because in theory, right, a company like ours, we should be. You know, probably a, a media network on social media, right? Like if you actually [00:28:00] think about it on our brand, like that would make sense. But we tried this early on and it didn't work as well to actually truly get customers because our business is very focused on B2B, um, and bringing in large enterprises.

[00:28:13] Mat Micheli: So it's, it's a little bit of, you know, catch-twenty-two, where social media can help onboard. Influencers, but we have like, and we've always had a plethora of influencers that we represented where we have to turn them down. But in order to yield large brand relationships, you have to start becoming more active on platforms like LinkedIn and, um, being more active in traditional PR channels, um, and our content strategy on our blog.

[00:28:43] Mat Micheli: So it really all depends on who your core customers are. I don't know, like we've never had a customer see us on Instagram or TikTok or Facebook. Who is a CMO and come to us for those services because they saw us on social. [00:29:00] However, that's changed a little bit now where you know, as times are converging, you're starting to see that pretty well.

[00:29:06] Mat Micheli: Everybody's active on social, so that strategy is really reinvigorated and viral news. We pride ourselves on being active across our enterprise business and across our talent and sports businesses. To truly become content partners, um, and pump out a lot of content on social media and try to make it as either entertaining or as educational as possible so people find some value in it.

[00:29:30] Mat Micheli: But B2B is very difficult. On social to keep a true audience engaged. Um, it's very difficult because people like following either brands they consume or buy or you know, brands that put out really fun confund and interesting content. So it's like we're kind of in between of, you know, why would I follow these guys type thing.

[00:29:52] Mat Micheli: So. I, it, it's always been difficult, but you know, we really do pride ourselves on content and [00:30:00] pumping out content. Like we do a lot on our blog. Um, we do a lot on social now, so it's. But, and how much people read it. That's right. Like you, you really never know. Um, and who's

[00:30:12] Chris Hill: ultimately reading it. Yeah.

[00:30:13] Chris Hill: That's, that's always the challenge of like, you're, you're helping these other people do really good work and get viral and get big and then your own brand. It takes time to get in and focus on it and actually create content that's interesting that people wanna follow and engage with. I know how big of a challenge that can be just running my own business, so.

[00:30:31] Chris Hill: Sound sounds like the problem doesn't change no matter what size business you're in.

[00:30:35] Mat Micheli: Clients, especially in the B2B vertical, I mean, they come to us all the time and B2B is always the most difficult one to crack because it's. How do you get other businesses to ultimately watch your stuff? Um, and that's where I think you're also well positioned, because I do think that the podcasting universe is, um, a place where people are truly consuming content as consumers.

[00:30:58] Mat Micheli: Um, but I mean, people as [00:31:00] consumers that are listening to this also have jobs at places, right? So, um, I think that this is a, this is a vertical or this is a consumption content chain that I think will work. Um, a lot better long term because this is very specific to a specific type of listeners looking to learn

[00:31:17] Chris Hill: more about it.

[00:31:18] Chris Hill: One of the beauties of podcasts, and going back to what you're saying about niche influencers, like. You've got a niche audience. You can really, really get hyper specific with podcasting. We know this from clients that we have that do data analytics, podcasts and stuff on Amazon web services, and they're, they're big in their space and they're well known, but you wouldn't know 'em from Adam if you bumped into 'em on the street.

[00:31:40] Chris Hill: Like I,

[00:31:40] Mat Micheli: I would, I, I mean I'm, I'm deep in technology, but I would still never listen to an AWS podcast, right? Like, that's just my personal opinion. But I mean, everyone's different, but some people are right, like DevOps professionals and there's hundreds of thousands of 'em will listen to that all day long.

[00:31:58] Mat Micheli: So it's [00:32:00] it, and that's why it's like pod, the podcast is not the niche. It's a content vertical within the podcast that becomes the niche. Exactly.

[00:32:08] Chris Hill: Yeah. 'cause podcasts could be as broad or as specific as you need 'em to be or want 'em to be, so, right. Yeah, absolutely. Agreed. Um, that's really cool. So as, as we look at the, um, viral Nation and how they help creators, what, what do you offer for creators?

[00:32:23] Chris Hill: Like, I come to you and I'm, say I'm a sports star and. I want to have you all help me and you all feel like I'm a good fit for your brand. Like what can you do to help


[00:32:34] Mat Micheli: So our concept is really centered around 360 degree monetization. So we think of every single avenue that a creator, um, and this doesn't matter if it's sports or um, YouTubers or whatever, podcasters really doesn't matter.

[00:32:49] Mat Micheli: Ultimately, we look at every single way of monetization. So everything from your typical brand deals. To content syndication mechanism. So how [00:33:00] you make money off YouTube, how you make money off selling content. Um, OTT, um, integrations. Um, we do full product and merchandise lines for our talent. So, um, if talent have a really cool vertical, like here's an example.

[00:33:15] Mat Micheli: We have a cooking influencer, um, that we represent and we just launched a, um, a line of this really awesome high-end, um, salad bowls. That, um, she ultimately created and it's integrated in every piece of her content. And her fans are just going nuts. You can't even keep it on the shelf. Um, we do stuff like that.

[00:33:36] Mat Micheli: So that's our venture's arm. We do merchandise, um, we do podcasts, so a lot of our talent do, um, are really interested in getting into podcasts. And then we just think of any other way as like, we don't think of ourselves as agents. We don't think of ourselves as managers. We think of our ourselves as business partners.

[00:33:54] Mat Micheli: Right, because all these talent are their own business at the end of the day. Um, and we have [00:34:00] to think about every way that they can make money and be partner. The only thing that they should be focused on is creating content. 'cause content is their avenue for growth. And without that, they're not gonna be able to monetize.

[00:34:14] Mat Micheli: So we say, Hey, talent, you go create content, continue, you know, be active, be you know, consistent, and we're gonna be your monetization

[00:34:23] Chris Hill: vehicle. That's really cool. And do you give them tools to be able to create the content? 'cause I know at some point it's not just pulling out your phone. I mean, I was literally in Las Vegas last week creating content for an influencer.

[00:34:32] Chris Hill: So. I know how that goes, but are you all doing that? Like how does that go? Yeah, so we

[00:34:38] Mat Micheli: do have a number of products in beta, um, that we're releasing, um, and or have released around giving them really good insight into their audience to understand who their audience makeup is and helping them tailor content towards that audience.

[00:34:53] Mat Micheli: Um, bringing AI into the fold to start recommending to them, Hey, this is what content performed well, you should think about making [00:35:00] this. Educational content to gear to to them on the types of things that are really resonating right now around what content to create and then ultimately their channel strategy.

[00:35:11] Mat Micheli: So if say they're a cooking influencer, where do they wanna post on a daily basis? How often are they gonna post on YouTube? What are they gonna syndicate to Instagram? What's.

[00:35:24] Mat Micheli: A tick tock present. So this is all part of it, but the goal is to make this as automated as possible. So on a daily basis, talent would get a push notification to say, Hey, you know, this is how much you grew. This is your engagement and this is the type of stuff that you should think about posting today because this is what your audience is gonna be interested in.

[00:35:45] Mat Micheli: We're away from we're, we're getting there and that's really, um, part of our platform strategy, but that's where we see ai, um, really playing. Um, a big role in the creator ecosystem is not creating content for them. It's helping [00:36:00] them think through what content to create and why using data. So that's really kind of the center fuse of our creator, um, product

[00:36:08] Chris Hill: strategy.

[00:36:08] Chris Hill: That's really interesting. I mean. ai. Um, and I, of course you heard me say no when you were, you were like, it's not about creating the content for them. 'cause AI can be a terrible content creation tool as much as it can be fun to, you know, leverage from time to time. But I, I think that makes sense. And like partnering with, and I dunno if buddying ups the right word, but like figuring out how to leverage ai, I think is that real key.

[00:36:32] Chris Hill: With these folks and, um, being able to sift and sort through just mounds of data, I'm sure that's a big challenge for, you know, larger influencers, is being able to understand what all that means and what to do next. Like, that's, that's a really cool tool that you're building

[00:36:47] Mat Micheli: there. We're getting there, uh, all in

[00:36:50] Chris Hill: time.

[00:36:51] Chris Hill: I get that. So what's top of mind for you, like at a high level? Like what's top of mind for you with the industry as it stands right now? Yeah. And,

[00:36:59] Mat Micheli: and this goes. [00:37:00] I think AI is, there's this misconception on it right now of what it can do and what it. So I'm really bullish on thinking of AI as an enablement engine, not as a replacement.

[00:37:16] Mat Micheli: So I'm, I'm really bullish on that right now. But also, I'm really thinking about how creators in the creator ecosystem eventually start. And you're starting to see this on a daily basis, how creators displace traditional celebrities. Um, in terms of who is viewed as a celebrity. I mean, it's been happening every day for, you know, the past 10 years.

[00:37:40] Mat Micheli: So that's part of it. And then, you know, the other thing for me, it's just really on the brand side, being able to consistently think of ways that we can help prove ROI. Because you know, for any marketer listening to this, any marketer you wants to. Ultimately, and you know, even [00:38:00] as a business, if you know you have a channel that generates ROI, why wouldn't you pour unlimited amount of funds into that channel if you can prove it?

[00:38:09] Mat Micheli: So I think that's a big part of what we're trying to do, is just double, triple, quadruple down on being able to prove that and prove that to marketers saying, Hey. Creators. Um, and social is driving, you know, XY, ZROI for a brand for every dollar they spend. So it's, it's hard, especially with a lot of the limitations that are put on tracking.

[00:38:34] Mat Micheli: Um, but it's, and that's why, you know, data science is gonna be a very, um, powerful, um, team internally or externally. AI to help that. Like this is where I think the puck is moving, and it's been moving very quickly there. You know, any marketing channel is as good as the ability to prove effectiveness. So, um, that's kind of really top of mind for

[00:38:58] Chris Hill: me right now.

[00:38:58] Chris Hill: That makes a lot of sense. [00:39:00] And especially with ROI. I, I feel like any business I've helped, like start or be a part of, like, there's all, it all, all comes back to what return are we getting on this? Because if the client doesn't see it. You know, it doesn't matter what you can do and how good you can make it look or sound like, they're just not gonna do it.

[00:39:16] Chris Hill: You know, they're gonna eventually gonna be like, all right, we're done. We're moving on to whatever else that next thing is. So I can, I can understand how that's a constantly moving needle too, as algorithm shift and things like that. So, yeah, that's, that's, that's really interesting. So, as we wrap up, what brand do you admire the most?

[00:39:33] Chris Hill: Right now there's two.

[00:39:35] Mat Micheli: Um, I'm a massive sports fan. Um, so I'm gonna go in this vertical. So one I really admire is Fanatics. I think Fanatics has done an incredible job of integrating their brand into pop culture, society, and social. And, you know, this really starts at the top, um, with their leaders and how entrenched they are in all aspects of [00:40:00] mainstream culture.

[00:40:00] Mat Micheli: I think that I really admire them. Right now. And then the other one I really have developed, um, a real liking for is ESPN on social. Uh, especially because like, they're probably, I think I saw it ranked, I think they're probably one of the number one TikToks in the world right now. They've actually made it extremely easy for any sports fan to consume.

[00:40:23] Mat Micheli: Bite-sized content of any game. All the, you know, top plays, all the top aspects of pop culture and sports embedded together. But the only thing with them, it's, it's actually counterintuitive to their strategy, which is to get people to watch games, uh, you know. On streaming or tv because if you can go to social and you watch all the bite-sized stuff, why are you gonna watch the long form?

[00:40:46] Mat Micheli: Right. But I really admire 'em. I think they've been killing it on social for a while now. So there, there, those are two that are really top of mind for me. I can, I can

[00:40:55] Chris Hill: definitely speak to ESPN. I'm a big Formula One fan and so being able [00:41:00] to see what they've done with ESPN F1 and that pop culture moment, like they're following the memes really well.

[00:41:06] Chris Hill: They, they do a really good job of like staying on top of the humor. I. In the sport. And that, that makes me wanna watch it more because you, after a while, at least for me, I want to be in a place where it's like I'm ahead of the game. So that's why I wanna watch it, is like, I wanna watch it so I know and can anticipate what the jokes will be, um, so to speak.

[00:41:23] Chris Hill: That's a good one too. I

[00:41:24] Mat Micheli: mean, formula One, formula one in the last, you know, three to five years is basically, I, I think it all started with that Netflix series truthfully. Um, like that's when the tide turned and Formula One. A brand, like, truly like, I think it's, they've, they've done an incredible job. The new peep, the new company that acquired them.

[00:41:44] Mat Micheli: It, it's like, it's culty, right? The Formula One universe, right? Like, it, it truly is. I love it too. Like it's, I, I admire them, so that's a


[00:41:53] Chris Hill: one. As a whole, they've been a really good brand just in general. And I love the, um, I'm sure you've probably, [00:42:00] with your organization, you may or may not have worked with Formula One folks before, but.

[00:42:04] Chris Hill: They've done like Mercedes and like any of the big brands, their social media people are incredible. Like I don't, I would love to interview them at some point, but that's a whole other conversation. Yeah. We

[00:42:14] Mat Micheli: actually just did a, uh, we did a deal with Charles Leclerc. So we did this whole, we did this whole campaign with Charles LeClaire.

[00:42:22] Mat Micheli: Um. And Meta. Yeah. So everything you see on his channel about what he just did with the MetaQuest, we did it. Um, and he is an in incre. He's an incredible guy, so you should check that out.

[00:42:34] Chris Hill: I like Charles. My wife's, that's my wife's favorite driver. So the crush. The crush, yeah. Yeah. I know. I. Yeah, I tease her a lot.

[00:42:43] Chris Hill: Um, but yeah. That's, that's awesome. Um, well, Matt, thank you so much for being here today. As we wrap up, just last question for you. Where can people connect with you if you want to be connected with, and then where can people learn more about Viral Nation and Yeah. Anything else you [00:43:00] wanna

[00:43:00] Mat Micheli: promote? Yeah, you can connect, um, directly with me on LinkedIn.

[00:43:04] Mat Micheli: So I don't know my URL offhand, but I think it's LinkedIn.com slash Matthew Michelliam. We'll include it in the show notes. And then, um, for Borrow Nation, just on our website, borrownation.com, we have contact forms. All our executives are public facing on LinkedIn as well, so feel free to reach out to any of us.

[00:43:20] Mat Micheli: We'd be happy to help personally as well.

[00:43:22] Chris Hill: Matt, thank you so much for coming on. We built this brand. Thank you

[00:43:26] Mat Micheli: so much, Chris. Thank you for having me.