London-based gen Z insights agency Bump spawned from a Facebook group of music lovers, and still puts online communities at the heart of its model. We sat down with founder (and DJ) Robbie Murch to talk converting cultural currency to actual currency, working with Kanye West and the “communiconomy.”
It’s interesting enough as a founding story: London-based marketing agency Bump began as a Facebook group. Arguably more interesting, though, is that in 2022 that Facebook group and the community it spawned remain a part of this gen Z-focused, community-obsessed agency’s present and future, as well as its past.
So, Bump started out as a Facebook group?
Yes, The Identification of Music Group. Wired called us “the human version of Shazam.” When that technology isn’t working for you, you can post a song by humming or describing or singing it into our group. We’ve curated a bunch of music nerds – DJs, producers, musicians, industry folk – who share a passion for music and get a kick out of sharing it with others.
Now, the community operates on Facebook, Reddit and Discord. We’ve got 118,000 people on Facebook, with 20,000 on the waiting list. We’ve always curated the group. We ask screening questions to make sure that we can get past people who might not be as passionate about music as others. When we let people in en masse, the quality of the requests and comments goes down. Also, it probably sounds a bit cool to have a waiting list.
It’s been running since the golden age of Facebook groups...
It was set up by a friend of mine in 2015. I was a member. I was living in China; I was presenting a Boiler Room [club night] and he said to me, “would you like to take over this group?” The group was my world. It was a place to connect with nerdy music fans and chat about records and music culture. Back then, there were about 30,000 people in the group.
You were still a student?
I was studying Chinese at Durham, desperate to have my own business, throwing events and parties. Taking over, I thought I could make this into a long-term career.
It wasn’t a commercial enterprise at all. There’s no blueprint for commercializing Facebook groups, nor any monetizable options, but I knew it had cultural currency and that would somehow translate into actual currency. The tagline of the agency is “translating brand culture into gen Z currency”: culture can drive revenue.
<!-- inArticleBlock -->
Do those same rules still apply now?
We’re in the information and knowledge economy. We have a resource of information that we don’t charge our members for, and we never tried to monetize the data side. It’s purely about offering opportunities back to them. I call that process the ‘communiconomy.’
With web3 technologies and young people wanting to become self-employed more than ever, it’s going to become more difficult for brands to meaningfully engage in this space. We’re interested in speaking to young people who have these communities, helping them monetize what they have and making their passions – gaming, fashion, music, sport, technology – into something they can live off. And equally, we want to help them communicate with brands.
OK, so how does that community evolve into a marketing agency?
I started going for coffees with people who had reached out to me within the group who were in the music industry: major record labels; independent labels such as XL. A lot of them were A&R [artist and repertoire] people, looking to sign hot new artists and find who they should be speaking to.
I signed a two-year deal with the chairman of Chrysalis records, Robin Miller, CBE. He’s had 44 number ones; he produced Sade’s Diamond Life album; he’s the chairman of the charity Scope; he’s got a Windrush award. His values aligned with mine, so we set out to do something.
Initially, I provided consultancy services to him personally. I was given the time and space to come up with a business plan. I fell into the industry that way. I’ve definitely felt like a bit of an outsider at agency meet-ups.
<!-- inArticleBlock -->
And Bump itself is pretty new...
I set up Bump in 2021. I’m following Robin, really. He’s based his whole career on fostering community; the community aspect, especially in the creative industry, only leads to good opportunities. That philosophy has made this business.
Through Bump we’re able to put resources back into the community. We’ve set up a commercial business around The Identification of Music insight tool. Any campaigns we do with Pioneer DJ, Kanye West, Kickers – we always go to our group first to collect qualitative and quantitative insight to make sure our campaigns are on the money. The long-term goal is to collect more communities like that, around the fashion, music, tech and sports spaces, which can inform bigger campaigns.
How do you replicate that without the serendipity of authentic passion in Facebook groups back in 2015?
We’re treating communities like records, with community A&Rs. Instead of an A&R at a major label going out and trying to sign the hottest new record, we’ve got people going out and looking at the hottest Discord and Reddit youth culture communities, to offer them a blueprint for how to monetize their passion point. When I was in university, you could Google to the end of the world, ‘how do you monetize a Facebook group?’ and no one could tell you anything.
We can help people by providing a blueprint; helping them with an agency module. We’re offering partnership – an investment arm, offering them, as Robin did for me, consultancy to get them set up and running. We do more traditional work on an agency model – in fashion, music, technology and alcohol – but the future is that community model.
Clearly, the nature of online communities (and their relation to monetization) has shifted in the last 10 years. Where are we on that journey now?
Groups were the last saving grace at Facebook, where they were free from commercial input and advertising. People could chat without their data being harvested. Reddit and Discord have tried to provide communities, as have TikTok comment sections for a lot of young people. But I don’t see a platform that has provided the solution that we need. There’s still a gap.
People are struggling with social media. Those pre-social media spaces were genuinely enjoyable, whereas you go on social today and you’re full of anxiety. There are so many pathways in which you can become anxious, scared and attacked quite quickly. I’ve been bullied online. It’s horrific. Social media really has so far to go to make people feel safe and comfortable.
<!-- inArticleBlock -->
Presumably, you’re the person who’s made the most money from the group. Does commercialization remain tricky?
I learned a lot from that initial backlash [to commercializing the group]. I checked myself and we’ve never sold events; we’ve never sold merch. We’ve only facilitated. We put in £100,000 to help people get jobs in the creative industries – 20 community members got six-month part-time jobs. Five of those have turned into full-time careers, moving on to major record labels.
If you don’t sell products at them, and you’re just a facilitator, you can maintain your cultural credibility and trust.
You mentioned Kanye West – that’s got to be a dream job.
His team wanted insights into how they could launch [2021 album] Donda while he was living in the Atlanta stadium. We found some venues around the UK that the crème-de-la-crème of music fans recommended for our group.
And I was on holiday about to park up for a walk when I got the call. I drove straight back to London, didn’t sleep for 40 hours and pulled off this event. That was a changing point, taking us from a niche electronic music group into other genres such as hip-hop, working with a huge global brand.
Clearly, you’re an expert in online subcultures and music. Give us three recommendations.
OK! Firstly, Daytimers: a collective of South Asian DJs, musicians and producers. They formed over Discord in lockdown and since then have created a festival that has attracted the attention of Skrillex among others to come and invest in UK music talent.
Secondly, the artist Fred Again – we’re building a relationship with him. He’s connecting rap and rave and we’re trying to do something similar.
And lastly, Black Artist Database, which started out as a Google Sheet in lockdown, just post-George Floyd. Their motto is that every day is a good day to support a Black artist. Its founder Nix has blown up, playing international festivals and clubs.
Diplo said that being a DJ is a bit like putting together a cultural jigsaw: matching up certain elements. That’s the way we see our campaign work with Bump. Those three are all using communities to piece together knowledge.
<!-- inArticleBlock -->