The Solo Founder Growing a Social Media Empire

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hey, my name is Zach Williamson. I'm building Culture Crave: a news source that covers the latest in movies, TV, and video games. It has an extended network of accounts across Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat that covers many niches and boasts just under four million followers. Most of the news is about pop culture, sports, and humor. The past few months I've been working on pivoting it into a digital media company.

Before taking on Culture Crave full time, I worked at Fandom on the social and programming team. Fandom is the largest wiki-hosting service in the world for pop culture, receiving over two hundred million unique viewers a month. I had the opportunity to come in and help build their social presence from scratch.

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In the two years I was there, we grew Fandom by over 285,000 active users on Twitter and 200,000 on Instagram. Monthly impressions went from two million a month to seventy million.

Before Fandom, I attended and graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Marketing. While at school, I took roughly a year off to work with CollegeHumor to build their social presence on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

What motivated you to get started with Culture Crave?

First of all, I love movies. I saw that there was an opportunity to bring the biggest news around movies onto Twitter in a quick and informative way. One of my early inspirations for this was how Bleacher Report and the sports community share information on social. Little quick bits with proper crediting, and if there's a mistake, sports Twitter never lets your outlet hear the end of it.

Never get discouraged when cold emailing.

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The problem on the pop culture side is there are a lot of verified trade sites that run clickbait or give weight to uncorroborated sources. It could be a random dude with a cartoon avi, and they'll still write a 1,000-word article on it.

So my feed’s purpose is to get straight to the point with only proven sources. I called it ‘Culture Crave’ because I feel that name can encompass many things farther down the line: movies, TV, video games, social media, sports, hip hop, and so on.

What went into building the initial product?

I've got bigger plans, but right now we're small. There is currently no website. I don't have an app yet.

We work solely off of the newsletter, social media, and word-of-mouth marketing.

Below I've got more information about the way we started from one post to what we are today.

What's your tech stack?

For the newsletter I use Substack. I like it for now because it’s free and the layout looks clean. I'm open to shifting elsewhere once the newsletter gets bigger, but for now it suffices.

For scheduling content, I use Later, Buffer, and Tweetdeck.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Culture Crave’s revenue varies month to month. There have been some where it’s over $12,000 and others where it’s as low as $2,000. The past few months, during the pandemic, has it right around $5,000. One of the consistent ways I've made and grown that has been driving traffic to websites on CPM or rev-share-based deals.

The Culture Crave network can push 600,000-700,000 sessions a month to a site from purely social. Some past clients have been USA Today, Complex Networks, and Minute Media.

The network has been used to drive impressions and views to app landing pages, tweets, youtube videos, hip hop songs, memes, and Shopify stores. A few years back when Cycle Media was active on Twitter, they had this partnership with ESPN to produce shows that lived on social and one of those was Buckets with hosts Rob Perez and Cassidy Hubbarth. Cycle would come to me to drive views to that. Another example was back when TikTok started out, I would perform PPI campaigns for TikTok through Snapchat by using their animal videos.

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I also consult on social strategy and use the network to drive growth. One of my main focuses for the rest of 2020 and beyond is to find more clients to assist with their social approach. Most places need help even if they don’t realize it. Every platform is constantly changing and they all have different approaches to building. Sometimes you have to bring in an expert for a specific platform and I’m no stranger to doing that.

In the past we've worked with studios to push trailers and posters. This is also something I’m trying to do more of going forward. It’s been surprisingly tough to convince distributors how important it is to do social pushes. I think that's because most of them came up with traditional marketing, like TV, billboards, website banners, and so on, and don’t really understand social media platforms. Most places don’t even return my emails.

A few weeks back, Kevin James had a movie come out called Becky where he plays a neo-Nazi and it recieved good reviews. That premise alone sounds wild. Paul Blart playing a Nazi? We stumbled on the trailer by accident, posted it, and got 250,000 impressions on the tweet without a heavy push behind it. I searched around after for their official account, and there was pretty minimal promotion for it on Twitter outside of a paid campaign through Twitter Ads. Let’s say they bought 250,000 impressions through Twitter directly to promote the trailer. Safely, that’s going to cost more than $1,500. If they went through Culture Crave or a different influencer network, it’s a fraction of the cost for the same target market, and you’re not paying for impressions from people who immediately scroll past tweets because it says promoted.

I think the current climate is going to force these studios and their marketing teams to take more chances going forward. One recent example was Christopher Nolan dropping his Tenet trailer in the game Fortnite. Nolan is so old school that the first teaser for Tenet released strictly before Hobbs & Shaw last year and Warner Bros. issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices left and right to accounts that posted short snippets or images from the teaser because Nolan didn’t want anything online. And now he’s releasing trailers in a video game for kids! I hope these different approaches continue once the world gets back to normal because it’s going to benefit everyone.

Streaming services are another easy place to partner up with. I know I’m giving out free marketing to places such as Amazon right now when they add The Lighthouse on Prime, but I need to have the social proof that it works before pitching.

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The last monetization route we are experimenting with is podcasting. We launched Not Another Movie Pod with Game of Thrones season eight, and have since pivoted it to a movie and TV podcast. It’s had 400,000 downloads since May 2019 on 60 episodes. Unfortunately, we’ve only run one ad in its entire run because most inquiries are not worth promoting and we’re too small to sign with somewhere like Authentic that require 10,000 downloads an episode. The Patreon is going well though and keeping it afloat until we find the right ad partnership.

How have you attracted followers and grown Culture Crave?

After graduating college, and right before Game of Thrones season seven aired, I started a page called Thrones Facts because I was so into the show and wanted a way to share all this random stuff I had learned about the world of A Song of Ice and Fire.

I have a formula that uses impressions and profile clicks to measure potential follower growth and this is something that can be replicated on all social media sites that have analytics provided. Another way to maximize growth without a budget at the time was gaming hashtags and staying on top of the news cycles.

This was peak GoT era, so everyone was talking about it. I think the page gained 40,000 followers in the two months the show was on air. By the end of it, Culture Crave had been started for movie news.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?

Besides finding partnerships, the biggest challenge I’ve faced is getting burned out. For a while, I was working in downtown San Francisco for eight hours at Fandom, two hours commuting there and back, then another 40-60 hours a week grinding away on these projects to keep the growth churning.

At that time, I had a co-partner that didn’t match my work ethic, which resulted in me having to put in a lot more time. We eventually parted ways and I've since filled the roles with freelancers.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

If I had to start over, I’d go straight to hiring freelancers.

Now, I have a person who does content, an editor, some video guys, and a graphic designer. They all take initiative and believe in what we are building. Knowing I've got help and they're on it helps me stay motivated.

What are your goals for the future?

The main goal is to keep building. I want to scale this network out to ten million followers in the next year across all platforms and find new ways to differentiate income.

Respond to every respectable DM or inquiry.

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I’ve also started a newsletter for Culture Crave on Substack that’s a mix of movie, TV, marketing, and social media insights along with interviews from other creators and influencers on how they built followings. Eventually, I want to run ads, launch a paid tier, and start building sub-niche newsletters under the main Culture Crave one that focus on specific fandoms: Star Wars, MCU, LOTR, and so on.

Lastly, I want to build a community news app for Culture Crave. The idea I have for it fills a few needs in the market. The reason I joined Indie Hackers was to learn more about raising funding because I’m pretty unfamiliar with all that.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

I can break my best advice down in a list:

  • Always be learning
  • Always be networking
  • Respond to every respectable DM or inquiry
  • Never get discouraged when cold emailing
  • Influencer marketing works
  • Set budgets

Where can we go to learn more?

I can be reached by email at [email protected].

My Indie Hackers product page here is @culturecrave.

My newsletter is culturecrave.substack.com.

Zach Williamson , Founder of Culture Crave 🍿

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