Over the past two decades, the world of social media has undergone a remarkable evolution, reshaping the way we connect, communicate, and consume content. As a seasoned consultant, Matt Navarra has stood as a vigilant observer and an active participant. He’s not only witnessed the shifts but has also been at the forefront of guiding brands and institutions through these seismic changes. 

In today’s episode we speak with the seasoned social media consultant, Matt Navarra. With a career spanning over two decades, Matt brings a wealth of experience to the table, sharing captivating stories and insights on the ever-changing landscape of digital platforms. Matt’s success is a testament to adaptability, innovation, and the power of staying ahead in a rapidly shifting industry.  Join us as we delve into an array of fascinating stories that have shaped the digital sphere, guided by a trailblazer in the field.

Speakers: Cat Anderson & Matt Navarra

[Music playing]

Cat: Welcome to season two of Social Creatures, a podcast from Sprout Social. My name is Cat, and I’m here to explore some of my favourite success stories from the world of social media.

This is a space for anyone and really, nearly anything goes, but what makes an account successful or popular? Honestly, it’s hard to know, but that is exactly what we’re here to find out.

Throughout the series, we’ll talk to the brands behind some of the best accounts that you know and some that you don’t know yet to explore the way that these businesses, organisations and individuals have achieved their success on social media, and how you can do it as well.

Today, I’m very excited to be joined by a true luminary in the realm of social media strategy and consultation, Matt Navarra.

If you’re remotely connected to the world of social media, Matt’s name is likely a familiar one. With an illustrious career spanning over two decades, Matt has emerged as one of Europe’s most well-known social media consultants.

Having collaborated with some of the world’s most well-renowned brands from the likes of the United Nations, Google, Meta, the BBC (that’s just to name a few), his insights and expertise have propelled him to the forefront of this ever evolving industry.

With a career that’s littered with incredible stories, huge names and career defining highlights, I cannot wait for this conversation today.

Matt, I’m so thrilled you’re here today and as someone who has 20 plus years of industry experience, and you’ve worked with some of the most popular brands and you’re known by name, by the platforms themselves, you are definitely a seasoned social media expert and consultant. Like everybody knows your name.

Can you talk me through your career so far and how you’ve got to the level that you’re at now?

Matt: Summed up, that basically says that I’m old, I think that’s where we’re with things. But yeah, I prefer the terms you used. Thank you for that.

I have done social media for over 20 years now. I started in social media. My first role in social was around 2009. I didn’t start with a career in social. I left uni in 2002, did a degree in business and marketing.

I went to do a job on a grad scheme, which I thought was the beginning of an illustrious career in the world of banking, and I hated every minute of it. No aspect of social media because at that point, it was 2002 and we had maybe MySpace and a few other things or whatever, but it wasn’t anything else.

And then I spent time becoming a teacher, I trained to become a marketing manager in another industry and I did a variety of other roles, and then I went travelling and then I came back and thought I really need to think of something I want to do that I would enjoy.

And so, then I started a job for the UK government as a press and PR comms manager for the intellectual property office in Newport actually.

And it was only then in 2009, I started this role of seeing that there was lots of social media accounts that other places were creating in government, but we didn’t have any, my boss didn’t want me to make any, and I decided just to do it anyway under the desk without anyone kind of knowing.

I was fortunate that it was successful because I had some tie ups where I managed to connect with the BBC Dragons’ Den team, which led to a kind of collaboration that did really well.

I asked for a lot of help from people, I was upsetting bosses still in that role. I think I found the email address of the Director of Digital Communications for the cabinet office who didn’t know me, told them that I was wanting to do more, that I felt I could do more and could be better, and that I admired her successes and would she kind of give me an opportunity to spend time within her team.

And that was, I think, the turning point because from there, I got an opportunity to work in London for the cabinet office, managing the UK civil service account, the cabinet office account. And then later on Downing Street and spending time with the Prime Minister’s social team.

And so, that was kind of like the opening piece. That took me to my first role in social, and I’m happy to kind of dig into where it went from there, if that’s of interest.

Cat: Yeah, I just think that’s so interesting because it’s safe to say you maybe bumped around a little bit beforehand, which I think is something that a lot of people can relate to.

What do you think it was about social media that really seized your attention at that time? I guess, it must have been super exciting because it was so brand new as well.

Matt: Well, yeah, and typically, at that time, government accounts would trail what was going on with private sector, kind of proper brands using social by a good couple of years, and they were much more, as you’d expect, risk-averse and they were not sure about its value to them as an entity in government.

And so, there was a few people and I was probably one of them at the time, that kind of was quite excited at the prospect of what government could do with social media and how it could use it to engage citizens, and how to use it to further the agenda, positive hopefully, agenda of the particular government of the day.

And so, I saw lots of excitement and opportunity, whereas I think a lot of people at that time in government and people in charge, the sort of senior civil servants, were very kind of sceptical, risk-averse and avoidant of it all.

And to me, I was like a lot of other people around 2008, 2009, which was, Facebook was relatively new. Twitter was equally new, 2006, 2007 onwards. And I had my first social media account other than Facebook, was my Twitter account in September of 2008, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

I was thinking, do I post about the fact I’m going to a coffee shop with a friend and take a picture of a croissant, I have no idea what to use Instagram and nothing else for.

But I think the thing that hooked me in particularly with Twitter at the time, which I think was the same across social for me, was I could message or post something on Twitter and then somebody that was famous or I admired who worked as a CEO of a company or as a celebrity in a program I liked, whatever, could be mentioned, they could see that.

I could imagine them being able to see my post and get the mentioned notification, and then possibly replied to me in that direct line of communication with someone like that.

And I had several early experiences with BBC Tech news correspondence. That’s how geeky I am. That was the people that I was interested in connecting with to. I think Rory Cellan-Jones was the first person for those that may have been aware of him, he was BBC’s main tech correspondent at the time.

And I messaged him and said, “You don’t know me. And they say you don’t ask, you don’t get. So, I’m asking, can I spend a day with you following your work?” And that was simple as that. And then he replied in a direct message saying, “Sounds good, come and spend some time with me.” And then I was like that’s amazing.

And so, that was the buzz, that was the hook that kept me in. And then the growing of the Twitter account that I had took place many years later and I wish you I could say it was very strategic and planned, but it kind of was quite organic, and then it snowballed and it went from there.

Cat: I love that you have now mentioned two instances where you’ve really advocated for yourself and at that time, where presumably, as you said, people were not even really too sure about the value of social.

Do you think that confidence helped sort of propel you forward? I mean, I really love that you just sort of asked these people to sort of get access to them.

Matt: I think that that’s probably a personality trait. I’ve always been fairly outgoing and also and somebody who likes to take calculated risks. But I don’t mind doing something that maybe other people wouldn’t feel as confident in doing and accepting that the potential risks to me or the organisation.

I’ve often sought out job roles that have given me opportunities where I don’t have to kind of censor myself too much.

But I do a lot of coaching calls with people now as part of a new thing that I’ve started doing with social media professionals where I’ll do 15-minute coaching calls for free, and there’s always the same questions and the same issues: “My boss doesn’t see the value in social and I’ve got a lot of rules I have to follow and I’m a bit unsure to do this or to do that.”

The head of social and digital at the cabinet office told me on my first day, “Just effing do it, and that’s the only way to get on in government, otherwise you wait for approval and sign off, it’ll be sanitised within an inch of its life.”

But yeah, I will often tweet out saying “I’m in London, do you want to meet up for coffee?” And I’ll meet complete strangers who follow me on Twitter and have coffees with them. I think the ADHD is another part of that, which is a facet of who I am. I think that played a big impact on my career.

Cat: I just love that you’ve taken the social aspect of social media there. Like when you’re talking about going to meet people, you’ve pulled that through into real life, which I think is really, really powerful. I love that you’re going to meet new people.

I just want to touch a little bit more on the work at number 10 before we move on to The Next Web. What was it like there?

So, you’re mentioning here a lot of sort of like ask for forgiveness, not for permission, which I think people who work at social media love, but at the same time, you have also touched on that a lot of people are working with people who don’t see the value, who are restraining them a little bit.

Were you able to sort of do much of that in number 10? Because I would imagine in the world of restricted social media accounts, surely number 10 must be like right up there at the top in terms of what you can and cannot say, and stuff that’s drafted over and over and over, or perhaps you were in early enough so that it wasn’t like that.

What was your experience?

Matt: In terms of kind of the experience with the cabinet office accounts and civil service account, and then 10 Downing Street accounts at that particular time, yeah, it was particularly sanitised and it was several layers of chains of command.

The number 10 press secretary, and then you’d have people that were special advisors to the Prime Minister or to the Conservative Party. And there are different people that run different bits of social when it comes to 10 Downing Street.

So, when you are managing digital within Downing Street, you are not directly managing Rishi Sunak’s account right now, for example, he has his own special advisor who’s very, very good actually at the moment running his individual social accounts.

But in terms of the number 10 account, that’s the number 10 digital team, and then the Conservative Party account, that’s a separate thing. Again, they’re all run by separate different teams, but there is a level of coordination and a hierarchy of who’s say is valued more or is ultimately the final sign off.

It has improved since, I believe. Government is a lot better now at digital and social than it ever was. And I was in Downing Street actually on Monday this week meeting the number 10 Downing Street team working on digital.

And they seem very optimistic. They are doing some really interesting, incredible new things they’re doing all the things that social media managers would want to be doing in that role, which is trying new platforms, thinking about threads versus X, talking about the challenges, the fact that government can’t use TikTok at the moment.

So, they have to think about how are they going to reach younger audiences if they cannot use TikTok. They can use creators and influencers but they can’t directly use it.

And so, they have all the similar challenges and concerns and questions that we all have, but there is an extra layer of sign off that is probably quite correct to have.

When you’re in government, reaching that location to be doing social is kind of for most people in public sector comms can be seen as the top of the tree and it is a great experience. And it’s equal parts frustrating because of the limitations and restrictions.

Like you have question marks over if we tweet something and it has an element to say something to do with international relations, you could damage global international political relations with another country in a tweet.

It sounds dramatic to say that, but those sorts of things are poured over and considered. And remember when I first started, I would say, “Why can’t we tweet about this whimsical, lighthearted, just for fun type piece that makes it feel a bit more authentic?”

Well, yes, but if such and such of an instant happens in the world that is unpredicted and unexpected, and then they go back and look at that tweet and it out of context changes the meaning of things, that kind of lighthearted tweet has significant ramifications for the Prime Minister and the political parties.

So, there is good reasons why there’s checks and balances in that kind of social.

Cat: Yeah, gibbers, I feel like the anxiety of thinking something inside out and back to front because as you say, for the best of people, sometimes people tweet things and then it ages like sour milk as they say. So, when they have such large ramifications, that must’ve been a little nerve-wracking.

But I’m interested Matt, because obviously, that in itself would be an amazing career, but this is just the absolute tip of the iceberg. How did you get from being in number 10 to being this industry-known, like tipster industry known expert, known by the platforms, being invited into the HQ of all of the different social media platforms? How did you propel into that sort of personal profile?

Matt: In terms of like the next stage from there, I connected with the CEO of The Next Web and he knew of me from following my Twitter account and the government stuff I was doing and said, “Do you want to come and have a look, a role in Amsterdam for being a director of social for The Next Web?”

And The Next Web of technology news site, a bit like TechCrunch and The Verge. And it had an event of 3,000 people at the time in 2013 that they run every year for one day.

And I said, “Then what do you want me to do?” “Well, just give us a social media strategy, figure out what we can do to amplify the distribution of our news content and come up with a strategy for our events in Amsterdam.”

So, I took the job on, the two first things I did was one, have a meeting with the CEO and co-founder of the company, and he did the whole don’t ask for permission, kind of ask for forgiveness. And I said, “Well, what are the limits because I’ve come from government here, I can’t do a lot of things in my old role.”

He goes, “Well, put it this way Matt, if you just tweet up to the point where it gets us summons to appear in court for something, that’s the point to stop, that’s your limit. So, just do what you think is best, we trust you.” Which was humorous but also, quite empowering to have that level of control and autonomy.

But in terms of the question around how did I get known out of that, I think it was because a couple of things. I recognized that when I went to events where I did social — because we had an event in New York and an event in Sao Paulo and some other places. I would go with the team, travel with the team to manage social locally for that two weeks.

And before I got to New York (every year, we did the event for three or four years), I would find the companies that were most interesting to me, which were like Wall Street Journal, United Nations, NBC, all these other brands.

And I would find who their Social Media Manager was on LinkedIn that was New York based and senior. I would then email them a message them saying who I was, what I do, and could I come into your place of work and just meet you, it’d be great to have a coffee.

Most of them didn’t know me, some of them did. And I think for about three years on the trot, I went into some of the biggest organisations in the world to chat to them about their social team and what they did.

So, that was one thing I did. The other thing I did was I recognized that people were fascinated by all the bits of information when you open up an app like Facebook and a bubble comes up saying “new feature” and you’re like, “Oh, this is a new thing.”

So, I’d then screenshot it and I’d tweet it out, and say I’ve got this new feature. And people were like, “Oh that’s really cool, how have you got that?” And that snowboarded so that people wanted more of that, so I kept on doing it.

And then I quickly cottoned onto the fact that if I tweeted out screenshots or something, those tweets would be put in articles for BuzzFeed or TechCrunch or whatever.

And I just sat there and thought, “This is easy free marketing, if I just tweet stuff for everyone else and they put it in all these articles and it gets featured all around the world quite quickly, Matt Navarro’s the name, and what I do is going to become quite quickly known” and it did.

And so, when I got to the end of that career junction at The Next Web, and I’d had maybe 15, 20,000 Twitter followers from just doing that, I had one media request to go on the BBC news, which our team didn’t want to do.

So, I said, “Well, I’ll go on BBC News and talk about social if you don’t want.” Once I’d done one of those, then Sky News, CNN and others, their producers would see it because they’re all watching each other and see if it is a good guest they can pull onto their show.

And then once they’ve got you in their little black book of guest potentials, then they tend to keep ringing if you’re doing an alright job. So, those were some of the main things.

And then finally, in the last year before I left The Next Web, I went to a lot of social media conferences like South by Southwest and I went to Web Summit and others, and I would kind of see the same people I always see at those events, but I would kind of corner them over a drink in the evening and say, “I’m leaving The Next Web and this is what I’m thinking of doing. Do you think it’s a good idea?” And I would sound bored off of them as to what to do.

Cat: I wonder if you’re being a little modest there about how you started just to tweet out about the new features.

As your profile grew, did your access to this information grow? Because I know for a fact that you have some absolutely bananas stories. There’s one that when we have spoken before, perhaps you could share the story about when you were in Twitter?

Matt: Yeah.

Cat: This one’s brilliant.

Matt: I think you’re right in the sense that as I did more of those tweets and posted more about that, and I also then started connecting with people that were super cool, good at coding and understanding HTML and JavaScript, and all that sort of stuff that I still don’t have any clue with.

And they helped me uncover details within the code, which is what a lot of people now do that kind of thing. At the time, no one was doing that.

And so, they would give me information about what they were finding in the code, and then I would leak it out and post it. And there was one incident that I remember, a story before I mentioned the Twitter thing, was that I was given through a friend details about Instagram TV, and they managed to capture through their means, the screenshots, the images, all of the specs for IGTV and everything else about the launch.

And so, I just took the information, posted it, thought nothing of it, and then later that day or the next day, it was officially launched but I’d got a day’s jump on them.

So, I met Instagram’s Director of Comms for Europe a couple of years later and I asked her about that incident and she said, “Yeah, did you realise that you absolutely trashed six months of comms planning, campaign, strategy planning around how we were going to do the launch. You leaked it 24 hours before and it completely shot our thing to death.”

So, my relationship with platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, initially they weren’t really sure, and I still don’t think they really know how to have a working relationship with me because I’m not a journalist.

I’m not a pure creator influencer sort of person. And I’m not just a consultant or speaker at events, I kind of do a bit of everything. So, they never know which one to treat me like.

So, there was an incident when I went to South By and I had an email and it came up and it was from somebody who’s senior at Meta or as it was then, Facebook saying, “Oh, we see that you’re at South By, we’d love to meet you for a drink. Would you like to come to the private Messenger launch event party thing at this bar?” And I was like, “Yeah, that sounds good, I’ll come along to that, that sounds alright.”

So, I was a bit curious as to how they knew I was there. I don’t think I’d tweeted about it, which is a bit sketchy.

So, I got to the front of this party cube and I gave them my name, said, “Matt Navarra.” And he said, “Sorry, Matt Navarra is it? Can you just wait there?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure.”

And then this woman came along, she pulls me up in front of like six people, I still to this day don’t know who they were. And this guy just looked at me and sort of leaned in and just said, “So, who’s telling you this information? Where are you getting it from?”

And I was like, “What?” And I thought, “Do I have to tell him now? Are they going to stick me in a van and like do me in?” I couldn’t tell, I had no sense of reading the tone of his voice, and then he just sort of paused like what felt like forever. And then he just said, “I’m only kidding, I’m only joking.” I was like, “Alright, fine.”

That was kind of like a moment where I kind of reminded myself that they do see what I do and they’re all watching.

But that same year South By was a funny year because about two hours after that meeting of Meta, I had an invite to the private Twitter party. And for those that go to South By, will know that their brands have all these activations and private parties, and Twitter had its own branded Twitter house thing.

And I got there and by this point, I’d had a fairly large amount to drink, I think. And this guy sided up next to me and said, “You are Matt Navarra, aren’t you?” And I was like, “Yeah.”

And he said, “I got some information that you’ll want to know.” And I said, “Yeah, what’s that then?” And he said, “Oh, I know about the edit button, edit tweet button.” Which back in 2017 or 16 the conversation happened wasn’t obviously a thing. And everyone was speculating on will they ever give us an edit tweet button.

And I asked him some questions, he showed me some information on his phone, and I quite quickly was like, “This is legit.” And it showed me some internal mockups of the edit tweet button and some information about what they’ve been working on.

So, I just do what I normally do. I was like sat inside the Twitter party tweeting about a new feature that Twitter didn’t want anyone to know about.

And then I shared it all, and within about five minutes my phone started ringing. And I picked up and it was an American mobile and it said, “Hi, is that Matt Navarra?” I said, “Yeah, it is.” “Are you tweeting about Twitter from the Twitter party? I’m the Head of Comms for Twitter.”

And I was like, “Yeah.” “Where are you?” And I was like, “Somewhere in your party.” And she said, “I think we should have a drink, come and meet me. I’m at the bar at this place.”

So, walked over sheepishly to this woman who was in charge of comms for the team, and she was quite cool about it from what I recall, and shared a drink and then made an agreement that they would give me some information in advance of revealing it publicly if I agreed to not share any more information about the edit tweet button.

The relationship is a tricky one. I go into the platforms offices and chat to the teams or they’ll tell me stuff, and most of them, they will send me all of the press embargoes or they will tell me information, saying, “You might want to know this, if you want to share it with people, that’s your choice.”

Kind of like selectively leaking it left open-ended. That’s not an uncommon event in my inbox.

Cat: It’s really interesting because I feel like when you say these stories where people are summoning you to private tables or the Head of Comms is phoning you, like, “What’s going on Matt?”

That sort of, I don’t know, triggers a little bit of anxiety in me, but you do have good relationships with these platforms and I’m interested, you’ve pretty famously, I feel like it might be one of the first sort of hits about you when we Google you. Twitter took over your account a couple of years ago, and so far as I’m aware, I think that’s the only incident of that really happening.

So, maybe you could tell us how did that happen?

Matt: Yeah, that was another weird one. I seemed to have a career littered with weird, bizarre, twisted stories to do with social.

I can’t remember what year it was, but I think somebody might have died in my family at the time or something was not great at that time. And I decided one of the few occasions where I had step away from Twitter because I was such a frenetic Twitter user, suddenly going dark would’ve been a bit odd.

So, I tweeted saying something like, “I would be stepping away from my account for a short period, things going on in my life, but if anybody wants to make use of my account …”

Again, this is what I’m like. Rather than just saying I’m just not going to use Twitter for a while, I thought well, my account’s got quite a good following, and a charity or a business or somebody who wants more experience managing a larger account could have my account and do something with it, and I would happily give them access to it. I’ve got nothing to hide.

So, I put out a tweet saying that if anyone wants to own it, manage it for a bit, and use it for something useful, sensible, which is not what ended up happening, then do so.

And then I had a DM from the @Twitter account saying, “Is this serious with a link to the tweet?” And I said, “Yeah.” And they replied, said “We’d do it. And I was like, “Alright then.”

So, then there was this nervous moment where I gave over my two factor authentication code in a DM to Twitter so they could log into my account. I should say that I deleted most of, if not all of the sensitive direct messages between me and other platforms, executives at other platforms, celebrities that I’ve been working with on social. All of that stuff had kind of been removed so they couldn’t see it.

And they then for 24 hours or a short period made an announcement on their Twitter account, and then on mine saying they’d taken over it, and they tried to mock what I used to tweet.

So, they would put things out saying, “Breaking news, Instagram is just a home for the best tweets.” There’s some really funny ones that did really well, they did all of that, and I thought that’s quite cool. And people thought it was interesting. I think I added about from memory 8 to 10,000 new followers on that particular few hours they did it.

And then the TechCrunch decided that they thought that this was a data privacy risk and how irresponsible and inappropriate it was for a major tech company to infiltrate another accounts even if permission was granted their DMs without the people that’s sent Matt Navarra’s DMs have been approved. The fact that they’re seeing these messages, but of course, I knew I deleted them.

So, it caused a little bit of controversy, but I think the attack by TechCrunch was more on Twitter than it was on me. And of course, for people that were geeks and social media managers are like, “This is awesome, this is so fun.” That was another bizarre moment amongst many I’ve got in my time in social.

Cat: Yeah. And I mean, I don’t mean to just keep trying to get all of these bizarre stories out of you, but is it safe to say there’s a little bit of beef between you and Mark Zuckerberg? What’s the story there? Again, what a sentence to say.

Matt: So, over the years, my name must have come up in front of him a few times and I know that because for example, when I was at The Next Web, when they first launched Facebook Live, Mark was doing lots of live in Mark Zuckerberg, and it was people like Andrew Bosworth and the rest of the team talking about Facebook.

And so, in some of those, I would add a comment and my account was verified at the time, so it would rise to the top a bit. And there’s video clips from those lives where Mark Zuckerberg’s saying, “Matt Navarra asking blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

And a couple of times, that’s happened and I think probably a good dozen of times on his posts where I commented on his posts, he’s directly replied and engaged and stuff.

But in terms of one particular incident, I think I was flying to New York to do The Next Web conference, and my sister lives in Canada and she knew I was going to be nearer to where she was in Canada, and we were going to meetup.

And so, just before we took off from London, there was a big story going on about how Facebook had turned the outcome of the elections with Donald Trump and how bad that was, and Facebook’s role in all of that.

And so, I think Mark Zuckerberg would’ve posted something saying that Facebook has not done that and it wasn’t their fault, and some evidence to suggest why it wasn’t all this sort of stuff.

And I commented saying that that was rubbish, and that they do have a responsibility, and that they would’ve had some level of influence over it, and that it’s ridiculous to think that they didn’t or something along those lines.

So, I got to New York and landed, turned on my phone, my phone just like was exploding. It was going nuts. And then my sister rang and she said, “Oh, see that you’re in America already then.” And I said, “Well, just got here.” She said, “Well, I saw you, did you do some TV while you were there? You were on the TV this morning, you really were, here’s a link.”

Cat: Oh my God.

Matt: And then there was this story, I think it was the Breakfast Show in the U.S, saying, “Mark Zuckerberg has said this, but one Facebook user disagreed with Mark Zuckerberg, and he said …”

And they had like this picture of my account and then my thing I’d said, and it said, “But Mark Zuckerberg argued back saying that Matt was wrong because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And it was just a whole thing.

So, yeah, but I don’t think it’s any bad blood because I did a podcast for the Geek Out stuff and we had who is now the number two at Facebook, Andrew Bosworth on and he said to me, “You should pop in if next time you’re in the neighbourhood.”

Cat: Oh wow, that’s such a wild story. That just must have been such a surreal experience hopping off and your sister telling you you’ve been on Breakfast TV.

Matt: Crazy.

Cat: So, Matt, you have mentioned Geek Out, which is obviously a huge part of you and your brand and what you’re known for. But for people who maybe don’t know what Geek Out is, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Matt: So, Geek Out came out of the back of leaving The Next Web, going solo. I had a Facebook group I had planned to create and do something with The Next Web, but it never was used. It was kind of dormant and nothing was going on.

So, I reset the group and created a group called Geek Out. And it was really just a place where I thought I could share news into, people could discuss what’s going on rather than just on Twitter where it felt more like it was me just curating the news without much discussion. I thought this would be a place for people to do that kind of engagement and discussion sort of stuff.

And that now, is like, I think 35,000 members in that free community. But off the back of that, I then thought, “You tweet quite a lot about all this stuff, but it’s hard to kind of keep on top of it all, could you put it all together?”

So, I thought, well, I could do it in newsletter because Everyone was started doing newsletters more about three or four years ago. So, I started doing that and at the same time, I thought, well, I’ll throw the idea out about podcasts.

So, a bit of news, a bit of kind of chatting to people in the industry and a newsletter that summed up, rolled up all of the stuff into one place with no intention of it becoming anything more than a useful learning experience for me, and maybe it would be another way to grow my audits in a little way, but beyond that, that was my only ambition.

But it kind of mushroomed because then I had some DMs come into my accounts, saying, “I just saw your tweet saying you’re going to launch a newsletter. I’m from Khoros, Spredfast (was the company at the time), we’d sponsor your newsletter. How much do you want for sponsorship?”

And then I think Pinterest DMed me and said, “Oh, we’d love to sponsor the podcast, would you be up for doing that?”

And this was early on into becoming a freelance, I had no understanding of what would make a good ad unit in a newsletter. How much should you charge for an ad unit? What should I offer as a bundle for sponsorship and how long should the podcast be, and should it have ads inside the podcast? And what branding would it need?

So, I had no answers to these questions and no experience of doing it. So, I was going into calls with Pinterest and them saying, “We like the idea of doing a podcast with you. You calling it the Social Media Geek Out, but we are not a social media company, so can we call it Matt Navarra’s Geek Out?”

I felt so cringe, I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin with the concept of my name being in the title. They said to me, “First of all, how much do you want to do the podcast, and how many episodes would you do?”

And I was like off microphone to my colleagues saying, “Should we do 6, 45 minutes?” “Well, six episodes, 45 minutes.” And then they’re like, “We’ll offer you £10,000.” And I was like, “Yeah, that works for us, 10,000.”

And then they’re like, “Can we change the name?” I said, “Well, you can change the name but it’ll affect future branding of other stuff.” And they said, “Well, if we offered you more money, would you be willing to kind of change it then?”

And then my morals went completely out the window and I was like, “Okay, I can change the name.” And they’re like, “Well, how much would you want?”

So, I was like, again, “Oh, just a second, sorry, well, how much do we want? How much do we want? 20,000, we want 20,000 for doing the name change.” They said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” I was like, “Oh, we should have asked for more.”

So, that was the extent of my kind of negotiation and my ability to understand what to do. And like the newsletter, I literally looked at 10 or so newsletters, saw whereabouts in the newsletter they were placing ads, and how they’d made them look, dug around to see what sort of price people were charging for a newsletter, and then evolved it over time.

It was all made up as I go along with a little bit of background reading and checking out what others were doing. And then if we weren’t getting people interested or attracting sponsors and things, we would adjust it.

So, now, it’s become this bigger thing. It’s kind of the Matt Navarra speaker consultant sort of person who goes into companies and brands and talks about social.

And then there’s the other bit, which is the kind of Facebook group, the WhatsApp community, the Geek Out newsletter, which is the Ying and the Yang or the Jewel personality of me and Geek Out.

Cat: That’s amazing, and it must have felt risky to go and step out on your own. I feel like anyone who transitions from working within a salaried position to going out as a freelance consultant, that’s always nerve-wracking.

And it’s interesting, I respect your honesty of talking about like trying to navigate the pricing, but what were the biggest challenges that you found for doing that? Obviously, it’s ended up well, but I’m sure it was a bit of a roller-coaster as well.

Matt: Yeah, I think that some of the hardest things from going from a paid salaried role as a social media manager or a head of social or anything else, and going to freelance, I had the same fears as most people who I talk to who are now considering doing that, which is, I’m used to the security blanket of having a regular income, which is the obvious one. And will I get any work? Will people find me, and will I be able to cope with the administration of managing my own business?

I think those tend to be the three big ones and the ones that I was most fearful of. And I was pretty terrified, but I think that I was kind of cornered because the role at The Next Web meant that I had reached the top of the tree in that company, and the salary …

I think at the time, if I’m honest, I was earning at The Next Web, I was their Head of Social and I left on £70,000 at the time in 2017, 2018. And I had shares as well in the company.

So, that was quite scary to leave that, but I was really fortunate in that I’d done the TV bits and I’d done this thing on Twitter and I’d had a few things people have found me for, and met lots of people in industry.

And I’d sounded out lots of people, so when I made the jump, I was really pleasantly surprised to see that there was quite a lot of interest in me doing stuff with these companies and speaking at events and doing more media stuff.

I think the other thing that was challenging, which I know we haven’t really touched upon, but I think that an aspect of why I think I’ve got on well with being a solopreneur on my own, is my ADHD.

I didn’t realise until 2008, 2009, I’d had like six jobs, pissed off every manager, I was going off work with anxiety and mild depression because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do certain things and why everyone hated me at work.

And then, process of figuring out it might well be ADHD, adult ADHD and went through the assessment. And so, they always say for people with ADHD, it’s often a decision they make to go as an entrepreneur, but it’s a tricky one because managing a business when your condition is about lack of organisation and focus, you’d think that might be the worst thing.

But if you think of it in a sense of being able to control what work you choose to do and not do, being able to choose how you do your work and where you do your work, then that helps.

And I realised that this is the world that’s far more suitable for someone like me with my particular ADHD setup, and it’s worked out pretty well. Many people with ADHD have it really severe and actually get more of the downsides and less of the benefits, but for me, I feel like I’ve got a lot of the superpowers of ADHD, which it gives you and are unable to manage many of the downsides.

Well, and I think a lot of the companies I work with are very forgiving. I often tell companies now like Google, I’ve worked with in the past and they’ll ask me to do a piece of consultancy work and I’ll say, “Look, I’m not going to produce a shiny strategy document. I will give you the things you want from me, but I’ll do it in multiple in person or recorded Zoom calls, and you can record it, all of it. You can ask me as many questions as you want.”

“But what’s more important is you want what’s in here and should it matter that it’s in a document, which I would find very difficult to put together because of the skill deficit with ADHD.”

And most of the times now, I think I’m lucky because of the place I’ve got to in my career that most companies I work with are like, “Fine by us, we just want information you’ve got and the experience you’ve got. We don’t care if it’s not in a document.” So, that’s quite fortunate.

Cat: That’s amazing and I think society in general seems to be a little bit more open to acknowledging if not downright appreciative of more neurotypical profiles. And certainly I think within social.

I obviously am definitely not a medical expert, but I think you do see a lot of people who actually do have an ADHD diagnosis in the creative industries and in social. Have you noticed that yourself?

Matt: I would say in my professional experience of working in social for 20 years and with someone that has a neurodiversity … with ADHD that some of the, if not most of the best social media managers or professionals I’ve worked with have ended up being people that I’ve later discovered have ADHD.

I think it’s no coincidence that there’s a lot of people that work in social media management roles that have ADHD or similar Neurodiversities. I think the job lends itself to help them exploit the bits that are good about ADHD in many ways, or the things that they can do better than other people because of ADHD in terms of multitasking, jumping from different things, being able to be super passionate about certain aspects of the work, and the frenetic pace that they have to work at in these sorts of roles.

There’s equally parts of the role of working in social that you think are very hard for people with ADHD and that’s true as well, but I think it’d be naive to say that ADHD is a great thing because it’s an absolute nightmare.

But I think employers are generally far more supportive of it, and something that should be celebrated in some ways. And I think that that’s why people who are listening to this who have somebody that they discover might have ADHD and you wanted to recruit them for a social media role, you probably found a gem.

And they should kind of look for some of these talented social media managers because it shouldn’t be a warning signal, it should be a come and get me, really.

Cat: I absolutely love that, thank you so much, Matt, for those answers. And honestly, thank you so much for our talk today. I feel like I could quite genuinely talk to you for hours and hours and hours and that we’ve only scratched the surface.

But I really want to thank you for your taking the time today. So, thank you so much.

Matt: It was a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

[Music playing]

Cat: You’ve been listening to Social Creatures with Me, Cat Anderson. Many thanks to Matt Navarra for joining me today. And if you want to find out more about Geek Out, check out the link in the description of this episode.

And of course, a special thank you to Sprout Social for making this podcast possible.

If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to let us know on social media at Sprout Social, and don’t forget to subscribe. Thanks again for listening, and we’ll see you again in two weeks.