Bump, a London-based Gen Z insights agency, emerged from a Facebook group of music lovers and still places online communities at the heart of their model. We sat down with founder (and DJ) Robbie Murch to talk about converting cultural currency into actual currency and to collaborate with Kanye West and the Communiconomy.
It’s interesting enough as a founding story: London marketing agency Bump started as a Facebook group. Arguably more interesting, even in 2022, this Facebook group and the community that nurtured it will 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 the music group. Wired called us”the human version of Shazam.” If this technology doesn’t work for you, you can post a song by humming, describing, or singing it in our group. We’ve curated a few music nerds – DJs, producers, musicians, industry insiders – who share a passion for music and enjoy sharing it with others.
Now the community operates on Facebook, Reddit and Discord. We have 118,000 people on Facebook, with 20,000 on the waiting list. We have always curated the group. We ask screening questions to make sure we get past people who may not be as passionate about music as others. When we let people in en masse, the quality of inquiries and comments goes down. Also, having a waiting list probably sounds a bit cool.
It’s been going since the golden age of Facebook groups…
It was founded in 2015 by a friend of mine. I was a member. I lived in China; I presented 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. At that time the group numbered about 30,000 people.
Were you still a student?
I was studying Chinese in Durham, I really wanted to have my own business, throw events and parties. When I took over, I thought I could make a long-term career out of it.
It wasn’t a commercial venture at all. There is no blueprint for monetizing Facebook groups, nor monetizable options, but I knew there was a cultural currency and it would somehow translate into actual currency. The agency’s slogan is “translating brand culture into Gen Z currency”: culture can drive sales.
Do these rules still apply now?
We are in the information and knowledge economy. We have an information source that we do not charge our members for, and we have never attempted to monetize the data site. It’s just about giving them opportunities. I call this process “Communication”.
With Web3 technologies and young people wanting to become self-employed more than ever, it is becoming increasingly 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 turn their passions – games, fashion, music, sports, technology – into something of who they can live. And we also want to help them communicate with brands.
Okay, how is this community evolving into a marketing agency?
I started going out for coffee with people who had approached me within the group from the music industry: major record labels; independent labels like XL. Many of them were A&R [artist and repertoire] People who want to sign hot new artists and find who to talk to.
I have signed a two year deal with Chrysalis Records Chairman Robin Miller, CBE. He had 44 number ones; he produced Sade’s Diamond Life album; he is the chairman of the charity Scope; He has a Windrush Award. His stats matched mine, so we set out to do something.
At first I advised him personally. I had the time and space to create a business plan. I fell into the industry like that. At agency meetings I felt a bit like an outsider.
And Bump itself is pretty new…
I founded Bump in 2021. I actually follow Robin. He has dedicated his entire career to community advancement; the community aspect, especially in the creative industries, only leads to good opportunities. This philosophy made this business.
Bump allows us to give resources back to the community. We have built a commercial business around the insight tool The Identification of Music. Any campaigns we do with Pioneer DJ, Kanye West, Kickers – we always go to our group first to gather qualitative and quantitative insights to ensure our campaigns are successful. The long-term goal is to gather more such communities around the fashion, music, technology and sports sectors that can inform larger campaigns.
How do you replicate that without the serendipity of authentic passion in Facebook groups in 2015?
We treat 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 have people going out and looking at the hottest Discord and Reddit youth culture communities to offer them a blueprint on how to share their passion can monetize . When I was in college, you could google to the ends of the world, “How do you monetize a Facebook group?” and no one could tell you.
We can help people by providing a draft; to help them with an agency module. We offer partnerships – an investment line that, like Robin did for me, offers them advice to get them up and running. We work more traditionally on an agency model – in fashion, music, technology and alcohol – but the future lies in this collaborative model.
The nature of online communities (and their relationship to monetization) has clearly changed over the last 10 years. Where are we now on this journey?
Groups were the lifesaver on 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 well as TikTok comment sections for many young people. But I don’t see any platform that offers the solution we need. There’s still a gap.
People struggle with social media. Those spaces before social media were really entertaining, while today you are on social media and filled with fear. There are so many ways you can get scared, scared and attacked pretty quickly. I was bullied online. It’s terrible. Social media really needs to go that far to make people feel safe and comfortable.
You are probably the person who made the most money with the group. Commercialization remains difficult?
I learned a lot from that initial backlash [to commercializing the group]. I checked myself and we have never sold events; We’ve never sold merch before. We just made it easier. We’ve invested £100,000 to help people find jobs in the creative industries – 20 community members got six-month part-time jobs. Five of these have progressed to full-time careers and have moved on to major record labels.
If you don’t sell products there and are just an intermediary, you can maintain your cultural credibility and trust.
You mentioned Kanye West – that must be a dream job.
His team wanted to know how they could start [2021 album] Donda while he was Life at Atlanta Stadium. We found a few venues across the UK that the crème de la crème of music fans recommended for our group.
And I was on vacation and I was about to park for a walk when I got the call. I went straight back to London, didn’t sleep for 40 hours and did this event. That was a turning point that took us from a niche electronic music group into other genres like hip-hop and collaborating with a huge global brand.
You are obviously an expert on online subcultures and music. Give us three recommendations.
OK! First, Daytimers: a collective of South Asian DJs, musicians and producers. Formed in lockdown via Discord, they have since launched a festival that has caught the attention of Skrillex, among others, to invest in UK music talent.
Second, the artist Fred Again – we build a relationship with him. It combines rap and rave and we’re trying to do something similar.
And finally the Black Artist Database, which started as a Google Sheet in lockdown, just after George Floyd. Their motto is that every day is a good day to support a Black artist. Its founder Nix blew up and played international festivals and clubs.
Diplo said being a DJ is a bit like putting together a cultural jigsaw puzzle: bringing certain elements together. This is how we see our campaign work with Bump. These three use communities to stitch knowledge together.