We recently caught up with Co-CEO and founder of Viral Nation Mat Micheli, to chat about all things VN Technology.In 2014, you and Joe started Viral Nation as an influencer talent agency. Since, we've expanded to include a full-service digital and social agency, creator and athlete-influencer management agencies, and then most recently a software division, VN Tech. Why the shift into technology? Mat: Funny enough, as it goes, there was never a specific moment during the evolution of Viral Nation where we decided to build and sell technology. What has been very consistent throughout our history to date is that our organization has retained a strong culture of pushing the envelope to stay ahead of the cutting edge. Our teams across the board pride ourselves on our relentless effort to never stop exceeding our customers’ or our own expectations. To that end we’ve always asked ourselves: How can we be more efficient and deliver better results? How can we get better at what we do? In order to deliver on that mandate, in the not so distant past we were licensing a bunch of technology from others to serve our customers and run the business to meet and get ahead of the fast-evolving needs of social and influencer marketing technology. But, we were finding it increasingly challenging to implement these third-party tools across our own team, client teams AND the creators themselves in a truly efficient and high-performance manner. So, in 2018 we decided to literally take matters into our own hands, and started building our own technology based on our own needs. This led to the launch of Influsoft, our end-to-end influencer campaign and talent management platform that was created in-house and tailored to the very specific needs of an influencer agency like Viral Nation. Overnight, Influsoft became the core of our technology business. Today, all of our clients have the ability to measure and track their campaigns within Influsoft, in which all of the influencers we work with are also authenticated and verified by Meta, Twitter and Youtube. And our latest such in-house produced technology product is VN Secure. How did this next solution come to be and why is it such a critical piece of the VN Tech vision and roadmap?Mat: VN Tech’s vision is to create authentic connections and provide safety and trust with social data. VN Secure is our latest solution that really fits into this vision, and why the team and I are so excited about its far-reaching market potential. Like with Influsoft, VN Secure emerged to solve a rising business problem that we came to recognize through our day to day work as marketers ourselves. A few years ago Joe and I were in Times Square in New York, meeting with executives of one of the most recognizable and top-rated children’s networks in the history of television, about their influencer marketing needs. In that meeting, one of the executives in earnest asked us, “How can I ensure that my legal team doesn’t have to watch every second of social content out there on a creator or influencer that we’re about to bring into our orbit?” It became very clear to us very quickly that businesses are spending up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on legal and related teams to manually scan and evaluate not only influencers they want to work with, but also on new hires, existing employees and more, for social media background checks. This manual scan is tedious, really expensive, not scalable and riddled with bias and oversights. This was in 2020, at the height of the pandemic and the rise of cancel culture that really shined a light on how big this issue was becoming as more people than ever engaged in social media while stuck at home. After learning from more and more leaders across industries that they were grappling with this problem, Joe and I had a lightbulb moment: “we need to crack this.” So we started by simply putting the earliest iteration of VN Secure as a module into the existing influencer marketing software InfluSoft—and immediately got an influx of tremendous positive feedback first from our own influencers on the Talent agency side and then from brands as well. Eventually, it only made sense to spin it out into its own system, which is the VN Secure we launched this month!Today, it’s not just kid-focused companies that have very high levels of sensitivity that are needing to do thorough background checks on influencers they want to partner with, or incoming employees. This need is increasingly critical across all industries because of the mass adoption and pervasiveness of social media and the implications it has on brand reputation. There are so many problems that can arise from ignoring it, on an individual level or organizational level. Joe recently published an article about it on Forbes, where he outlines just some of the potential worst-case scenarios that can happen from employees being on social media that you can check out to get a taste of what the real-world fallout can look like. What makes you most excited about the work you and the team are currently doing?Mat: Earlier this year Viral Nation received an initial funding round of $250 million CDN ($198 million USD) from Todd Boehly's Eldridge Industries and Maverix Private Equity. The funding is helping us accelerate the public release of SaaS technologies and novel AI-powered solutions to address opportunities driven both by explosive growth in the creator market (valued today at over $100 billion) and wider demand for responsible engagement and conduct across the rapidly-evolving social space. Going back to our vision for the technology division of the business— to create authentic connections and provide safety and trust with social data— we really feel that because influencer marketing and social media is embedded in our DNA, we are in a vantage position to live, breathe, and understand the problems we face and actually create the right solutions to solve them. We understand that there is a mounting skepticism for social media technology as well, with issues like the aforementioned cancel culture stemming from sometimes unfortunate mob-like behavior by folks online. We know that people’s pasts are coming to light and destroying careers and costing both individuals and companies unnecessary stress, fallout and frankly, money. VN Secure is only applicable to public profiles for this reason. We truly believe that the future of technology will only flourish if we learn to respect privacy. This is why VN Secure allows those individuals themselves to do a check on their own social media profiles and get ahead of any potential issues on their own accord. VN Secure can be used by anyone, from a micro influencer, job seeker, executive, public personality to the biggest corporations and public organizations in the world. We also believe that replacing manual screening processes today that can, and are often tainted by unintentional but unavoidable unconscious biases, we can provide a fairer solution for all through the power of our AI software. So what’s next for VN Tech? What is coming up the pipeline?Mat: I’m going to keep this brief, because I could really go on forever with this question. In just the last few years as we have moved towards our technology vision, we have reaffirmed how big social media is and will continue to be globally, whether we use it to connect, transact, make decisions, run business or get information. In being able to provide the services and solutions we have so far, we are getting so much feedback from our customers and the market already that we are in a unique position to continue providing true value in navigating this new world. VN Secure is only the latest in our roadmap of solutions that will continue to meet the growing demand for tools and technologies that empower customers to create authentic connections digitally across their entire organizations, with safety and trust with social data. Stay tuned!
_About the author
Viral Nation is a new media innovation group that powers the social ecosystem through integrated solutions that align strategy, talent, media, and technology. As pioneers in the influencer space, Viral Nation is comprised of a full-service creative agency, a creator and athlete-influencer representation agency, and a technology division creating modern marketing solutions for the social media age.