Cambridge Vlogger Joe Binder on celebrating individuality

Binder trying a soulful smoulder

As a self-confessed luddite who’s never willingly watched a vlog or used the Snapchat, I admit I expected my interview with Youtuber, Instagrammer and all round Internet User, Joe Binder, to be a painful one. But I left our discussion impressed rather than sanctimonious. Behind the veneer is a level-headed professional who’s mastered social media, a savvy entrepreneur who, despite the show of self-confidence, is strangely modest, and a man who has a genuine, almost childlike, curiosity in other people.

“I don’t go a day without speaking to a random person,” he tells me, “it brightens up my day and it usually brightens up theirs too.”

This interest culminated in his still-successful Students of Cambridge project, which he started as a way of helping students and outsiders “get a very real insight into the people that go to the university”, but which then grew into a platform for promoting individuality and for raising awareness of social issues.

“I was having these intense, 15 minute conversations with strangers who would open up to me, and I realised it shouldn’t just be about showcasing students, but championing and celebrating everybody’s different stories, and from that I learnt that, especially in a place like Cambridge, every person has something incredibly interesting to say…every student could have featured on there and had a viral post."

This new focus must surely have entailed a degree of responsibility. “Of course," he agrees. "I felt sad because some posts would go up and get hundreds of likes, and then I’d have a conversation with somebody and the post would struggle to get a hundred likes. But that didn’t mean that the person was uninteresting, or that their story wasn’t unique or authentic.”

The project was started anonymously, and when he eventually exposed himself as the man behind it, he was conscious to keep himself out of the content. But, even then, he inevitably became somewhat of a public figure. His vlog has to date over 17,000 subscribers and over 1,000,000 views.

Did it affect his relationship with peers? “It was tough because with both of these projects I was obsessive, and this manifested itself in my conversations with friends, and there were a couple of instances when they were just like, "Shut up, get over it!".”

Students of Cambridge has since been handed on to new administrators, but Binder's vlog is still an ongoing personal project. “I haven’t uploaded properly in months, even though I get people writing on my Instagram saying "Upload! Upload! Upload!"," he notes. "I really want to, but the reason I haven’t done so yet is because before content would just come naturally. I was studying at Cambridge and I was showing people what it was like. Now my life is dominated by building a business, and there isn’t yet the opportunity to document it in the way that there was before. I don’t want to be one of those people who just create videos for the sake of it.”

That business is Woaw, which Joe officially registered in January of this year. “In essence it’s an online marketing company which specialises in both content marketing and bespoke personal branding.” Binder makes it clear that it is more than a Personal Relations company, however. 

“Traditional marketing is intrusive, it's invasive. It tries to grab your attention, so you can be watching TV or reading the Economist and then an advert will try to divert you away. Content marketing reverse engineers the process of marketing and completely flips it on its head.”

Potential consumers are identified, and then content – blogs, posts, videos – is created around them. That content doesn’t try and sell anything to the consumer, but rather gets the user interacting with the company, thereby familiarising them with it and increasing their likelihood of using them or purchasing off them in future. “That’s one side, the other is the bespoke brand management, the majority of which takes place on LinkedIn.”

It sounds impressive, but also vaguely artificial. Can a company continue to be authentic if its online image is controlled by an external agency? Joe answers by referring to his own online profile. "People who have watched my vlog know a lot about me. They know what makes me laugh, what annoys me, what my interests are, my stupid quirks and weird things that I like to say. And that’s all branding. I’m giving them the opportunity to think a certain way about me… And in essence that is what this is. If I’m honest about my story and the things I like doing then it will just naturally be authentic, and it’s exactly the same with a company.

"Every company has its own story, there’s a reason why they started, every company has something to speak about. It’s actually quite a simple task to translate that into meaningful, lasting and authentic content."

Joe does not voice it expliclty, but there is a clear link between his new start-up and his work with Students of Cambridge. With that in mind, I end by returning the conversation to Cambridge – what are his lasting impressions of it, having left and transitioned into the world of work?

“I do feel that Cambridge, as an institution and as an environment, could do a lot more for entrepreneurship and creativity. It doesn’t take long for somebody to be at Cambridge before they’re stressing about getting experience at JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs. I started to think that a job in a big, impressive sounding corporate firm was the only thing to aspire towards.

"So I did that corporate stuff. But after a while I realised there were other options. When I started my Youtube channel, I had a bit of an inferiority complex. But you don’t have to feel that what you’re doing isn’t good just because it isn’t what everybody else at Cambridge is doing. You get a job so you can provide for yourself and a family, and once I got to the bottom of that I thought, okay, it doesn’t matter how I make that income."

He concludes, "A few months down the line and I really just don’t care. I’m over that complex, and I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

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