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Want to know the secret to a successful career in social media? Meet the NTU alum who works on one of football's biggest YouTube channels

Ryan Reynolds. Robbie Williams. Two huge names who'll feature in this article later on. Brace yourself – they’re not the only ones. In fact, it's going to get very A-list. Especially if you're a football fan.

Seb Spooner and Ben Foster
Seb Spooner and Ben Foster

We’re really excited to catch up with Seb Spooner, who before making things happen on some of the UK’s biggest online channels, studied Business Management and Human Resources here at NTU.

Seb is hopefully going to reveal the secret to making it big online. After all, he’s operations manager at The Cycling GK, the highly successful YouTube channel of Ben Foster, former England goalkeeper now at Wrexham FC. Even if you don’t follow the game, you may well have heard quite a lot about Wrexham.

It’s that Wrexham – the Welsh football club taken over by Hollywood A-listers Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Having recently returned to the Football League for the first time in 15 years, they've claimed the National League title and an automatic promotion.

“Ben’s built up a really great friendship with Ryan,” Seb says. “Sometimes it's difficult to take it all in.”

Boasting nearly 1.5 million subscribers, the channel features weekly matchday vlogs and pioneered the use of GoPro cameras, cleverly placed inside the goal. Then there's a presence on TikTok – well on its way to a million followers – and the Fozcast, a podcast that routinely attracts some of the biggest names in sport.

It quickly becomes clear why Seb has done so well and so speedily. Bear in mind, he only graduated a year ago.

As an excuse to adapt a famous quote from Nottingham's own footballing legend, Brian Clough, Seb might not be the friendliest alumni we’ve interviewed today, but he’s certainly in the top one.

“Before joining the team here at The Cycling GK,” Seb says, “I worked for a company who specialised in social syndication. Content creators would make a video and it would be our job to get that onto different social media sites.

“Ben [Foster] was one of my first clients. He was doing this revolutionary thing of covering football games and capturing the action using a GoPro camera. That’s obviously become a very big thing now.

“I finished my final exam, and texted Ben. Two weeks later, he called back, and here I am now.”

Seb is working from home today, although he’s casually talking into what has become a ubiquitous sight in the world of podcasts – a not inexpensive professional Shure microphone. We notice a framed photo on the desk behind him. Featuring two people, one is clearly Seb. The other looks very familiar.

“Ahhh,” he says. “This is me and Robbie Williams. It is one of the many highlights of working with Ben. It turns out Robbie is a big fan of his, so came into the studio one day to record with us. He’s very down to earth.”

One of the many highlights? Seb’s life sounds like one long series of wish fulfilments. He’s keen to set us straight.

“A lot of what I do involves planning. Making sure we have the right people with the right equipment in the right place. I’m often asking the question: so we've got this new video – what can we do to make it go viral? How can we produce something people have never seen before? I make a lot of spreadsheets. In fact, I love spreadsheets!

"As well as managing resources, I also work with a great team. Knowing how to get the best out of them – and how to appreciate their needs and expectations – are all skills I learned on my degree."

We’re keen to know if there's a sure-fire way to make a video go viral (and we're asking for a friend, obviously).

“A lot of it is Ben’s personality,” Seb says. “He has a knack of making things take off. It happened again a few weeks ago – after his last-minute penalty saver for Wrexham against Notts County.

“Nowadays, things can go viral in ways you'd never predict. TikTok is very special for that. You make a video, and then check the next day to find you've got 3,000,000 views.”

We’ve all seen videos of people who appear to become overnight celebrities. Sometimes, with the most nihilistic content. Those who make a very tidy living doing unusual things. Like reviewing hot dog sausages, or reverse-engineering a torch they’ve bought from the pound shop. Full disclosure – the author of this piece has subscribed to both those channels. They're strangely addictive.

But is it all as lucrative as it looks?

“Absolutely,” Seb says. “Content creates revenue in several ways, especially on YouTube. You get a set amount per 1,000 views. The more you get, the more money you make. You can also get a lot of interest from external parties, especially when a video goes viral. People start to notice and want to get on board.”

Seb clearly knows his stuff. But for every runaway success like The Cycling GK, there must be thousands of channels that don’t break through.

“Ben is a complete anomaly in this space. He was already famous as a professional footballer, but with a unique selling point – he was willing to open up his life. People love to see what it’s really like inside the world of football.

“The other secret to success is consistency. For example, we have a show on Monday. If we miss one of those, the next one’s viewership halves. It's that drastic.”

If surveys are to be believed, roles such as YouTuber, blogger, and influencer all rank highly in the top 20 list of desirable careers for those of Generation Z. Seb’s clearly living that dream. What would he say to someone wanting to follow in his footsteps?

“People often think that working in the creative industries only means being a creator. That’s not true. Take a look at our business. It requires videographers, editors, channel managers, social media managers – the list goes on. Take me for example. I'm working on the operations side of things, and applying the skills and processes learned from my degree in business management.

“If you have your sights set on being an influencer, that's harder, but it's always possible. Especially when channels like TikTok can make you a star overnight. It’s certainly an exploding industry – I’ve seen it grow myself in just the last three years. If you really want to do it, I’d recommend it 100%, but am glad I got my degree first!"

Ben Foster The Cycling GK on YouTube