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Online guru who tore up the rule book to give debut Belfast talk

By Rachel Martin

A social media guru who was chucked out of school for spending too much time on his businesses is now the man behind a top international marketing company.

Steven Bartlett, who also dropped out of his business studies degree after the first lecture left him feeling uninspired, will address leading tech businesses at this year's Digital DNA.

The 24-year-old Manchester man is the chief executive and co-founder of Social Chain.

In the last few years he has become an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker and investor, and now leads a company of 120 like-minded individuals who are "quickly disrupting the ever-changing social sphere".

His firm Social Chain has offices in Manchester, London, Berlin and New York, and has been behind some of the most controversial guerrilla marketing campaigns, challenging the very definition of what it means to market a product.

Mr Bartlett is one of the top speakers at this year's Digital DNA 2017, which is taking place on June 6 and 7 in St George's Market in Belfast.

When he set about founding Social Chain, Mr Bartlett scoured the country searching for the brightest young things of the internet, including a 17-year-old with 17 million followers.

All 40 of the team he first selected still work with him.

Now the entrepreneur is on a mission to make businessowners rethink more traditional forms of marketing.

He's even created his own fake footballer, claimed that a product was the worst in the world and created fake news - all in the name of marketing. Even more surprisingly, his unorthodox methods seem to work.

"Most marketers will tell you how great and wonderful they are - we switched it around," he said. "We got a gaming app to become the number one best selling on the app store by telling people it was the worst thing in the world - I think that will make people think differently about marketing.

"If it's making people feel something, whether that's anger, sadness, joy or anything - it will be seen and it will travel.

"It's the same with (US Presdient) Donald Trump, his inflammatory message has travelled as far as it has because it's inflammatory and reactive."

Speaking about the app, Tippy Tap, he said: "We told people this was the worst app in the world, it would just ruin your life, we told followers on our student pages they wouldn't pass their degrees if they downloaded this app... we didn't even post a link to where you could download this app, but people found it and it became the bestselling app."

In another marketing campaign, Social Chain redesigned a retailer's website to show dogs sold alongside designer handbags. The reaction was outrage, making headlines across the world with Twitter users tweeting the link thousands of times, the result was that the campaign was seen by millions.

The campaign was a success and raised awareness for a charity which had noticed a rise in the number of toy dogs being brought into its shelters for rehoming.

While in Belfast, Mr Bartlett said he was looking forward to hearing Vincent Kennedy, vice president at Motorola, who is also due to speak at Digital DNA. next month.

He added that he also hoped to do some sightseeing, as it will be his first time visiting Northern Ireland.

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