The hilarious Instagram account has gone from strength to strength this year. Its founder Gareth Howells tells InChief how he did it.
If you’re British and on Instagram, chances are you’ve appreciated some of the ‘hunniest huns’ on Gareth Howells’ legendary Instagram account, Hunsnet. The meme account has experienced phenomenal growth on Instagram this year, and has connected with its audience so much that Hunsnet have made successful moves into merchandise and events. Yes, real life actual events in 2020 while surrounded by a pandemic. They’re Covid-safe, they’re uplifting and positive, and they were born after some very studious analysis of Instagram audience demographics and behaviour.
Online communities have really come together during this absolute car crash of a year, and Hunsnet is always super quick-off-the-mark to react to the newest government doom and gloom announcement with content that helps us to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
“It sounds cheesy,” account founder and ultimate hun, Gareth Howells, told us, “but sometimes I get messages from people who tell me they’ve had a really awful day and that the Hunsnet posts have cheered them up. It really solidifes it for me, that this isn’t just about memes on an Instagram page, this is about people finding their tribe.”
But how did it all start? How do you take your hilarity and appreciation of hun-culture (or any culture) online and transform it into a viable business and real, engaged, meaningful community? InChief asked Gareth for all the behind-the-scenes details.
Hiya Gareth, hun, so how did this all start? Did you just decide to put some jokes on the internet or what?
When I moved to London (in 2008) I started hitting the pubs and the clubs quite a lot, and laughing with my friends in the smoking areas about things like Gemma Collins, Nighty Night, that sort of thing. We’d watch videos on YouTube and all be in hysterics about the same sort of stuff, and obviously we weren’t the only people who found stuff like that funny. Then I saw some other accounts pop up – there used to be an account called HunOfficial which was basically the holy grail of hun content – and they were so, so funny. I think my group of friends are so funny and I just took our sense of humour online, really.
My boyfriend might kill me for saying this, but I actually started the account when we were on holiday together about three years ago. I used to work at Butlins in entertainment, so I just had loads of stuff I thought was really funny. At the beginning I just posted about Pontins and pop culture, using the lens of the 2000s and the 90s and trying to connect scenarios to things which happen in every day life.
So what happens when you post, do you test your content anywhere or do you just whack it up and see how it goes?
Currently what’s working really well for engagement is when Hunsnet basically live-memes to the rollercoaster of current events. I’m really interested in the news and how it’s affecting people, and I’m very close to it. Whenever anything’s announced I always have a reality TV scenario in mind that can perfectly sum up how I’m feeling.
Wait, do you have a folder of Gemma Collins reactions and Deidre Barlow scenes?
Pretty much, yeah! I have a lot of scenarios to hand, you know like the two Scottish girls and the “disgustenn” reaction – I can pretty much relate that to anything the government says. I know all of Gemma Collins’ best bits – there’s always something in my mind, even song lyrics and stuff like that. I just think about how I’m feeling when something happens, and try and attach it to a song lyric. It just keeps me sane, to be honest.
Obviously most of your posts do super well, but is there anything you always know is going to get a great reaction before you even post it?
I mean, Lisa Scott Lee is an absolute winner, and there are people who I really like to build up like Ruth Langsford – we call her the Queen of Huns. She follows the page and always likes and comments on her own stuff which makes it even more funny. Everybody posts Gemma Collins stuff so I’m quite sparing with that because there’s so much Gemma stuff out there – she’s amazing and has a reaction for everything, but I like to find nostalgic things that people have maybe forgotten about.
How did you move into the next level then and take your Instagram account offline and into events?
Because of my background working in entertainment, I always wanted to do events in London. I’d go to a lot of events and think that people were essentially just selling what we used to do in Pontins and Butlins, but in a way that became cult. I used to go to some events and think they were great, but that they were mainly about the event hosts and performers and not about the guests, so I wanted to make mine about the guests. I know a good event is about creating a feeling, a club, and making people feel part of the action. A good event is about everybody being included.
We did our first event this year in March, just on the cusp of lockdown, and my first instinct was to go down the clubnight route. We did a club night at the Clapham Grand in London, and it went well. When I looked at how the business model was going to move forward through the lens of Covid, though, I realised that the majority of the Hunsnet followers are female, aged between around 24 and 40, and who likely have children of their own and don’t want to go out till two or three o’clock in the morning clubbing. So then I thought about daytime events and embracing the brunch culture, which we could still do in this Covid world, and it’s all seemed to work really well. We really want people who come to the events to feel like they’ve stepped into the page and to have a good laugh.
How did you find the courage to run an event in the first place?
I remember in May 2019 when we had got to around 12,000 followers and the account was starting to take up more of my time. I realised we had a really engaged audience on the page, and wanted to make them feel included and positive and use that great audience to turn Hunsnet into a business. So then I started selling merchandise online with a print-on-demand service that doesn’t put me at too much risk, because I didn’t want to have to buy loads of stock. I started creating merchandise with sayings that we’d cultivated on Hunsnet, and then in the last year it’s really taken off. The amount of mugs we sold last Christmas was just crazy.
It’s all well and good putting yourself out there online, but to actually say right, we’re going to run an event and we want people to come and attend… that was a really big shift in confidence for me. I registered the company as a business in February (Hunsent Ltd!) and planned to do some events as a side hustle, but then when Covid hit I was only working 60% of my usual hours at my ‘main’ job. I thought, right, I can either spend a summer on the sofa watching Phil and Holly and probably be quite down in the dumps, or really look at what I’m doing because my industry is now in danger. That’s when I really started looking more closely at the audience demographics. Over the last six months of this year I’ve really looked at how I could take this from my side-hustle to my actual hustle.
So is it just you running everything then? Hun In Chief?
So I do all of the posts and the content for the Instagram page, and I built the website and I do all the products and merchandise. When it comes to the events, I have a great a team of freelancers who I work with, and they’re all just my friends. We’re all sort of from the event industry and we’re all always laughing at the same thing, and then we’ll get together to create an even and just laugh even more. If we can facilitate a space online where people can come together and have a good old laugh, my thing now is trying to take that offline and into the real world and make people feel good. We’re going to do a brunch once a month in London, and get people together around special events and seasonal stuff. We can be agile with it and keep everything really Covid safe.
But Gareth, hun, you’re just one person. How do you cope with all the new emerging platforms and formats and the constantly ON world of social media?
In my previous job that I had before March of this year I was the Head Of Entertainment at TUI Travel, so I worked for a big corporation. I did everything completely anonymously and did not want to be found online. Everything I was doing for Hunsnet was just in the evenings and on weekends, so I couldn’t be as reactive as I wanted. Then TikTok launched and I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t found a way for us to break through on that channel yet. I’ve not set up anything on Twitter, either. Instagram and Facebook are the main playing fields for us. To grow a following on TikTok, I’d probably need to bring someone else on board who understands it better than I do as I don’t have the headspace or the time, to be honest.
How have Facebook’s algorithms been treating you so far, then?
They’ve been…. ok. I have an Instagram group with people who have similar accounts and we have a great group that always promotes eachother’s pages. Some people have struggled because their content is a bit more risque, but it’s kind of been alright for me. I don’t know if there are any hacks I should be doing or anything like that, but the content seems to be doing well.
Thats what I always say, algorithms will always change but they’ll always prioritise content that’s engaging and keeps people on the platform.
Exactly. We got about 20k more followers in the last few months and didn’t do anything to chase it. It was a really slow slog to get to 10k and then a slow slog to 30k. 50k seemed alright, and then now in the last couple of months we’ve just grown and grown.
When you were in the middle of the slow slogs, how were you feeling?
Because of this whole thing I love about people finding their tribes, I always knew that if we could get enough people engaged with this content that there was a business opportunity in it. At the beginning it was really a focus on how we could build up the audience, and I stayed determined.
So you have events and merchandise, what about #SponCon – have many brands approached you?
They have. We work with TV channel TRACE Vault and have a playlist with them every week – we’ve got the Top 10 Haunted Huns coming up for Halloween, it’ll be on Sky channel 365 – but that’s more of a passion project for me. We did a partnership with Babe Wine and featured them as drinks at our brunches after I approached them looking for a sponsor. There are loads of opportunities for Hunsnet to work with brands. A wine brand would be perfect and our audience is really engaged. I don’t want to just flog anything for the sake of it, but I think a good wine brand could be a really good fit with us and feel really natural with the audience. I think there’s a really natural way to weave partnerships into what you do, whether it’s through the Instagram page or also in the events that we run.
Follow Hunsnet on Instagram here, and cheer yourself up with a gorgey Panny D mug from their merchandise collection here.