Swellboy on… social media

Our man picks up a web marketing trick with the help of a military-minded Beijing socialite

Image: Brijesh Patel

One of the more esoteric aspects of preparing the publicity for my book about Bernard Buffet (the perfect gift for any occasion, be it a birthday, anniversary, bereavement, housewarming, religious festival or obscure coming-of-age ceremony related to tribal life in as-yet-unexplored Amazonian rainforests) has been my ham-fisted attempt to master social media.

There are two times in life when it is appropriate to be aware of youth culture. The first is when one is young oneself and the second is when one has children of the age at which youth culture is consumed. Thus it was my younger son Freddie who inspired me to venture onto Instagram. Children are remarkable, and one’s own children especially so. My younger son has expressed an interest in entering the army, while my elder has decided that he wants to become a writer of rap music. I wonder how this happened, as the Foulkeses are certainly not an old army family… but then neither are we an old rap family.

Anyway, back to Instagram. I am told that it is vital to be on Instagram. I strongly suspect there is some sort of Cartesian formula along the “cogito ergo sum” line that neatly encapsulates one’s non-existence if one is not on Instagram. Happily, I have been able to prove my existence by posting bad pictures of myself, watches I would like to wear and works of art that catch my eye, in the hope that somehow more copies of my book will be sold.


However, far from generating bestseller-list-busting pre-sales, I have wound up using what I have learnt to call a social media platform as a portable shop window and travel brochure.  Rather like those gambling operators who turn your mobile technology into an entire casino in the pocket, I find that I am presented with a constantly shifting carousel of stuff that I need to acquire and places I need to go. Already I am toying with booking a holiday at my friend James McBride’s far-flung resort Nihiwatu on the agreeably distant Sumba island, and I find that I am addicted to the latest pictures from Passaggio Cravatte – an enterprising and engaging young bespoke tiemaker called Gianni who offers tailormade ties using vintage or, as he charmingly refers to them, “endangered” silks. Like James’ pictures of his island paradise, Gianni’s vivid silks brighten many a dreary London day.

It was only when speaking to my friend, Beijing-based art dealer Fabien Fryns, that I at last found the key that unlocks the commercial potential. Forgive me if, as a seasoned Instagram user, you are familiar with it. 

In China they’re keen on things like WeChat and Weibo, and he showed me pictures of one prominent, glamorous young Beijing socialite posing with her new handbag and couture outfit next to an army division. Doubtless through her cunning blend of expertise in haute couture, high social standing and deep interest in the military might of her homeland, she has many hundreds of thousands of followers. And with admirable entrepreneurial flair, some of them have placed small ads instead of comments. Thus, beneath a photograph showing perhaps how one might wear a Chanel suit while attending a Communist Party get-together, some small businessman has added a comment along the lines of “Dining table for sale, would seat four” or a bathroom showroom proprietor has made a wider public aware of the tremendous discounts he is offering. And if it works for bathroom fittings and dining tables, I have no doubt that my book about a dead French painter will benefit from this unusual sales technique.


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