Drew Neisser: How CollegeHumor Gets Clicks

The CEO of the popular site chats with PSFK columnist to reveal that the brand views itself as a multiplatform, multimedia studio rather than just an online hub.

The world needs a laugh and the CEO of CollegeHumor, Paul Greenberg, is only too happy to make that happen on a grand scale. Aiming “To be the best and largest multimedia multi-platform comedy studio,” Greenberg and his merry band at CollegeHumor have turned comedy into a serious business, revealing a gaggle of lessons for CEO’s, CMO’s and content marketers from just about any industry.  In the interview below, you’ll soon understand why this division of IAC that is growing faster than you can say Jake and Amir.

When did you join CollegeHumor and how its been going since then?

I joined two and a half years ago.  I was brought in to help grow the company and we have grown 40 percent year over year in traffic over the past two years.  We’ve also grown our revenue and we’ve grown 40% in traffic, we are now the eighth largest YouTube channel with over 4.5 million subscribers; we have 15 million monthly unique visitors which again is up, way up over from where we were a couple of years ago; we do a 100 million video streams per month.

So you’re a lot more than a website?  

Yes, look at us as a multiplatform, multimedia studio.  We’re not a website.  We create enormous amount of content and we publish it on our O&O website, we publish it on YouTube, we publish it to game consoles, we publish it to connected TVs and now we are starting to create traditional long-form television shows and are very close to several deals with major cable networks to do that.  We are also going into lots of other areas of business like publishing three books, numerous DVDs and have shot a full-length movie called Coffee Town that will be released in July (see trailer here).

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How involved are you in the content decision making process?

Not that involved, at this point, certainly not day to day. We have a phenomenal team of very creative people who are very good at what they do.  I get involved at a high level making sure that we have a strategy and we are trying to follow it and everybody knows what that strategy.  I’ll get very involved if something is questionable from a legal perspective or a taste perspective. But on balance, and that’s how I try to manage my team – hire the best people you can, hopefully people who are smarter than you, and who are experts at what they do and you get obstacles out of their way and you let them do what they do.  And so I don’t see any need to micromanage the content team. Besides, I’m not that funny.

Have you gotten funnier since you joined?

Much. Much funnier–I’m hilarious.  Actually it is intimidating in a way because these guys are really funny. And they are so quick. We have our weekly staff meetings and even a lot of the executives are standups [comics], and they are just hilarious. I mean it is like somebody took all of the best class clowns and put them all together in one room, it’s hysterical.  It is a really fun place to work.

Do you ever say to yourself, ‘I can’t believe I have this job?’

Yeah.  Yeah, it’s awesome. I love creating content and creating products that affect people’s lives in a positive way.  That’s one of the things that’s always driven me from a business perspective.

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Is one type of video more likely to viral than another?

Often the ones that go really viral are new sketches. Because it is a new idea, it gets introduced, people latch onto it, they love it and they send it around.  And so for example, we did one that was called, Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriends. The thrust is, let gay men marry each other because if not, they’re going to marry your girlfriends and they are going to be much better husbands than you would ever be!

Another one that went really viral was called Look At This Instagram (see below).  And it wasn’t again in the Zeitgeist per se but it was a great take on how people use Instagram and it really kind of turned it on its head and parodied it beautifully and people just kind of I know I’ve seen those pictures a million times, I know what they are talking about, and so we really hit those.

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How do the parody movie trailers fit in?

There are two kinds of videos we do; one are series, which we just talked about and one are just one-off sketches.  And a movie trailer for us is like a sketch.  It is just like a Saturday Night Live skit that we do and if it hits, we’ll do more and if it doesn’t hit, we won’t do more.  So for example, the Dora trailer was an enormous hit — not only was it a hit in the sense of people who said we want to see more of this kind of thing but we also wished this were a real movie. So we made a 12-minute movie which is out in three installments and that was responding to the community.

How do know when to stop doing sequels to a sketch?

We now have three of the Startup Guys but that was enough. We didn’t want to beat the joke to death, so it really depends on the kind of life that a sketch will get, we have a series we call The Six which is The Six girlfriends you’ll meet when you are back home, The Six dads that you could have — we started off with The Six dads and that did really well so we thought, all right there’s something here and now we have a bunch of Sixes.

When you say “really well,” what does that mean in terms of traffic?

Once it starts to get to the half a million level, we start to really pay attention.  And we don’t just look at views, we look at Facebook likes, we look at shares on Twitter and shares on Tumbler, we are a very social media oriented company.  We have a lot of data and we spend a lot of time analyzing data, loking at the ratio between likes and views, if this getting shared a lot but not watched a lot?  Do we need to give it a little push somewhere? Is it getting watched a lot on our site but not shared very much?  Is there something that doesn’t make it go viral? And we are very good at making content that goes viral and gets shared and so we are always sort of tracking those metrics about social media.

Do you add fuel to the fire if you see a video showing viral potential?

Yes, absolutely.  We look at it and we say all right, we got to keep this on our homepage, or we need to make sure we post it again to Facebook or something like that.  Creatively we have something called The SIV, which is our secret formula for viral videos and so it needs to make sure that certain videos have certain aspects about them and we keep that very tightly protected, as you might imagine, but it is the sort of the secret sauce of how we create viral videos and we have a team that has honed that art.  You know, not everything hits, obviously but I’d say our track record on balance is pretty good and we are very happy with how it is doing and the team is great at it.

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Tell me about Coffee Town, your upcoming movie—did you write this in-house?

We actually did finance it but we didn’t write the script. Our agent UTA found Brad Copeland who was the writer for Arrested Development.  Brad wrote his own movie script and was looking for somebody to help to allow him to produce it and direct it.  So we were the studio. Brad wrote it, directed it and we produced it.  We went out to LA and hired a film crew, a real legitimate movie crew, etc.  (see trailer here)

I would suspect you are hoping to rally your army of CollegeHumor fans to see the movie, right? Yeah, oh yeah.  We’ll definitely use the army without question. A big part of this is the fact that we can mobilize 20 million people immediately to say or to at least raise awareness if not to get them off their butts into the theatres. And if we put it on iTunes, we can say, hey click here and you’ll be able to watch CollegeHumor’s movie.

Do you have any advice for new or aspiring CEOs?

The advice somebody once gave me for managing is, only do what only you can do and spend your time doing that.  To that end, I wrote an article on this recently that identified five things that CEOs should spend their time doing:

  1. Set the strategy for what the company needs to be and what we are trying to accomplish and what’s our mission and where are we going.  And that’s not done in a vacuum per se, that’s done with the team but ultimately the leader has to be the one who puts his or her stamp on it and say this is the direction we are going to go.
  2. Then it’s making sure that the strategy is communicated very well and that everybody knows what’s going on and that there’s absolutely no misunderstanding. And making sure that everybody is coordinated so that ad sales and editorial and marketing and PR all know what each of the other ones is doing, to help support that overall strategy.
  3. Then its hiring and firing.  Personnel.  Putting the right people in place, and making sure that they are — smarter than you, they’re experts in their field and they are great.
  4. Then it is getting obstacles out of their way and letting them do their jobs and not micromanaging them but making sure that if there is something wrong, that you are there to help them.
  5. The fifth thing is making sure there’s enough capital to run the business and making sure there is a business plan that can be executed.

If you’re marketing results are anything but funny, feel free to give Drew a shout.

 

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