Monthly Archives November 2011

The Flightpath Roundtable: Social Media & Customer Feedback

social-media-customer-feedback

Welcome to the latest installment of The Flightpath Roundtable, where we gather various Flightpath employees for a discussion on the hottest topics in digital.

Today, we discuss the phenomenon of customer feedback via social media, and the impact it’s having on brands – in particular, the recent highly-publicized social media backlashes against Netflix and Bank of America, among others – as well as our own use of social to praise or complain about products and brand experiences.

The participants in this discussion:
Dan Brooks, Digital Marketing Manager
Denise de Castro, Director of Production
John Lee, Director of Digital Marketing and Analytics
Cliff Medney, Chief Creative Strategist
John Whitcomb, Social Media Strategist

Dan: Alright, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the relationship between social media and customer feedback, because there have been a couple of high profile cases in the last couple months where social media users have had a real impact on brand decisions even before a product is released. Things like Netflix with the whole Qwikster thing, where they ended up cancelling it based on the negative buzz online. And Bank of America with its plan to charge people just to use their debit cards, and there was such negative feedback on social that it forced them to cancel the program.

I feel like in the past, people used to vote with their dollars, and now it’s not even coming to that. It’s like before they even have a chance to do that, they’re just using their voices via social media. So I wanted to start off with your thoughts about this. Maybe it’s a new phenomenon? John [Whitcomb], you can go first.

John W: Well, you know, from personal experience, I had a Bank of America card and we switched to The Credit Union when we saw that there were [new] debit card fees. I didn’t go on and blast it in social but I did actually let the dollar speak. So, I don’t know if it’s so much a matter of people just not letting the dollar speak as opposed to kind of doing both.

I think that Facebook and Twitter give the consumers a voice that they didn’t have before and they utilize that to voice their displeasure with these companies over policies. I think the bottom line that made [Bank of America] switch is the tone of the conversation as well as the actual results from the consumers. Because I do think that a lot of people had already switched over to other banks, and they saw that, and needed to do something. So I don’t know if it’s a direct result of just the outcry on social for that particular case. I do think it’s kind of the combination of the actual results of that outcry on social that in that particular case and getting people to drop their cards.

And for Netflix, I don’t really have that much of a personal attachment to it, but I would venture to guess that it’s kind of the same. I think Netflix was scared of all the personal outcry and you know, the displeasure that consumers expressed, but I’m not sure that’s what caused them to change as much as when they actually looked at the numbers and saw that people were dropping subscriptions because they were upset.

Dan: Do you think it’s almost like the dark side of having a presence on social – maybe fans feel more connected to a brand, and when they’re offended by something, that is also amplified. You can have instant feedback with the brand on Twitter and on Facebook, and that can be positive, but you also have the negative, which can be amplified.

John W: I remember last year, I think it was Jeremiah Owyang – he gave the keynote out at WOMMA, and his main thing was how we need to train the consumer that social media is not just a complaint vehicle and that it’s not a help desk. Basically, consumers right now are being trained that if you have a problem, go to [the brand’s] social outlets, and they will resolve it. Before, it may not have been a problem that they could have gotten resolved for whatever reason, or it might have been such a small problem that they wouldn’t have bothered, and this sort of gives them a new avenue to connect to the company and get those problems fixed. And his worry is that over the next few years, consumers are only going to use social for that purpose, and instead of an actual positive engagement with the brand, and kind of learning from them, it’s just going to be a complaint hub.

Dan: When you go to a Facebook page and all that you see is people complaining about stuff, I mean, that can’t be good.

John L: Since the beginning of message boards, the Internet has always been an outlet for people to complain. People love to complain online because it’s somewhat anonymous, and it’s always been a place where people like to start flame wars and things like that. “Voice of the customer” is nothing new, but with social it just makes things a little more public. High profile platforms, ubiquitous platforms, like Facebook , Twitter…it’s not as unknown as something like, a slash-dot of the ’90s, where people complain about stuff. Most people didn’t even know what the hell slash-dot was, even though it was a great message board. But now everybody knows what Facebook is, everybody knows what Twitter is, and so there are a lot of eyeballs on it. It’s very mainstream, and so the complaints are just a little more visible for everybody. So that’s why the corporations are a little bit more aware of those complaints rather than it being placed on more unknown site.

Dan: Do you think there is an element of bandwagon jumping? With the Netflix price hike and then Qwikster announcement, the outcry was crazy. Even I wrote some blogs about it, and how I didn’t like what they were doing. Ultimately it was just about DVD rentals, and for Netflix users, it was like the world was collapsing around them.

John L: Well, that’s basically it. They saw that they were going to be charged a little bit more, so yeah, there’s going to be an outcry for that, right?

Dan: Right.

John L: I don’t think there would have been as much negativity if they were actually getting a price cut [with Qwikster]. I doubt the whole Qwikster thing would have been thrashed on the way it was, but I mean, everyone is going to complain if they have to pay a little bit more.

Denise: Well, I don’t really have much to say about the Netflix thing besides seeing it all on my Twitter feed, and it was getting very annoying because everyone just wanted to complain about it. One person starts and then everyone starts complaining about it, even if they don’t subscribe to Netflix. They just jump on the bandwagon and Tweet, “Yeah, I’m so with you on that!”

Dan: You’re very active on Twitter, right?

Denise: Yes.

Dan: And have you ever complained about anything?

Denise: Plenty. Plenty of times. I guess the first complaint I ever made was last year. And I complained to Saks Fifth Avenue because they sent me a shipment that I had to do a special order on, and I was so excited, ready to use it and then I found that the product was used. So right away, I went to Twitter, because that’s my outlet. I got a response within a couple of minutes. They had a sales associate that lived by me drop the new product at my apartment and had it all taken care of.

Dan: What was the tone of your message to them? Was it very angry or was it more calm, like, “Hey, I have a problem…”

Denise: I wasn’t swearing, for sure. [Laughs] It was calm.

John L: I remember this. I think you were like, “Ew, gross!” And you actually included a TwitPic.

Denise: Yes! I did a TwitPic of it! That’s what it was. And you know, a picture speaks a thousand words, right? So I let the picture do the talking. So then that eventually spread out.

Dan: Do you ever, on the flip side, have a good experience and let the brand know?

Denise: Yeah, plenty of times. If I have a great hotel stay, I do say that. I do a #TravelTuesday for them as well. If I have a good dining experience, that goes out on my food Twitter handle. I don’t necessarily go onto Facebook to say, “Oh my gosh, you guys are great!”

I try not to complain. I went to a conference last year. I can’t remember which, I think it was 140 Conf. or one of those other social media meetups, and they said that social media is more of a cathartic platform, because everyone can complain on it. And ever since I heard that, I was like, “Shoot! Maybe I should change the way I Tweet and not be so negative.” So I keep that in my mind. But in general, everybody just likes to complain. So sometimes I just hit that off button or use my TweetDeck to just to sort out the negative people.

Dan: For me, it’s sort of the last straw in dealing with a brand, that makes me complain on Twitter. So I don’t really do it that often. Except this one time I went to Hale and Hearty soups and I didn’t think there was enough crab in my crab soup and I complained about it. [Laughs]

Cliff, I wanted to ask you, because we’ve talked offline about New Coke, and I know you were working through that whole thing – do you think that whole debacle would have been changed in any way if, let’s say, before Coke released New Coke, they announced what they were doing and people had a chance to go online and talk about their feelings? Would it have been with the marketing blunder it became? Could it have been avoided if social media was around back then? What do you think?

Cliff: Right. I think the interesting part of the question is, they did a lot of research. You would have thought that they would have secured the kind of sentiment that most brands don’t go to the lengths, historically, but now they get it naturally through social media. Coke had 200,000 people in the queue, in terms of the quantitative range of people, they engaged. Not just quantitative, but focus groups, blind taste tests over a huge population and they thought, very projectable.

Now, because social is real time, all the time, they might not have looked at it as a research endeavor; they might have looked at it as real backlash that they had to manage, which is the difference, right? I think brands inherently look at social as something like Denise was saying: it had to be managed before it got out of hand. And Saks, which is such a premium level player, and they are under such competition, they want to make sure [the brand does not get hurt by influencers]. They might have already identified you as a taste maker, they might have known your score, and how influential you are, so all of a sudden – boom! They took care of you and the problem. Whereas in research, they talked about, you know, what happens in a customer service environment, because they do all this testing and drilling. So, I think social now, has upped the ante.

If you were New Coke all the way back when and you got a crap load of sentiment of, “You’re screwing with an American institution,” it wouldn’t have been a couple of percentage points that said that in focus groups [that was drowned out by the positive feedback]. But if people were saying that you’re messing with Americana, and then people started commenting on the comments, you could imagine it going viral and it would have made a real difference than just what goes down in focus groups.

Research is viewed, all too often still, as academic and not real world. The real versus academic is what’s social now. Really.

Denise: I can say that the use of social media, in terms of complaining or getting some sort of result, is sort of more effective than the old fashioned “picking up the phone.” Because my husband had issues with his Droid, now iPhone, and he would like, call Verizon Customer Support, over and over. He would talk to them for hours, over any given amount of time. And it got to the point where I was like, “You just wasted so much time. How many “x” dollars is that?” So he eventually Tweeted it out and then he got the issue resolved in just a couple of minutes. So hours on the phone versus a blast…it’s unfortunate that you get faster of results on social media. But you know, now all the issues are resolved. All it took was one Tweet versus many phone calls.

Holiday Happiness Brought to You By…

happy-marketing

With all the political rancor going on, the NBA season (probably) lost to greed, and the ongoing problems with the economy, things continue to have a somewhat melancholy hue in life’s atmosphere. Yet, if there is one sentiment we can expect to see this holiday season, maybe more than ever in our lifetime – be it wrapped in an app, posted on Facebook, or photographed with a QR code – it’s happiness and positivity. One may think this is cynical – offering people happiness via a product – but the truth is, it only works when the marketing is honest. And there’s nothing cynical about that.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Brand Week discussing the use of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” in JetBlue’s “Jetting” campaign. And now, the song (and many of ELO’s biggest hits, for that matter) can be heard in practically every commercial or movie trailer. “Mr. Blue Sky,” written in 1977, is a stirring, upbeat track, with rich harmonies and instrumentation coupled with downright cheery, winning lyrics. As the story goes, ELO leader Jeff Lynne was in Switzerland, trying to write the band’s new album, but nothing was coming. Every day the weather was overcast and the sky was dark. Finally, after two weeks, the sun came out; Lynne, inspired, immediately sat at the piano and the song just emerged. “Sun is shining in the sky / There ain’t a cloud in sight / It stopped rainin’ / Everybody’s in a play / And don’t you know? / It’s a beautiful new day.” “Mr. Blue Sky” was popular when originally released, but only became a classic in the last few years. And why? Why now? In an interview with Q Magazine, Lynne recounted something Paul McCartney said to him about the song’s second coming – that the song found its time because “everything is gloomy right now,” and people “need a bit of optimism.” It’s absolutely true, and it’s true of the general tone of a lot of the marketing we’ll see this holiday season.

Ruby Anik, senior vice president for brand marketing at J.C. Penney in Plano, Tex., told The New York Times, “The upbeat optimism is a value we’ve put into all our marketing this year. With all the bad news around, we wanted the element of ‘When I go to J.C. Penney, I have a fun time, and the brand makes me feel good.’” It’s a spirit that marketers across many consumer categories will be celebrating as well, and we have started to see it earlier and heavier than ever before from many brands. See the following campaigns that are doing it right:

This sentiment of joyfulness, happiness, fun and frugality are at the soul of the holidays, marketers, the campaigns above, and the social landscape. Social media, in particular, delivers for marketers what they never had in years past: up to the minute, changeable copy or deals, and the ability to be emotionally relevant within targeted consumer/shopper circles. Social media only works because and when it’s real. When it is not real, people abandon. The holiday season is the one real time of year people expect it to be real as well – with family and friends, co-workers and even brands dealing as hard as they can. But as long as the message of happiness is relevant, and it’s coming from an honest place – as it does in everything from songs like “Mr. Blue Sky” to Facebook campaigns with actual heart – it’s hard for a brand to go wrong with that kind of messaging.

10 Awesome Music Sites & Blogs

our favorite music sites

There are some hardcore music nerds here at Flightpath. Sometimes there’s crossover between our tastes, sometimes not, but everyone has his or her favorites. (Personally speaking, my love of ELO, the Beatles and Guided By Voices is well-documented around the office, to the point where I’m sure everyone wishes I would just shut up about them already.)

Anyway, just as we make connections with music that speaks to us, so do we make connections with web sites we trust that cover music. So, without further ado, here are our favorites, selected by myself, Tyler Abrams, Mike Liss and Roxanne Oliver, in no particular order. (Our only rule: none of the biggies like Pitchfork, Stereogum, Rolling Stone, or sites like last.fm.)

Dust and Grooves – As someone who owns probably around 600-700 CDs, this may seem like an odd choice. But about a year ago, I made a conscious decision to switch to vinyl, and this site expresses why. It’s a photo and interview blog, where site creator Eilon Paz visits vinyl collectors around the world to photograph their collections and talk to them about their love of the format and music. It’s beautiful stuff. The photographs are stunning, mixing black & white and color, and capturing the beauty of an old vinyl record and a shelf completely filled with albums. Dust and Grooves will remind you why you love your favorite albums, and what you’re missing out on when you only experience them through iTunes or CDs. – Dan

Tiny Mix Tapes – A few years back, I had a slight obsession with this thing called the  “Automatic Mix Tape Generator,” a section on Tiny Mix Tape’s site where anyone can submit an idea for a mix tape and, in turn, receive a track listing based on that idea from volunteers dubbed as “Mix Robots”.  At the heart of the site, though, is the music review section, which is split into 3 parts: Featured reviews targeting the mainstream and not-so-mainstream, Delorean reviews for the pre-TMT music that demands to be re-heard (or buried further away from the public), and Eureka! reviews for the ultra-obscure/experimental music that most shy away from.   The thing that keeps me coming back to TMT is the down-to-earth style of the reviews, where the reviewer doesn’t float up into some music critique bubble that only other music critics can understand. – Tyler

All Music – I hope this doesn’t cost me too much cred, because it is a bigger site, but I’ve always found All Music to be a good resource. Essentially a library of reviews, you can find information on just about any album here. What I like most is that the reviews don’t exactly seem unbiased – they’re written more from the perspective of, “If you’re already a fan of this band, here’s what you’ll think of this album.” And in most cases, I agree with them. (As a Beatles fan, I’ve always liked their appreciation of current-era Paul McCartney, which I think features some incredible work and isn’t quite lauded enough.) Whenever there’s a new release that I’m excited about, the first thing I do is check All Music to see what they thought. That’s a high compliment for a web site. – Dan

La Blogotheque – Is most well known for the Take Away Shows, a series of very personal, acoustic videos that are directed by Vincent Moon. The English site is only translated for that Take Away Shows, but if you happen to be well versed enough to read French, La Blogotheque’s articles are insightful and reflect the same spirit of the videos. – Roxanne

OMG Vinyl – Another vinyl blog, but this one is simultaneously a vinyl/news/reviews/deals site, and sticks the landing for each. It also touches on a lot of genres that I don’t get that much exposure to or gravitate towards, so it’s a good way to get me out of my music comfort zone. – Dan

Gorilla vs. Bear – The exponential growth in music production is just way too overwhelming sometimes, with artists cranking out a single every minute, and then other artists swooping in and remixing those singles or mashing them together with other singles.  What Gorilla vs. Bear does is handpick the good stuff from the junk pile and posts about 4 or 5 of them on a single day.  And on slow days, there will just be one post.  At last, the current amped-up music production scene is finally distilled into this tiny and minimal site so you don’t short-circuit from music overload. – Tyler

NPR Music – In my humble opinion, NPR can do no wrong and the music section of their website is no different. From up-to-date news, the First Listen segments, and Tiny Desk concerts of some of my favorite musicians, their dynamic content always makes for a good read and listen. – Roxanne

BrooklynVegan – Staying up on your favorite bands coming through the city used to mean grabbing a fresh copy of the Village Voice every Tuesday night and pouring over the music coverage ads. But for the past few years, if you keep at least one toe in the New York City live music scene, you follow BrooklynVegan.

A self-described “NYC-centric mostly-music blog,” the site focuses on music news, show listings and reviews, concert pics, MP3s and much more. In a world of cooler-than-thou music tastemakers, BV cuts through the snark with zero attitude and coverage of bands from a broad range of genres and levels of success. And because it’s still primarily run by a single person, it feels more like getting tips from the best-versed friend you could have, rather than the anonymous editors of some glossy.

A full-fledge community eco-system lives through the comment posts, where you can find everything from what time the band you’re seeing tonight took the stage last night to why Anonymous 10:17 and Anonymous 11:04 can’t stop flaming each other. Since while BV keeps its coverage on the level, when it comes to the back-and-forth of the comment boards, it can quickly devolve into third grade recess at the Coolest School in Williamsburg. And hilariously so. – Mike

The Hype Machine – A Tumblr-based music blog, which means the content is consistently being updated/re-blogged. Despite being mostly based in a hipster/independent audible aesthetic, there is not a day that goes by where I do not discover a new band or song that makes me want to buy an album. That being said, it is wonderful for supporting new and upcoming musicians to gain notoriety, however dangerous for my bank account. Venture wisely, but with enthusiasm! – Roxanne

Low Times – Just prior to this post going live, I listened to the debut episode of the Low Times podcast. The show features Tom Scharpling (host of The Best Show on WFMU), Daniel Ralston and Maggie Serota all interviewing different musicians (in this episode, they talk to Janet Weiss, Owen Ashworth and Catherine Popper, respectively) for extended periods, taking advantage of the podcast format to set their own pace, tone and length. The talks are both smart and funny, unfold naturally, and the hosts give their interview subjects room to breathe while still injecting their own personality into the show. (I particularly liked Scharpling’s question, “Was there music when you were a kid that you were not allowed to listen to? Was there anything your parents drew the line on?” because it’s something we all went through, but I’ve never heard asked to an actual musician before. And kudos to Serota for getting Popper to discuss jamming with Chevy Chase.) It’s clear that they’re real music fans, knowledgeable and curious about their favorite bands and records. I’d encourage everyone to get on board now. – Dan

Google+ Brand Pages Pros & Cons

Finally, Google has officially launched Google+ brand pages. Marketers and those involved in social media are quick to point out the comparison to Facebook, although Google does not see itself that way, as this interview with Google VP Bradley Horowitz demonstrates.

However, as marketers, it is our job to explore these various options so we can recommend them to clients and help them meet their business goals. Below is a quick breakdown of this new offering.

Pros

  1. Direct Connect – The Direct Connect feature is the ability for the Google+ brand pages to be found right in the search engine. By adding a + in front of the search query, users are connected right to the brand’s Google+ page where they can add to circles.
  2. Segmentation of customers – Circles is a core feature of the Google+ platform and the brand pages also utilize this functionality. Brands can divide their customer base into various subsets and target messages specifically for them.
  3. Huddles allow for exclusive content – Video chats with the company allow for a customer to experience more of an intimate connection with the brand. The demo video emphasized this feature using the neighborhood bike shop as an example. This more direct, more real connection was one of the purposes of this medium in the first place.

Cons

  1. Banning contests and promotions – This to me is the biggest flaw of the new platform. I had hoped that I would be able to use a contest and promotions to help build our clients followers.
    This is not something that hurts just the marketers, however; this affects the consumers directly. Study after study, including this graphic below, has shown that consumers connect with brands for a variety of reasons, but the number one reason is to receive special offers and discounts. This makes me ask Google, “What were you thinking?”
  2. Single admin – As of right now, Google+ pages only allow for one owner. Unlike Facebook, where you can add multiple administrators and work as a team to produce content, Google has limited it to one user. You can share the e-mail that was used to create the account, but even using that tactic has its limitations, as you cannot determine who on your team was posting what content. Overall, it just makes things less intuitive behind-the-scenes.
  3. Lack of analytics – A favorite saying that I use when thinking about analytics is, “You can’t get to your destination if you don’t know where you’re starting from.” With Google+ brand pages, it is hard to figure out a goal and a target because there is no way to measure your progress. The complete lack of analytics makes it very difficult for marketers to see what is working and what isn’t, which makes strategic planning almost impossible. That said, I am sure a robust analytics feature is coming.
  4. Lack of scale – At this very moment, I am hard pressed to recommend any of our clients get involved within the platform. The reason is simply that the users are not there. While it seems like those involved in the industry – marketers, branding experts, etc. – are all active within the Google+, it has yet to cross over to the mainstream consumer. Spending money on this platform is equivalent to paying for a sign in the middle of the woods where no one will see it.

Google+ brand pages are a brand new offering and as Google has mentioned, they are still in a learning phase. As they receive feedback on what is and what isn’t working and as the user base continues to grow, the platform could become more of a key component in a complete online marketing strategy.


 

Interview: Jeff Rubin of College Humor and Jest – Part 2

Jeff Rubin College Humor

In the final installment of our two-part interview with Jeff Rubin (in case you missed it, here’s part 1), the writer and performer discusses the new College Humor spinoff site, Jest, writing comedy for the Internet, and whether or not we’ll ever see a Street Fighter: The Later Years type sketch for a certain NES game.

Flightpath: What I read about Jest is that it’s aimed at an older demographic. What can you tell us about it, and what does it mean that it’s targeted towards an older demo?

Jeff Rubin: 25-year-olds and 35-year-olds, I think, would find a lot of the same things [funny]. I know for a fact that there are a lot of older people that are on College Humor. But College Humor is always going to be about college, and I think there are some people that will never go to it just because of that. And there are things that are popular online that don’t really fit within College Humor, so we wanted a way to address those.

So what we’re doing with Jest is, it’s a very topical site. We’re still working on this, but we’re trying to develop, conceive, write, shoot and edit videos in 24 or 48 hours, as much as possible. We had an NBA lockout video, we shot something about the iPhone 4S, like the day after it came out. So we’re trying to turn those kinds of things around quickly.

And even other things, like we did this sketch about Gatorade. It’s a commercial for Gatorade, but instead of it being an energy drink that will help you win at basketball – by the way, how clear is it that I don’t know anything about sports where I’m like, “It will help you win at basketball,” that’s what I think energy drinks do – it helps you get over your hangover. It was a funny idea and I think a funny sketch – and even that’s a little College Humor-y – but our sketch was more about getting through the day at work, as opposed to getting out of your dorm room bed and going out to party again. So I think it was a slightly different take on it. You know, we’re doing things that I think people in college would enjoy, but aren’t necessarily made with them in mind.

Flightpath: Going forward now, will you have content or a hand in stuff that shows up on Dorkly and College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: Yeah. Yes, I will. Maybe not as much as I had in the past or at a certain time, but I definitely will continue to contribute to those websites. They’re not gonna get rid of me that easily.

Flightpath: When people think about comedy writing, I think they maybe still think of the SNL model or the Mr. Show model. What’s different about comedy writing for the Internet?

Jeff Rubin: I’ve only ever written for the Internet, so I don’t have much insight. I would say that the rules are a little freer. I feel like we’re free to make up formats. We can make a video that’s one minute and really funny, or we can make a video that’s five minutes and really funny. Where if you’re writing for TV, it has to be 22 minutes and fit into these exact chunks at these spots. I personally find it very exciting that a lot of the rules are still being written. It’s changed so much just since I started working, and I think that’s pretty exciting.

Obviously, there’s things on TV that come along that completely change everything, like Arrested Development. But I think it’s harder on TV because of how much money goes into everything and how long the process is, whereas I feel like we have the chance to really come up with something new and innovate every single day.

Flightpath: So what’s your official role at Jest, and what’s a typical day like?

Jeff Rubin: I am the Editor-in-Chief of Jest. I’d say the site’s new, there’s no typical day yet. We’re still kind of trying to figure out how to keep up with the news cycle and how to best react to it. It’s not hard deciding when to make a video, it’s hard deciding when not to, because there’s something in the news every day. “Is this the thing we really want to focus on this week, or should we hold off?” There’s writing meetings. We try and pay attention to the news and when something comes up, we have that conversation – is this something we should be talking about? And that’s just the original content. There’s this whole other side to the site that is aggregating the best comedy on the Internet and presenting it to you almost like news of what’s funny.

Also, I work a lot on designing the site itself. It’s still very much in beta. There’s, I think, a lot of work to be done in the best way to present this material. So there are a lot of different elements that involve working with a lot of different people. And that’s fun.

Flightpath: Will mixing original and aggregated content be a differentiating factor for Jest?

Jeff Rubin: College Humor aggregates content too. There’s lots of just funny videos on College Humor, and they’re very popular on the site, too. Sometimes we labor for months over a sketch, really working hard on it, and we think it’s great and we’re really excited to put it up. And then a video of like, an elephant shooting water at a baby, blows it away the day it comes out. [Laughs]

But we have a bit of a different take on it on Jest. You can kind of browse by person, or by topic, or by show. Jest also works with Hulu to incorporate more “legit” type of stuff and mix it all up. So when you go to a page for Will Arnett, you get all the funny videos he’s done online, as well as all the TV shows he’s on, which includes both episodes of Arrested Development that are maybe on Hulu, as well as episodes of Up All Night from NBC.com.

Flightpath: Your podcast, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, seems like an amalgam of all the things that you love.

Jeff Rubin: It’s funny. I obviously have a wide variety of guests on. People will comment on the randomness of the guests, but to me it’s not random. It’s all cool stuff! From my perspective, there’s a complete line you can trace through everything, because it’s all just stuff that I’m into.

Flightpath: What do you get from the podcast that maybe you don’t get from your other work on Jest or College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: I really enjoy the medium. The gateway podcast for me, as I think was for a lot of people, was Marc Maron’s WTF Pod. I’d listen to that, and I’d enjoy it. What was remarkable was that I was enjoying it as much as I might enjoy a book or a good TV show, but I was enjoying it in a way that was totally different. The way I was enjoying it was completely unique. I really like the connection I think you forge with people, because it’s not just like a five minute Internet video, where someone’s watching it and as soon it’s over they’re onto the next thing – maybe they don’t even finish it. You’re really in someone’s head for an hour. It’s a much deeper connection. I really enjoy how deep you can get with things. Some are 30 minutes, some of them are an hour and a half, and I think they’re equally good and each one is exactly as long as I want them to be. It can be about whatever. So there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, and I honestly just enjoy doing it.

Flightpath: Now you have a podcast, you’ve written for some very successful comedy sites, you’re active on Twitter. Why do you think the Internet has become such a big destination for comedy?

Jeff Rubin: I don’t think the Internet’s become a big destination for comedy. I think comedy is just always popular. You know, some of the first plays were comedy, some of the first TV shows were comedy. We just have this new thing, and I think as a society maybe, we like comedy and were like, “Well, how are we gonna laugh at this thing?” I think it also doesn’t hurt that everyone’s always on it. Comedy is always tempting and you’re always connected to the Internet, so it’s kind of interesting that you can always find something that makes you laugh.

I actually installed the Reddit iPhone app. Not that Reddit’s necessarily comedy per se, but it’s fun. [Laughs] And I installed the iPhone app today, and I was like, “Oh, well, I guess I’ll never be bored anymore. There’s like a constant stream of interesting things going into my phone at all times.”

Flightpath: Do you ever get tired of the omnipresence of not just the Internet, but the constant connectivity? Like, “You know, I just don’t feel like writing Tweets today.”

Jeff Rubin: Yeah, and you know what I do when that happens? I don’t write any Tweets. I certainly don’t Tweet every day. The podcast, I’m sort of committed to doing weekly, and I treat it like it’s a TV show, but if I didn’t want to do one next week, I could just not do one and it would be totally fine. I like to go camping; I do sometimes feel like, “information overload,” and I try and make a conscious effort to get away from it. But I also embrace it.

Flightpath: Is there anything on Jest we should be looking forward to that you can give us a little preview about?

Jeff Rubin: You know I really can’t, because I don’t know what we’re putting up next week yet. We’re waiting to see the news, which is exciting.

Flightpath: Finally, just since Jest is skewed towards an older demo, does this mean there will never be a Burger Time: The Later Years?

Jeff Rubin: No, probably not. But on Dorkly, which is our videogame site, there’s hundreds of bits, and if there isn’t a Burger Time one yet, it seems inevitable that there will be. It’s totally perfect for that format.

And that is, I think, what’s cool about what we’re doing at College Humor Media. There’s outlets for all these different types of jokes. I could have an idea that’s maybe more appropriate for College Humor, or more appropriate for Dorkly, or more appropriate for Jest. And I think it’s exciting to develop all these different outlets.

Interview: Jeff Rubin of College Humor and Jest – Part 1

Jeff Rubin

Over the last decade, College Humor has become one the Internet’s biggest comedy websites, featuring a mix of sketch comedy, animated shorts, interviews and lots, lots more. It dared to incorporate geek culture – especially videogames – into its content before almost anyone else, and in smart, non-pandering ways that earned it significant cred among comedy and game aficionados alike.

A big reason for College Humor’s success is Jeff Rubin. One of the main creative forces behind College Humor, Rubin has been writing and performing for the site almost since the beginning. His sensibilities, including a deft comedic touch and a love of gaming and pop culture, have played a large part in influencing the site’s tone and content. Lately, the performer has expanded his online offerings to include a podcast, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, and is now shepherding the recently-launched College Humor spinoff, Jest, which is targeting an older demographic. In part one of our interview with Rubin, we discuss the early days of College Humor, the legendary Street Fighter: The Later Years series of sketches, and why he’s not like The Wizard.

Flightpath: How did you come to be involved with College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: I started here as an intern. I had been out of college for a few months, and I actually found the job on Craigslist. And I was the first employee hired for the company past the owners themselves. They were looking to kinda kick things up. They had been in San Diego for a year and they moved to New York, and they were trying to grow the site and they were looking for someone to help out. I guess they hired me as an intern to help with a lot of the content. It was pretty clear that they were looking to grow and that if I didn’t mess up, I could have a job, maybe. And I’ve been here for seven years since.

Flightpath: How did your role evolve from intern to Executive Editor?

Jeff Rubin: I guess, initially, I had been involved more in curating the content and looking for other funny people online that we could maybe work with or feature their content, and sorting through these submissions. And I still work on those things to an extent, but that was among my first responsibilities. Then it became more about putting together a team to make those efforts even more successful, but also creating our own content – writing, and occasionally acting on camera in stuff that we were making.

Flightpath: That’s one thing I wanted to ask about. College Humor evolved to have such a breadth of content. There’s interviews, there’s sketches and animation like The Jersey Shore RPG. What’s the creative process in funneling all this different content into the whole that is College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: That’s a good question. I don’t know. You know, I guess we don’t think about it much. To me, they’re kind of one product. We try to give everything a similar sensibility, whether it’s something you have to read, or something you just look at and immediately get, or a video you watch for a few minutes. I hope that they’re all cut from the same cloth and are all from the same type of people – and in many cases from the same people.

There’s a surprisingly small writing staff. Everyone knows each other, so we have a shared sense of humor. We’re into a certain type of thing, and I think you can see that represented in all the work we do over different types of mediums. We didn’t used to do original videos, we used to have a bigger focus on pictures, we didn’t used to write as many articles, we didn’t take articles as seriously as we do now. There used to be naked girls. So the site’s evolved a lot over time.

Flightpath: So for something like The Jersey Shore RPG, how does that come to be? Because it’s very different from writing man-on-the-street interviews or sketches.

Jeff Rubin: Yeah, I mean, it’s not that different from writing a sketch. I know it’s animated, but it follows the same structure, I’d say, as one of our live action sketches – where there’s a viral idea, taking something that’s popular, and putting a fun twist on it. Taking this idea and exploring all the different sides of it. We also react to the zeitgeist and whatever’s popular, and I think there was a time when everyone had to have a Jersey Shore sketch. So we knew we had to do something about Jersey Shore. I don’t know how we really came up with the idea to present it as an RPG, to be honest. I think we were just looking for a unique angle on Jersey Shore, and I feel like we like doing things that a lot of people are into, but you wouldn’t necessarily see on Saturday Night Live. They’d never do an RPG sketch on Saturday Night Live, even though there’s a large, large number of people out there who are familiar with the tropes of the genre and the format.

Flightpath: I think my first exposure to College Humor was Street Fighter: The Later Years.

Jeff Rubin: Oh, that’s interesting, because that’s one of our first original videos. We had done a few that starred us, and were kind of low budget – us going out with the camera kind of thing – which are still on the site somewhere. Then we started making videos with the idea of getting them spread around.

Street Fighter: The Later Years was a huge, huge hit for us. It’s still one of our biggest hits. I think it was like the third or fourth video we ever made. I feel like a big moment in that video is with Dhalism – who was a character in Street Fighter that could extend his limbs to two or three times their length, and it was a fighting game, so he could punch people from across the street. Everyone’s kind of down-and-out from their street fighting days, and Dhalism, who is now a cab driver, I think…Maybe he’s not a cab driver. For whatever reason, he’s driving –

Flightpath: He was a cab driver.

Jeff Rubin: Okay good. I was afraid I was being racist just because he’s Indian. So they’re turning a corner, and he reaches his arm out, and he has these kind of extendo-arms, and he grabs this lamppost to swing the car around the corner. I think that was a big moment because it’s a fun special effect, and that was at a time when you weren’t seeing a lot of special effects with that kind of production quality in Internet videos, additionally in a funny video. Also, that’s where we started to hit upon this idea – that’s a nerdy example, but there are also non-nerdy examples – of doing these things that are out there that people are into, but you wouldn’t see a Street Fighter sketch on Comedy Central, necessarily.

Flightpath: I was wondering if that was a conscious decision. I love the Street Fighter: The Later Years sketches, I think a lot of people did, with all the in-jokes. One thing I’ve noticed about College Humor, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it seems like it filled a niche, or created a kind of gaming-slash-pop culture influenced form of comedy?

Jeff Rubin: That’s definitely true, because a lot of us are dorky and we think that stuff’s funny, and it was often successful. Videogames are like movies and music, but they’re still a little underground. And [the videogame sketches] were so successful, in fact, that we spun them off into another site called Dorkly, which I also work on. Dorkly is just pure videogame humor, and we do two videos that take place inside a videogame every week, and every day there’s comics and articles about videogames.

My favorite things on that site are articles that you have to have played the game [to understand]. There was this great one, “The 7 Most Difficult Cases in L.A. Noire.” One of them was like, “Murder At The Beer Bottle Factory,” which if you played L.A. Noire, is funny, because in that game there’s a lot of picking up bottles and examining them for fingerprints. And you have to have played L.A. Noire to get that joke. But it was a very popular thing and there’s an audience for that kind of humor.

So it wasn’t intentional, but it was something we liked doing, we were proud of, and we recognized that there was a very hungry appetite for that kind of material on the Internet.

Flightpath: Are you as big a gamer as you used to be?

Jeff Rubin: I’d say that’s true. I do a lot of videogame humor, but I think I play videogames less than people would expect. It’s almost like a book to me. I’m not always playing videogames; I’m not like The Wizard, I’m not like, incredible at any game. But when there’s something out that’s good and has a lot of buzz and gets good reviews and people say is interesting, like L.A. Noire, I’ll check it out. Right now, Arkham City, the new Batman game, I’m totally obsessed with. I very rarely get obsessed with a game. But yeah, I’m still playing videogames. I’ve always done it my whole life – enjoyed it like that.

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Click here for part 2 of our interview with Jeff Rubin!