VENICE, Calif., May 10, 2012 – John Resig, who founded theCHIVE along with his brother Leo, is humbled by the growth of his site and the loyal community of followers, or “chivers” it has created. When they attempt to sell shirts, websites crash. When they ask people to vote for a contest, that person wins.
Most recently, they helped Sara Jean Underwood be named Esquire’s Hottest Woman of 2012. She was a #13 seed in the bracket. It’s impressive.
Social media strategy is about providing access and being genuine, transparent. The goal being to eventually create a brand loyal community. theCHIVE may be the best example of quickly building this kind of ideal community. Chivers feel a sense of ownership with the brand.
What the site provides is a five minute escape, the essence of the term “chive.” Sometimes it’s an escape from work. Sometimes it’s just for a laugh. Either way, chivers leave happy and return often. It’s simple, uncomplicated and often shares personal stories of real chivers. This access and community set it apart from other sites.
It’s so compelling that I have a reminder set in my iPhone for the next time their signature shirts go on sale. It’s all the excitement of Shark Week packed in to ten minutes. It’s my Red Ryder BB Gun.
John’s answers are honest, compelling. For someone who rarely does interviews, his thoughts are compelling and often humorous.
If you haven’t heard of the site, you will. If you have, then keep calm and chive on.
Explain your approach, the mentality that drives demand: (referring to theCHIVE.com):
The demand is simple. Guys like funny photos and hot girls and need a silent time waster while at work. We have videos, but we’re not a video site so if you’re on your computer at work, home, or studying for a test at the library and need a break that doesn’t require audio, enter theCHIVE. There’s millions of male sites online, but we think we set ourselves apart from the rest by being one of the first to offer not just funny LOL pics and bikini-clad girls, but we also offer something for everyone: galleries of art, photography, architecture, monster food recipes, and inspirational videos. To that end, we’ve built a devout female viewership, the Chivettes.
Why are your KCCO and Bill Murray shirts always sold out?
When we created Keep Calm and Chive On (KCCO), and Bill Murray, we intended them to be a sort of Shibboleth, an identifier. If you wear this shirt, you’re letting other Chivers around you know you’re one of them. It’s a way to literally connect Chivers outside the internet. Most importantly, it really does work. You can wear it out and get a ‘Chive on!’ or two - one guy got 36 in a day, claims he got (a lady) too. The romantic in me hopes it was a mind bending threesome.
The second piece that drives the demand is the gamification of the the shirts. We don’t produce too many of our most popular shirts and scoring one is an adventure.
We announce an exact time the shirts will go live and The Chivery is packed with Chivers hours before. When we fill in the stock, the race begins, getting a shirt is often a function of how fast you can type but there are other obstacles. Primarily, TheChivery.com crashing. TheChivery is housed on Shopify’s servers.
The minute the shirts go on sale, tens of thousands of Chivers attempt to execute a sale and lately we’ve been crashing all of Shopify. During the Chive Effect, Shopify will be up and down over the next ten minutes and there’s little windows to get the shirt in that time. The server crashing aspect actually pisses me off and I wish it didn’t happen, but it does, and sort of ads to the adventure.
I’m well aware we could probably make a couple hundred thousand shirts, sell them all in a day, and sail off into the sunset. But there’s no fun in that, Leo and I have very little interest in money or seeing the shirts on everyone, everywhere, that would really devalue the product and our site. For example I see Shepard Fairey’s (expletive) OBEY shirts everywhere. I’m a fan of Shepard Fairey and I’m also a capitalist, so good for Shepard, but I’m not sure the OBEY shirt inundation has been good for his brand.
Why did you start theCHIVE? In other words, what opportunity or void did you recognize in the market?
My brother and I started theCHIVE. We both realized we were going to Russian photoblogs for our entertainment. At the time, Russian photo sites were presenting themed galleries of photos on a free flowing, single page scroll. Easy to consume and easy to share. In tandem with the discovery of foreign photo blogs, there were the chain emails.
Anyone over the age of 25 can recall the days of email chains that included a bunch of photo attachments with a subject line like: “Fwd: Redneck Engineering - 20 pics”. We thought, why not aggregate these email chains into their own galleries online? By 2008, we assumed that there were tons of US sites doing the same thing and when we discovered nobody was, theCHIVE was born, people instantly liked it, and shared it.
In the US, we’re conditioned to view slideshows. We refresh photos like drugged monkeys and simultaneously churn through ad impressions like wood through a chipper. Slideshows are a terribly granular user experience and it emphasizes making a buck rather than making a fan of your site. In Russia, there’s no coherent online ad industry, no incentives through ad impressions or CPM’s, so they just put all the photos together for your viewing pleasure.
How do you build a loyal community? Why do people want to engage with theCHIVE?
theCHIVE was built and grown with the intention that every gallery is viral in nature. The galleries have the potential to be enjoyed and shared by millions via email and/or social media. Some galleries are base hits while others are grand slams, but most of them are at least doubles that score 2 runs. Guys, in nature, like to share cool/funny stuff with friends. It’s the “Hey dude, grab your beer and check this out” mentality. Guys like making other guys laugh, or cringe, or say, “Oh (expletive)!”
I think the loyalty we’ve created stems from the fact that the people running the site are nice people and the Chivers are all genuinely nice. It’s an online underground social network full of kindness. So often in this cynical world, people hide with anonymity behind their glowing screen to vent and hate on the Internet.
That doesn’t happen on theCHIVE. We have an unabated commenting system, you don’t have to sign in to comment so it would be easy to troll. And yet we see very little of it because the Chivers are self-policing. If you’re an (expletive), you’ll quickly be told theCHIVE is not the place for you by a couple hundred people.
As for us, we actually care about our users and I think the Chivers can sense that. We’re just like them, we like being entertained by theCHIVE as well. If one of our authors publishes an awesome gallery, we check it out, not as editors to critique them, but to be entertained by them. We also have Peter Pan syndrome so there’s an aspect that our users live vicariously through our adventures, which usually involve too much booze and scantily clad women.
I honestly don’t understand why the loyalty is so strong. It’s an intangible I can’t fully explain. I’m completely humbled by it to be honest.
What is your favorite moment or accomplishment so far?
My favorite moment on theCHIVE was a trip we took to Las Vegas for an offline 21 Jump Street promotion last month. We announced that we, along with 3 of our Chivettes, were going to dress as sexy cops and shave our intern’s head in front of the Bellagio fountains at 3pm and any Chivers in the area were invited to watch. We were donating the intern’s hair to Locks of Love. I made the location announcement just one day prior and we had no clue if anybody would show up, it was a risky move considering Sony had put their good name on it.
A full hour before the stunt, I got a call from my buddy. He was already at the fountains and described Las Vegas Blvd. as ‘A sea of green.’ We flash mobbed the Bellagio fountains with only one day notice, it was insane. It felt really good and no one got arrested, which is always a plus.
What should we plan on seeing from theCHIVE in the next 12 months?
Let me take my humble hat off for a hot second and say, expect big things from theCHIVE. Without giving too much away, we will be launching myCHIVE, which will allow our Chivers to login and save, share and search for their favorite photos on theCHIVE. The technology is powered by a new startup we are partnering with called Tapiture.com.
At the risk of calling Tapiture the Pinterest for men, it’s exactly that and more because it will be fueled by theCHIVE’s content and users. Instead of “Pinning” photos, users can “Tap” photos. We intend it to become the raging bile duct of the Internet and it will succeed where some of the other Pinterest knockoffs have stumbled.
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