YouTube star Erik Hoffstad is one half of the duo behind Letsgotoclass, a popular YouTube channel that produced the controversial "Being Productive on Salvia" series, among others. He joined iMedia for a discussion about viral tipping points, good vs. bad attention, and the next step after YouTube fame.
iMedia Connection: Was there a viral catalyst for your videos? What about "Driving on Salvia"? Did you know that you're mentioned in a New York Times article and on salvia's Wikipedia page? Do you think that has helped garner views?
Erik Hoffstad: Before I made the Being Productive on Salvia videos, there was already a viral storm of people uploading things like "My Friend's first salvia trip" and "MEGAN LOSES HER MIND ON SALIVA!" -- and of course they were all getting tons of views because it's insanely entertaining to watch grown adults turn into screaming maniac baby-creatures. It was a very easy viral trend to participate in, as all you needed to do was buy salvia, smoke it on camera, and have no shame. That's actually the main reason I made the salvia sketches -- and also because I can handle my drugs.
I think it's hilarious that I'm in the salvia Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, it's not in the best of context. Same goes for the New York Times article, which is mostly about how congressmen were trying to make possession of salvia illegal and other ridiculously overblown reactions to the videos on YouTube. This one guy "Doc Anderson," who shares his time between being a congressman and "small pet veterinarian," played "Driving on Salvia" in town halls and even a house judiciary committee in order to scare people and make them think I was doing something other than a parody video (during which the keys in my hand are a non-functioning prop: I had no ability to start my car.) It was a negative yet completely unsurprising reaction to something that should have been a quickly passing moment of viral popularity (people can only watch so many "friend on salvia lol!" videos before they start to re-evaluate their time.) To answer the question, those articles and the other sources of attention definitely garnered views, but it also pissed off anyone who had enjoyed it before. They say any publicity is good publicity, but I'm just glad salvia farmers didn't firebomb my house in the night.
iMedia: Do you deliberately target a specific audience demographic?
Hoffstad: My YouTube account says our demographic is 85 percent male, so I guess we're basically the Mitt Romney of YouTube. Chris [Arader, co-producer of the videos] and I have never thought about who to target, or who would like each video we post. It's simply nice to have a place to dump these insane videos you make with your friends. I think that's where some of the best and funniest stuff comes from on the internet -- when people have no idea if what they're making is funny to anyone but themselves.
iMedia: What's the next step in terms of growth strategy?
Hoffstad: We want to do a podcast, or partner up with one of those websites that pays for people to produce their own web series. At least I think those websites exist. If not, we're going to just keep making our beer money from YouTube videos while we pursue actual writing gigs, etc.