Cullman native, web pioneer talks social media, online video

After co-founding one of the first online media companies in the mid-1990s, transitioning into online video production was a natural move for Cullman native C.S. (Sean) Michael.

Michael helped kickstart Hecklers Online in 1995, one of AOL’s first media partners, just as the company was becoming a force in dial-up.

For a time in the late 1990s, the comedy media start-up was a major player — generating million of visits and everything from chatter about a movie deal, to a greeting card collaboration with Hallmark. But, all good things come to an end, and by the early 2000s the site’s influence had waned and it was eventually shuttered.

Though the Hecklers experience didn’t end up establishing a media brand that would stand the test of time, Michael said it still taught him quite a lot about starting and sustaining an online media business.

“In that period, we had so many incredible experiences and so much learning and growth. It was almost like 30 years compressed into five,” he said Friday at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon. “We put together a business plan, pitched it to AOL, and our original seed financing came from them. We were one of the first content companies on the internet in 1995. We were on AOL right next to Time Magazine. We were the biggest launch in the history of AOL when it launched.”

After his work on Hecklers, Michael said he decided to embrace his love of traveling and use what he learned about film production in college, eventually founding Walkabout Production Group. The production company is likely best know for the Long Long Honeymoon YouTube series, which chronicles Michael’s travels across the globe. He’s made it to every state in the lower 48, as well as Alaska. The channel is close to hitting 8 million total views.

“Every summer we go somewhere different around the world, bring a lot of video gear and shoot a lot of footage,,” he said. “From transatlantic crossings, to RV and Airstream travel. My wife and I went to 20 states on our honeymoon.”

While talking about the trick to making shareable content with viral potential, Michael said the real trick is to just focus on making good content. If you do that, success will likely follow.

“If you’re trying to connect to everyone through every channel, you’re diluting your brand. Find the platform to reach your audience, and focus on mastering that platform,” he said. “Content can be text, still images, or video. We’re seeing with text, just the power of a status update, or a tweet on Twitter. Presidential candidates are tweeting and reaching millions of people everyday. We’re all creating content nowadays.”

Michael pointed to his most successful video, which was culled from footage of a stormy boat trip across the North Atlantic Ocean in the winter. That video caught fire online, scoring more than 3 million views, while also being licensed for use in documentaries.

“It gets very stormy, and the storms were so bad they rerouted the ship around hurricane-force winds. I shot a lot of video, put it together in one afternoon, and that video has generated more than 3 million views,” he said. “The simple point is: You never know what’s going to work. I didn’t realize that would be a huge viral video. The secret to viral media success is there is no secret. You have to give people something of value to them, that helps them.”

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