For the last three and a half years or so, whenever I tell people what I do, the most common question I get in response is something to the effect of, “Oh, so you get to spend all day on Facebook and twitter reading the news?”
Well, yes, sometimes it certainly feels like I get to spend all day on the internet doing that. But other times it definitely feels like I have to spend all day on the internet doing that. While most people get to dink around online at their leisure to see what Norm MacDonald said after Robin Williams died, or what people thought about President Obama’s tan suit, or how British police stopped a dangerous person with a knife, or how a notorious dine-and-dasher told police to get their hands of his penis whilst arresting him for eating a succulent Chinese meal, we in the digital media have to be on top of this all day every day. It never ends. There’s no break from it. This is the job until the internet dies, and the internet will outlive us.
Speaking for myself, there have certainly been bad days, but on the whole I’ve had tons of fun over the last few years being an editor and writer at Mic and The Daily Banter, whether I wascrafting a viral piece mocking the Great Viral Map Craze of 2013, or photoshopping this viral piece of what I imagined Joe Biden’s inbox looks like:
…or at Banter tapping into some virality-susceptible catharsis about ultra-Orthodox Jews delaying flights for no good reason, or quickly throwing together a piece about what Michelle Obama did and didn’t wear while visiting Saudi Arabia.
There’s no agreed upon threshold for when a piece “goes viral,” though perhaps “going viral” can be best described as “getting a fuckton of views,” to use a more technical digital media term.
Watching a piece on the website you work for go viral is one of the most thrilling feelings in this business. This goes double if you assigned or edited the piece. And it goes centuple if you actually wrote the thing because that means hundreds of thousands or even millions of people are reading and sharing something that you created. The funny thing about going viral is, rarely do the writers who write the pieces or the editors who edit the pieces and hit “Publish” know that a given piece will actually erupt over the internet. And if someone tells you they usually know, they’re full of shit.
The number of times I’ve assigned, edited, or written pieces I thought would take off on social media only to be welcomed like a leper with herpes is too many count. Tommy Christopher summed up this sentiment perfectly in this tweet:
— Tommy Christopher (@tommyxtopher) August 19, 2014
The premise of Tommy’s piece was hilarious, but it also carried a serious and solemn message. Plus, the shooting in Ferguson was absolutely consuming the news cycle at the time. Why his article didn’t rule the day I have no idea, and I would’ve lost my shirt betting on his piece crushing it. So yes, fuck you, internet.
Now as for Tommy’s article on Republicans’ new black friend, well, it’s easy to see why that did crush it.
Conversely, I’ve published pieces that thought were basically throwaways, not that I didn’t think they were good pieces, but rather didn’t think it’d find a mass audience. But, lo and behold, some of them lit Facebook and/or twitter on fire. In hindsight it can be easier to see why a piece did or didn’t take off, but you know what they say about hindsight: It’s too fucking late!
But regardless of how an article goes viral, when it happens and you see that your site’s traffic has risen 5,000% in no time, you’re on Cloud Nine.
Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.
Well, people don’t like me necessarily. They like what I wrote (unless I wrote something so terrible that people are hate-sharing it to say, “LOOK AT THIS ASSHOLE!!!”) I said above that editors almost never know when a given piece will go viral, and that’s true. But there are certain types of posts that, if you keep writing them, you’ll greatly increase your chances of creating a viral blowup. And you don’t have to work in social media to know what they are.
Ever hear of BuzzFeed? Yes? Ok, then you at least have a general idea of what it takes to blow up the internet. Whatever you think of them, their valuation is $850 million for a reason. Check out this parabolic traffic increase:
Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to be a curator BuzzFeed and have a piece go viral. On one hand they’ve written — or maybe, compiled is often a better word for it — a piece that’s breaking the internet. On the other, hardly anyone will remember who wrote the damn thing because there’s no real commentary or point of view. With most BuzzFeed posts, the content isn’t meant to be discussed, only enjoyed, and in a most fleeting fashion. That’s because it’ll soon be time for readers to scarf down the next viral link being cranked out of Jonah Peretti’s digital sausage factory.
Not everyone can be BuzzFeed, nor does every website want to, including this one. We try not only to produce content with our small but loyal audience in mind, but we try to do so in a way that will get us noticed more on social media so that small loyal audience becomes a much bigger one. And hopefully someday this will be an undeniable truth that everyone with a internet connection knows: