Viral Envy

Why writers shouldn’t succumb to Viral Envy. Why bloggers shouldn’t try to become BuzzFeed, and why getting everyone’s attention is a waste of your time.

28 Drews Later
28 Drews Later

There’s a condition going around the writing community, with the power to debilitate an author’s creativity. Systemic of the internet, the higher our public presence, the higher we’re at risk. Inflaming our sense of rejection, it weakens our ambition. Its chronic symptoms, attack artistic momentum. Advancing into its final stages, it has us questioning why we fill our pages.

The warning signs a writer suffers from it include:

* An overly harsh response to lighthearted links.
* An open disdain for their Facebook feed.
* A history of Twitter fits.
* An outright dismissal of the value of social media, even if their careers depend on it.

The condition is called Viral Envy. It occurs when a writer is stricken with jealousy for over shared items of poor quality.

As avid readers, we know good writing when we see it. We are mavens of our selections, curators of our content, stewards of the written word. Our reading lists are hard venues to get into. We seek the best compositions for dinner party conversations. We seek sources to cite in our arguments. We seek eloquence to challenge our intelligence.

Despite every passing fad’s persistence, we’ve built up a resistance. We have an immunity to the whims of the community. We’ve been inoculated to the link they’ve baited. No sensational headline is going to steal our time. No slideshow will make us work slow. While our friends treat captions as the height of conversation, we see viral content as a sign of the world’s descent.

It offends our intelligence to think that journalism is dead, that editorials reign instead, that clickbaiting is the new norm, that tiles full of tiny articles are a threat to the long form. Blogging our deepest thoughts, we see Buzzfeed black holes as competition. Every lunch hour, every commercial break, we’re vying for reader’s attention.

When a viral video of models making out, contaminates our feed, we fight the urge to say, “If you like watching two strangers kiss for the first time, then you’ll love pornography.”

We’re tired of logging onto the lowest common denominator. Comparing our efforts to these shameless campaigns, we’re shocked to see them do so much better. We covet their comments, lust after their “Likes.” We’re ashamed to want their shares. We’ve got a bad case of viral envy.

Is there a cure?

Weakening their immune systems, some writers become part of the problem.

Zombie Portrait 4

Why Going Viral isn’t a Good Goal

The pathology of a web published pandemic is to spread. It’s simple, light, airborne. Readers pass the link along without analyzing it on a molecular level. Attribution rarely leads back to patient zero.

Viral content is indiscriminate. The infected are never targeted based on their tastes. Its made to spread to the most eyes, not necessarily the right ones. It doesn’t care about building relationships or reader loyalty. It’s a quick shot to the stat counter, at the detriment of regular subscribers.

Moving quickly through the brain, thought viruses are easily forgotten. The net is littered with the pus of these so-called phenomenons. The infection passes too fast to leave traces it was ever there. Audiences will find a treatment for their boredom, but not a lasting cure.

If your goal is to self-publish, you want to develop a readership, not coax wayward netizens out of a few clicks. Viral content rarely leads to a second outbreak event. Developing antibodies, the infected’s concentration is inoculated against repetition. Memes, macros, and microorganisms plague the net. Everybody’s been exposed. Everybody’s gotten over it.

There are a lot of things you can do to get the Internet’s attention, but they don’t always translate into sales on Amazon. Ask yourself: am I writing with my own voice, or one I think the world wants to hear? How will this animated Gif get me new readers? How does this captioned vid cap further my career?

Wait, hold on, my word processor stopped scrolling. Great, now I’m getting the pinwheel of death. Let me just poke around on my computer. Ah, here’s the cause. Turns out the Photoshop file with all my “Least Interesting Man in the World” posts was still open. It’s a play on Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World campaign. They’re self portraits with captions like, ‘I don’t always approach women, but when I do it’s to ask for the WiFi password.”

Now where was I?

There’s a pitfall I’ve watched writers fall into. To compete with the internet they become everything they hate about it. Having built a blog around a one note joke, they try to sing a different tune, but no one wants to hear it. They can’t find a publisher for their long form manuscript, but they’ll get a pilot based on their one good quip. Remember “Shit My Dad Says?”

Do you want your writing career to be a joke-a-day calendar, or the kind of coffee table book that makes guests question your sense of humor?

The cost of going viral, is that everyone gets sick of you.

Wait, hold on. Sorry, it’s happening again. The side bar is stuck in the same position. What is it this time? Oh, looks like I didn’t close my search through my best #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen tweets. They’re like Jeff Foxworthy’s You Know You’re A Redneck bit, but writer-centric. I’m compiling them all for a collection.

Now, what was I saying?

Zombie Portrait 3

Don’t let Viral Envy Win

In these uncertain times writers have to do whatever they can to get their audience’s attention. The trick is keeping it. We all want to be relevant, but no one wants to come across as desperate as a Simpsons episode with Twitter references sprinkled in.

Shameless writers try to boost their search engine optimization by pumping their articles full of popular terms. Misdirecting traffic with mere mentions, these cynical inclusions piggyback on famous franchises. They figure, if Hollywood can bank on nostalgia, why can’t bloggers?

Wait. There’s a buzz at the door. I think I might have to sign for something. My Chinese hook up got me early access to a hoverboard prototype. This baby won’t hit the streets until 2015.

Damn, that wasn’t it. It was just a Boba Fett helmet with a Ghostbusters insignia etched into it.

Wait, hold on. Now I’m getting a call from my seamstress. We need to schedule a time for me to get fitted for a top secret cosplay garment. Not to spoil the surprise, but Ben Affleck will be wearing the same thing in Batman vs Superman (keep checking this site, bookmark it, tell all your friends).

Sorry about that. Where was I?

Zombie Portrait 2

The Viral Jackpot

In the process of building a platform, many writers become full time bloggers. The potential for validation is higher. More posts means more possibilities. This is a gambler’s fallacy, this notion that one of our annual entries is bound to hit the viral jackpot. If only we could win the literary lottery, then we’d be a household name for sure.

It’s sad to see so much creativity energy go to these desperate self promotional tactics.

Wait, hold on, the green light of my webcam has gone off again. This has been happening ever since I wrote the article on how to increase your web traffic by baiting the NSA. There, I put some tape over it.

Where was I before we were so rudely interrupted?

I’ve watched begrudged writers berate their followers, dissing the discourse, trolling for tell offs. They’d run out of ways to get attention. Their positive energy was depleted. The cost to their time had led to few benefits. Their growth stagnated. They called bullshit on the whole enterprise and the lot of us for feeding into it.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand. Hopefully, I’ll know when to politely duck out of the spotlight before I let this happen.

Zombie Portrait

Don’t you hate it when bloggers fill their posts full of links to try to keep you on their site? On an unrelated note: my other articles on over branding and compulsive marketing include:

Begging for Hits
How to Get More Hits by Baiting the NSA
Every Little Hit Counts
Gimme Some Truth
Carnival of Goals
Over Branding

13 thoughts on “Viral Envy”

  1. Loved this post! You really captured the essence of viral content and how it’s often (usually?) not even good content to begin with. It seems like most viral videos/posts/images/etc. are the accidental one-hit-wonders of the Web, not launchpads for sustained success. I’m most annoyed by the controversy baiting/trolling trend: people writing entire articles where they are more or less trolling the reader and/or taking a stupid and ridiculous stance they know 95% of readers will find revolting, then watching their garbage pieces fly to all corners of the Web on the wings of moral outrage and righteous indignation. That’s the worst.

    1. Thank you so much for reading this.

      I’m almost went off on a three paragraph tangent about that first kiss video and the marketing behind it, but I figured the one joke was enough.

      You hit the nail on the head when you call these things “Accidental one-hit wonders.” We should be more invested in the long hall, in being bookmarked, in building a following.

  2. It’s amazing to read this right now, as I just spent the last several days wondering where exactly I’m headed with the blog, social media and writing. What am I hoping to accomplish in the long run and am I actually working toward that goal? I came to many of the same conclusions you did, but from a different direction. I’m just going to write whatever I want. Some of it will go to the blog, some won’t. I like to see those blue bars grow, but that’s not my goal. Somehow, I keep forgetting that.

    1. Thank you for reading this.

      It’s a good policy to hold onto some of your writing for yourself. I’m told Amazon doesn’t look too fondly on short story collections where all the material is available for free somewhere else.

      I too, have an obsession with the holy blue bars of WordPress. I just have to keep reminding myself that they’re just short term success.

  3. Spot on, boyo. Lingering awake wondering how to tap into the whole nasty “viral” business is not worth the stomach ulcers. Just be who you are and write what you do and let the audience take care of the rest.

    1. Exactly. Casual audiences aren’t looking for truth in a video or a top ten list, but if you’re an author trying to make a name yourself, then they expect it.

      Thank you so much for checking this one out

  4. Hilarious and welcome … shared all over the map just now. If only I had such a wondrous seamstress. Will you please share that I’m headed to Comic Con next week? I so need help. Love the post.

    1. I do know a seamstress who could pull off the full Batman costume if we actually had access to the designs, but also I am a terrible liar

  5. Excellent. thought provoking, funny and paranoia inducing Drew! At the moment I just write what I feel. If others read it, hell even enjoy it then, that’s a bonus. I hope I don’t ever get caught up in viral envy, though I can see how its power can lure. I hardly ever pay attention to the blue bars on my word press site. It doesn’t tell me if someone actually read the stuff, just that they were there. To me, that doesn’t matter. I’d rather have 3 people read, enjoy and respond than 100 visit and pay no attention. I do like the tip about keeping some of your writing back though. I think that’s important. I haven’t got much of a portfolio yet but I won’t be publishing everything I write on my blog, despite the urge sometimes to do so.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom in such a fun way as always.

    1. Thank you so much for reading.

      That’s the thing, it’s easy to get views and hard to get “engagement.” I feel greasy asking for Likes, shares, comments, retweets etc.

      As writers, we’re still trying to figure out the right way to go about this. It might include small scale self publishing in addition to traditional publishing avenues.

      I’m still struggling to prevent myself from posting everything I write. In truth, I write very slowly. I need help managing all of my distractions.

  6. I like your message here with viral envy, I sure have it occasionally and I hate it when I do. Sometimes it completely distracts me from the purpose of my writing. Other times it inspires me in a positive way to “speak my mind” without the need, however, to actually go viral from it. But just that–speak my mind, or really, my heart.

    With regard to leaving some of our writing to ourselves.. I think I’m a little guilty of that–sometimes I don’t share enough. As a writer and artist, I constantly feel my work isn’t good enough or worth sharing. I’m in a way going through exposure therapy in that department, and trying to be consistent with the writing & art that I do share. I also need to quit obsessing over “perfecting” my work before I share it. Not sure if you could relate to this or not, but I at least hope I’m not the only one who needs this type of therapy. It would be nice for there to be a support group somewhere for that, or really just for someone to hold me accountable when I need it and supports me with sharing my work once it’s made.

    Oh, and thanks for sharing this.. smiles.
    (Picked up from my twitter feed.)

  7. This is spot-on. To me, “viral” means I’m already sick of it by the time most people start posting and reposting and reposting and…you get the idea. It goes right up there with the host of “this will move you to tears!” and “see what happens when [fill in the blank]—you’ll be amazed!” videos. I know they won’t move me to tears and I won’t be amazed, partly because I won’t even click on them.

    Besides, viral is overrated. All it means is that people will be taking your stuff and using it for their own purposes. They’re not going to mention your name every time they post, nor are they going to lead people back to your site.

    Slow growth is great because it gives you the opportunity to actually get to know the people who find you interesting.

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