What it’s like to go viral
“Lol speak for yourself bitch. Stay classy!”
– Megan McCunt, email@example.com
Going viral is a lot like skydiving. I’ve always wanted to do it, but was never quite sure I had the balls. One day, the Internet pushed me out of that shaky, hypothetical airplane (without warning or a parachute) and the free-fall was equally terrifying, incredible, exhilarating, and awful.
Two weeks later, I landed, and it was all worth it.
At 10 a.m. on April 8th, I published a piece I feared would flop, but knew had heart (and good grammar). By noon, my open letter to the Class of 2014 had fallen into the laps of those it was written for, my alma matter’s Class of 2014 (because — let’s face it — I never expected the story, or my friend’s face as she cradles three bottles of Fireball, to go viral). Sorry Shannon.
By 1 p.m. it was spreading like wildfire at campuses across the country. From SUNY New Paltz to the University of Miami to Providence.
The fire was far from out.
The first milestone — 5,000 views — came by 5 (“FIVE FUCKING THOUSAND, MEAGHAN?” – my best friend). In less than an hour, the count crept up to 35k as I hand-picked avocados and held back tears in the supermarket with my closest girlfriend. 40k. 50k. 100k.
I bought name-brand waffles to celebrate.
By 8:49 p.m., I had a fridge full of deli meat and my first hater. Megan McCunt (clever). With that came the (weirdly enraged) accusations of entitlement.
“Your treat was 4 years
of bring a privileged white girl,
now STFU and do something about it”
“This is an open letter for brats”
“Good luck floating by while you pamper and kiss your own ass in the giant mechanism called life. You will surely sink, and fast.”
And they didn’t stop there. Every new comment sent my heart straight to my vagina, but, for every unapologetic comment from someone who missed my point by miles, there were 50 more — from college seniors, fellow post-grads, and big-time bloggers all over the world — that got it. That really got it, and that got me (without even having to scroll).
These readers got something out of my my totally lighthearted, 600-word, not-at-all-meant-to-be-taken-too-seriously piece for seniors. (I still stick by wearing more sweatpants.)
By noon the next day, I had 200,000 views (from the states to Saudi Arabia), 100 new followers (that aren’t my friends), a new gig at a site called Writtalin (that I accepted via Twitter. How 21st Century.) and one e-mail from the Huffington Post. A real-life editor with a professional headshot wanted to feature my piece (and subsequently my face, a brief bio and blog) on HuffPost College.
It was April 9th — one day before my mom’s birthday (and the six month anniversary of her death) — and I was featured on the Huffington Post homepage. That night, 20 of my closest friends packed a hometown bar in her honor and toasted with shots of Coors Light. To her, and to me because it doesn’t take a medium to realize this was her way of saying, “Fuck ’em.”
Fuck ’em to all those readers, anon or not, who told me to stop doing my nails and get a career because (spoiler) I have one — and this is it.
Stress hives aside, here’s what I took away from five minutes of Internet fame:
- The Internet is a terrifyingly beautiful thing (HEY, READERS IN MALAYSIA).
- If you build it, they will come and if you write it, they will read. Especially if you share it on Facebook.
- Not everyone will be your biggest fan and, most importantly, not everyone will get it. Your words will be misread and twisted and spit back at you in a way that makes you cringe. Take each comment with a grain of salt (and glass of wine).
- Some readers will take a line as light-hearted as “treat yourself” and turn it into “drop out of college and become a prostitute.” HEY CLASS OF 2014, DON’T EVEN GRADUATE.
- Others will make assumptions without any facts but their own (FYI: I am, in no way, a privileged white girl. I worked my big white ass off to be where I am in my career — and I’m doing it entirely on my own). Slip into a thicker skin (and stock up on wine).
- The rest of your readers will make it all worthwhile (and your roommates will be waiting at home with a bottle of decent wine, wrapped in a bow made from the plastic bag it came in because they’re boys).
- Ghosts of friendship’s past will come out of the woodwork just to say, “Hey, I read your blog.” Your ex might not. Be flattered anyway.
- This is what I want to do and, nearly 300 followers and a Freshly Pressed badge later, I know I can.
This is an open letter to every friend and every stranger that shared my post: Thank you. To every blogger that gave me a chance and jumped on the bandwagon. To every bartender that gave me a free drink for being published in the Huffington Post (kidding, kind of). To my mom for giving me my first journal and pushing me to keep writing (no matter how often I wrote about Good Charlotte, George Bush and Harry Potter).
To my college professors and newspaper predecessors for shaping my craft.
To the 14 people that like me as an author on the Huffington Post (that’s a thing).
To all those editors who still believe in me (hey, Ascher) and let me do my thing.
To WordPress for giving me a (free) platform.
To my roommates for that bottle of wine.
To everyone reading this right now, thank you. I’m just getting started (haters gonna hate).