On Virality

Last week, during a gchat conversation with a friend, I admitted my financial goals: I would like to make a salary higher than my student loan total. I was mostly joking, but with student loans into the 6-figure range, a salary to match is something to aspire to.

I tossed the idea in my head for a while. I tweeted it. It went viral.

Before we continue, I have to confess that we’re talking about virality as it pertains to my history online. The tweet generated 200+ retweets and 170+ favorites. Is that ground-breaking for global Twitter standards? No. Is that the closest I’ve come to virality? By a long shot.

I watched the tweet go viral from the minute I posted it at 3:38pm PT (6:36pm ET). Very familiar with unfair debt-to-salary, two friends retweeted it to their sizeable follower-base. The time may have had something to do with it, since people were getting home from work and winding down on the East Coast. If you’re going to go viral (and you’ll never be able to time or control it), I recommend doing it at 6:36pm ET.

I received retweets from people I’d never engaged with on Twitter and received a few responses. There were the responses in agreement (“Especially for those of us with 100K+ debt!”), the responses that missed the point (“It’s only fair if you have to repay it”), and then the trolls (“Dumb as fuck”). I didn’t feel the need to respond to any of them; the tweet wasn’t a discussion, just a thought. Also, online community rule 1: DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS.

The most shocking thing was how little it all mattered. I’d always assumed there was a positive correlation between the engagement (e.g., retweets, favorites, mentions, etc.) of a tweet and the original poster’s follower-base. There isn’t. Twitter is a series of half-baked thoughts and fleeting moments. Your timeline is filled with polarizing thoughts that you either engage (respond, retweet, etc) or ignore. Seeing or missing an interesting tweet depends entirely on whether you checked your Twitter before or after you called your mother. In that way, virality is almost serendipitous: right place, right time, right audience. Or wrong everything if you happen to tweet something terrible or misinformed.

My life hasn’t changed since the tweet, though my brother did tell me he was proud of my “social media progress”. There wasn’t a large influx of followers, my tweet didn’t brand me, and worst of all, Sallie Mae didn’t tweet saying the next 10-grand was on them. Though, what did happen is that I put words to a feeling that a lot of people my generation are experiencing.

I am smart, with a promising career, and too many loans to logically pursue an underpaid passion project.

I’m not the voice of my generation, but I am here and I matter. I am smart, with a promising career, and too many loans to logically pursue an underpaid passion project. I am doing well and supporting myself, but have a huge debt cloud over my head. Thinking about my journey out of debt is depressing and something I reserve for days when I have an emergency bottle of wine handy. Though, if there’s one thing that I’m pleased about, it’s that this tweet went viral. I’m happy the tweet was representative of my truest feelings…and that there wasn’t a typo. That’s really important to me, too.