Notes on going viral

What it’s like to have a social media post get some mild level of attention in 2023.

Someone I follow on Mastodon posted about their asphalt experience in the US:

Also - even if things are in walkable distance, there’s the assumption that all travel is by car. I stayed in one motel that was super close to a steak restaurant - I was like perfect, I can walk over, get steak and have a couple of glasses of red wine.

Could I heck - I tried. There was no sidewalk. No path.

A few months ago I’d seen an image which related very closely to this theme. I did a search, found the image, and shared it as part of the conversation:

The post I was replying to had four reposts. It was the second in a chain - the first post had 11 reposts. My response: 979 reposts and 1072 favourites.

Some notes on that experience:

  • It took about a day and a half for it to really take off. Life was nice then.

  • It suddenly picked up a lot of attention two days later. Understanding why is really difficult. Mastodon’s very matter-of-fact about stats. Any new favourite or repost is flagged as just another user. Some very popular users must have stumbled on it and reposted which then led to other people picking it up.

  • Bloody hell, was the evening two days later unbearable. Notifications had to be turned off very quickly indeed.

  • Really, bloody hell was it unpleasant.

  • Replies were many, more than I expected. Europeans were amazed, Americans were largely apologetic. They were also mostly polite and thoughtful.

  • Mastodon doesn’t report stats very well at all. Across different clients the number of favourites and reposts varied dramatically. A quirk of the fediverse, I guess.

  • I couldn’t use Mastodon to have conversations because my notifications were full of urban planning critique.

  • It just… wasn’t fun.

The internet is most fun for me when I’m part of a little community. I like to find nice, chatty people and chat with them. I find having around 100 followers and following about 100 people gives a nice experience; use social media as a tool for conversation rather than broadcast.

This mildly popular post made it difficult to engage with others, to have those conversations. It pretty much required my silence for a few days.

And I genuinely despaired at times over those few days. That toot was part of a conversation and was being reposted and replied to without context. The other person in the conversation sent me a note of amusement; I felt awful that as they’re tagged into the post they were getting the same repost/favourite notifications as me.

Reader, I considered deleting it.

But it’s passing. It’s four days later as I write this. Notifications are about two-an-hour. Hey, I might even turn notifications back on soon!

How do the super-following, super-online, engagement-hungry folks do it? Is there some dopamine hit that I’m missing for whatever reason? How would one even manage an account that has dozens and dozens of high engagement posts all at once?