One problem may be that there are simply more writers than readers, more sellers than buyers — and more self-promoting status updates than we can deal with. Social media gives anyone who can make up a password and upload a photo, an instant platform from which to advertise themselves. The problem is that we are all competing for the same shrinking marketplace and we are all exhausted by the demand to read or applaud or buy each other’s work. I know, because I also suffer from promotion fatigue. I still bounce over and read the occasional blog or check out a book or some artwork, but I skim over much of it. If I didn’t, my writing life would be reduced to commenting on other people’s post and updates.
Which brings me back to my cat post. One reason it was so popular is because for once I wasn’t asking anyone to read or listen or do anything — I was simply inviting people to share in the common experience of dealing with a weird and irritating pet. And it is this universal aspect that is often at the root of the “hit” update on FB.
Let me give you another example. A friend of mine, a deft master of the pithy FB update, posted about trying to “make peace” with her gray hair. It caused a cyber riot. Post after post flew in. Heated debate ensued about the merits of going natural vs. continuing to dye. Dire warnings about similar experiments that ended badly. Impassioned pleas to keep the color going. Forget about politics, or someone’s boring book, show, painting or cause. Here was an issue people could really sink their teeth into. More importantly, my friend wasn’t crafting an idealized, “marketable” image, she was revealing something real and imperfect about herself, owning up to aging and the fact that she dyes her hair.
While many things determine whether a post hits a nerve (including the relative celebrity of the poster) I think it is often the willingness to reveal, to be vulnerable and imperfect, that people respond to. After all, we’re social animals at heart, programmed to interact, and while our socializing has taken on some pretty strange forms in recent times – 140 character tweets, status updates, and “liking” each other – keeping it real and showing the world our behind-the-scenes selves, is still what makes us feel most connected.