This past week brought not only a long-overdue Chicago Cubs world championship, but also—for me—a firsthand lesson in what it’s like to become one of the viral pieces of content we write about here so often. My story of fleeting internet fame began the morning after Game 7, when I let my daughter sleep in a bit after we’d all stayed up a bit too late. When I signed her in as tardy in her elementary school office, I noticed that everyone pretty much had the same excuse listed.
I posted it on Facebook and was immediately bombarded by requests to share it. I then tweeted the list out, resulting in a snowball-rolling momentum that I never could have predicted. Within the hour, NBC Sports (@NBCSN) had shared it with 240,000 followers:
Then Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) sent it to another 401,000:
Likes and retweets quickly climbed into the thousands. Meanwhile, speculation abounded as to what was going on with the poor kid whose parents wrote “not feeling well.” An unimaginative liar? An Indians fan? Some commented on the kid who was so excited they had to write out “World Series” details or the one who added two definitive exclamation points. Others homed in on the “champiñones” entry (actually from the day before), which, at our bilingual school, was likely another Cubs excuse and not, as some surmised, about mushrooms.
And then, inevitably, came the comments shaming anyone who would let their kids sleep in after watching a baseball game—never mind the fact that it was, you know, history. Then, at 5:20 that day, Sports Center (@SportsCenter) opened the floodgates and tweeted it out to 30.3 million people.
On Friday, the list showed up on WGN’s morning news show as well as in the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and USA Today. It had also appeared on the Cubs website and the MLB cable channel. My simple tweet had arguably been seen by more people than anything I have ever published.
Even 72 hours later, likes and retweets are still coming in, though they’re slowing down a bit. SportsCenter’s tweet seems to have topped out at just under 10,000. My Twitter stats at this writing list “impressions” as nearing 900,000, with “total engagements” at over 150,000.
So what’s the net result of all that viral fame? I heard from people I hadn’t heard from in years. Neighbors stopped me on the street to tell me that they had just heard about it from their relatives in Massachusetts or somewhere, who had no idea it was the same school. I was even getting retweeted in Japan.
I did get a few new followers, but not nearly as many as you’d expect. Mostly it gave me a feeling that was both exhilarating and terrifyingly helpless, watching something I “wrote” (12 words—but still) quickly travel across the globe, knowing I no longer had any control over it.
It was also an interesting look at what makes something go viral in the first place, that you never know what’s going to resonate. Clearly this photo had several things going for it: cute kids, an outpouring of Cubs goodwill (everywhere but Ohio), the inherent funniness of the truth. So even though my 15 minutes of viral fame offered me some alternating moments of thrill and terror, overall I’m pretty happy about the reasons that led to it—and the fact that there are so many baseball fans (thousands, as it turns out) who appreciated the same spark I did in that little yellow list.