Trashy Viral: Spreading Ideas That Don’t Matter

I’m coining the term Trashy Viral to describe the spread of thought-provoking let ultimately useless ideas.  These are memes that might be entertaining (like “chimpanzee riding on a Segway”) or just plain media-catchy with little underlying value (”Twitter is 40% useless babble”).

The aforementioned study by relatively unknown firm Pear Analytics went viral after a sensationalistic and completely uncritical Mashable story by Jennifer van Grove set the wheels in motion.   The incredibly unscientific, subjective study gave readers a list of unsatisfying out-of-context numbers that ultimately have no use to anyone with a serious interest – you know, like the color-coded Department of Homeland Security terror alert system.

Hey, good for the company – people like me are talking about them, I suppose.  And the blog and mainstream media love a controversial story that looks scientific, calls out something beloved, and has no concrete conclusions.  But if I were the CEO of a shop like Pear Analytics I would find this amount of negative criticism embarrassing rather than a “call for refinement of the research study.”  But I think there’s a mile of difference between something going viral because it’s deliberately useless and going viral because it’s accidentally so.

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This post was written by:

Mark Drapeau - who has written 225 posts on Dr. Mark D. Drapeau.


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Justin Herman Says:

    Kind of reminds me of the term Goverati ;) – but all together true none the less, and I think its only going to get worse.

  2. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Sure, maybe Goverati was an example of Trashy Viral. But at the end of the day it was just a word. In the case of Pear, I don’t think Trashy Viral is a great way to market a services corporation.

  3. Joan Baumeister Says:

    What is useless to one is of value to another.

  4. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Yeah, I guess so Joan: a lot of people do like trash.

  5. Chris Bailey Says:

    Mark, more than anything, I found this a curious example of how influence works. Mashable currently has a high level of street cred in the business. If they put something in front of their viewers, its going to get a lot of attention – regardless of whether its deserving of such attention. However, Mashable needs to carefully monitor and maintain their influence – and if they continue to push out swill, this will damage their brand.

    I kind of think this is a direct parallel to how politics works, don’t you think?

  6. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Chris, absolutely. A major reason I don’t currently write for Mashable anymore is that they are focused on the 12 posts a day get the news out fastest for the most hits possible style of “journalism”, which can often come at the expense of quality thinking and writing.

  7. Justin Thorp Says:

    So what’s the answer to the problem? How do we get people to spread ideas that matter?

  8. Justin Herman Says:

    Re: How do we get people to spread ideas that matter?

    Call out BS when you see it. Its the only way.

  9. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Now *this* is a social media study that is worthwhile, rigorous, and thought-provoking (just as a timely comparison): http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/cs/2009/08/will_the_real_myspace_users_pl.html

  10. A.J. Pape Says:

    There may be little marginal value in a comment that just says “good point,” but, I like how you captured this aspect:

    “And the blog and mainstream media love a controversial story that looks scientific, calls out something beloved, and has no concrete conclusions.”

    New to your work, following you now, looking forward to learning together.

    A.J.

1 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Trashy Viral: Spreading Ideas That Don’t Matter | Cheeky Fresh [markdrapeau.com] on Topsy.com Says:

    [...] link is being shared on Twitter right now. @cheeky_geeky, an influential author, said Trashy Viral: [...]

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