When buzz phrase turns to buzz kill

This column is totally going viral! How can I say that? Well, I can’t, really.

But the point is that the phrase “going viral” is becoming so overused by media, bloggers, marketers, PR types and consumers alike to describe something that is “taking off” (when it isn’t always), that has definitely more than hit its tipping point — and could soon jump the shark.

“Going viral” has become one of the sexiest phrases out there, and essentially means becoming extremely popular in a very short amount of time.

Now everyone wants to be part of something that’s going viral, whether they’re creating it or sharing it. The Internet and social media, of course, have fuelled virality in ways pre-Internet couldn’t do, and the term  “going viral” has seeped into popular culture.

It’s referred to everywhere — in movies, TV, music and even books.

Whether it’s a YouTube video, a tweet, a Facebook photo, a meme, interactive flash game, app, software or a forwarded email, attaching the message “going viral” is an exciting way to get people to click on something and pass it on to others.

Certainly much of the shared stuff is awesome, but “going viral” has become so ubiquitous, so overused, that, often as not, it refers to things that aren’t going viral.

The term is used as kind of a desperate gimmick by marketers to generate exposure for products and by everyday people looking for fame for stuff that really isn’t catching on in the least.

So … I propose the time has come for all of us to start being far more discriminating about our use of “going viral.” To have some criteria and rules for what “going viral” is (e.g., 100,000 YouTube views in a matter of days is “going viral”; 9,000 views is not).

If we don’t, we’re totally going to ruin the meaning of this phrase through its overuse. People will stop clicking on it — or be far more suspicious — of anything that says “going viral.” It will come more to mean “going anti-viral.” Or buzz kill.

Failing that, perhaps we just move past it altogether and begin to use new words and phrases to describe the phenomenon of something getting popular really fast. Phrases like “holy contagious!” or “completely insane!” or “crazy buzz!”

Those could just as easily start to generate new excitement for something taking off. 

So, yes, as I was saying, this column is totally going viral, er, holy contagious!



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