Traditionally you’d think focusing on a single-digit percentage of the population would result in something not being popular. But actually it has the opposite effect. When media can spread through social networks, close personal connections are the distribution mechanism.
BuzzFeed measures (whether editors should throw more social media resources behind the story to help promote it or just let it die) with something it calls social lift—an index of how a story spreads on social media, a quantification of its virality. This is subtly different from how many clicks it receives. Over the years, BuzzFeed has built a large core audience—readers who regularly come to its homepage, follow it on Facebook or Twitter, or use its app. They represent a valuable group, but BuzzFeed’s growth depends on finding new readers—people who read BuzzFeed stories that pop up in their Facebook or Twitter feeds. Social lift helps determine whether a story is merely popular with BuzzFeed’s core audience or if it is bringing in new readers. And it measures a story’s success based not on the absolute number of readers it receives but on what portion of its potential audience it reaches.
Facebook, which is a weave of news encompassing both the self and the world, has become, for many, a de facto operating system on the web. And many of the people who aren’t busy on Facebook are up for grabs on the web but locked up on various messaging apps. What used to be called the audience is disappearing into apps, messaging and user-generated content. Media companies in search of significant traffic have to find a way into that stream.
A decade ago, before Twitter and Instagram and when Facebook was still in its infancy, my university friends and I spent many hours lurking in Craigslist’s “missed connections” section, sipping cheap rosé while perusing posts and laughing at the desperate souls who loitered there…
Of course, I tried to look him up online but didn’t find anything. In those pre-social-media days, you often didn’t, other than where they worked or had gone to school…
Those rambunctious evenings of rosé and Craigslist stalking are long gone, but sometimes I type the name of my missed connection into Google and there he is, easily found now on nearly every social media platform… Everything I needed to know is right there, a decade too late.
In case you missed it, the initials ICYMI stand for the first five words of this sentence. Individuals and outlets deploy it every few seconds to bring links to the attention of others who may not have seen them.
In an earlier time, the full verbal formulation meant that the recipient was supposed to see something of a certain degree of importance (a note, an email), and the sender was gently reminding you of its oversight.
Now, the very shortening of the phrase is a byproduct and acknowledgment of the velocity of information against which its attached link is racing. The implication is that you probably have not seen it, and it’s not necessary to your existence, but the sender would like to bring it to your attention anyway, please. It serves as a call of desperation as much as an announcement.