Whether I’m at work or not, social media is part of my daily life — and the time I spend on Twitter and Pinterest are my favorite. The rapid, continuous flow of new ideas, perspectives and things to try? That’s a slice of heaven for this information junkie.
And so, in late July, Pinterest was the logical destination in my quest to find the perfect recipe for the birthday that my son and husband share. After a fair bit of discernment and negotiation, they agreed that coconut cream pie would be the thing to cap off this grand double-birthday-day. Yes, Pinterest is a trigger for inferiority complexes across the social landscape. (Even I must dial it back when I start feeling guilty for not a) making my own soap b) packing a bento box with whole foods for my son’s school lunch c) owning a jar of Modge Podge.) But when it comes to finding a great recipe — one that is blogged about, photographed, explained, reviewed and shared — there’s no place I’d rather start.
In one evening, I scanned dozens of coconut cream pie recipes and very mindfully pinned the four most decadent, well-conceived recipes I found. A few days later, I selected the most promising — The World’s Best Coconut Cream Pie Ever — and made the most ridiculously crave-worthy coconut cream pie that any of us had ever had. I even made sure to go back and leave myself comments on the pin, indicating that I had made it, and we’d loved it. (Such comments are important to me, as I cannot be expected to remember which coconut cream pie recipe we fell in love with. Most days I’m lucky if I can remember my e-mail password.)
But as we were licking our plates after the birthday dinner, something else was happening in the Pinterest world.
Although I use social media a lot, the content I post never goes viral. Two or three retweets, or a half dozen “likes” or repins is viral in my humble world. So imagine my surprise when one of the recipes — not the one I made and left two comments on — did something much different. Somehow, that pin has gone viral.
It started like any other, with three or four repins over a couple days. And then it got going, five or so at a time. A few weeks ago, I’d hit nearly 100 repins, but it seemed to be tapering off. But then last weekend it caught fire again, and by Tuesday I was up to 180 repins. It was at that point that I announced to my husband (and on Twitter), “If this thing hits 200 repins, I’m going to have to make it to at least see if it’s any good.”
So today, with 225 pins and still climbing, I made The Absolute Best Coconut Cream Pie. We ate it. We loved it. But it wasn’t, however, as good as the first pie we made. The one on my Sweet Tooth board with no likes or repins? That’s the keeper.
Unlike the astoundingly viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, coconut cream pie — even the very best one — can’t change the world. But this mini-viral pie pin has made me think a lot about posts that catch fire, and it’s been a reminder that viral can be based on very little substance or validity. Researchers have found that viral content is typically highly emotional, tapping into anger, humor and other strong emotions that are universally experienced in social spheres. My pie pin couldn’t possibly have made anyone overly angry or giddy, so I point instead to the pass-along nature of Pinterest — one person pins, and her followers see it. One or two of those repin to their followers, and a few of those pinners do the same.
My hunch is, this exponential exposure is responsible for the ongoing flurry of repins. That, and the fact that a recipe for coconut cream pie (whether or not it deserves to be called “absolute best”) is, at once, aspirational, attainable and entirely delectable.