What is it about a post that makes people want to share?
That’s a question I thought a lot about last week as I watched two yarn shops go viral.
On Tuesday, January 24, four days after the Women’s March, Elizabeth Poe, owner of The Joy of Knitting in Franklin, Tennessee, posted the following message on her shop’s Facebook page:
With the recent women’s march on Washington, I ask that you if you want yarn for any project for the women’s movement that you please shop for yarn elsewhere. The vulgarity, vile and evilness of this movement is absolutely despicable. That kind of behavior is unacceptable and is not welcomed at The Joy of Knitting. I will never need that kind of business to remain open. Two wrongs will never ever make it right.
As the owner of this business and a Christian, I have a duty to my customers and my community to promote values of mutual respect, love, compassion, understanding, and integrity. The women’s movement is counterproductive to unity of family, friends, community, and nation.
I do pray for these women. May the God work out His love in their hearts and continue to heal and unite Americans.
Poe was reacting to a customer who had come into the store seeking pink yarn to make a pussy hat, a symbol of the March. Although it seems she was hoping to just discourage local customers with similar intentions, within a few hours the post had gone viral. The shop’s page was deluged with comments, some supportive but many highly critical, and mostly not local.
Poe wrote a response soon after saying, “Please, this is not going to be used as a platform to hash out your beliefs v. my beliefs. I said my peace. I am sorry that you don’t agree with my policy. I am certainly willing to live with my decision.”
Despite her insistence that the page not be used as a place to critique her policy, what happened next could only be described as that and much, much more. The Joy of Knitting made local, national, then international news.
What compelled 20,000 people to comment on this post, and 7,800 to hit the “share” button? Why did thousands of people, the vast majority of which have never been customers of The Joy of Knitting, write negative reviews of the shop on its Facebook page (although those look to have been removed) and leave hundreds of 1-star reviews on Yelp? What made the news media want to tell this story?
I think a key motivator for sharing posts online is a desire to experience something together with our friends. Posts that evoke strong emotion, whether it’s outrage, amazement, or sympathy, create that shared experience most effectively. In this case, Poe comes off as a bully, calling her potential customers’ behavior vulgar, vile, and evil. She invokes god as being on her side. She critiques an entire movement. Many people easily find these statements infuriating and immediately want their friends to share in their outrage.
Virality is also related to timeliness. People are primed to want to talk about the political situation in our country right now. Poe’s post was perfectly timed to spur heated discussion. A yarn shop owner who is turning away customers based on their political beliefs is ripe for sharing at this moment.
It’s safe to say that at the start of last week The Joy of Knitting was the most talked about yarn shop in the country.
Nicole Morgenthau, owner of Finch Sewing + Knitting Studio.
That is until two days later, on January 26, when another knitting shop experienced a similar level of virality over the same issue, albeit by taking an opposite stance. Just 550 miles away in Leesburg, Virginia, owner of Finch Sewing + Knitting Studio, Nicole Morganthau, turned to her shop’s Facebook page to post a disturbing email she’d received:
Morganthau published the following response:
We are not and never have been hostile toward any human being who wishes to step foot in the front door of Finch. As a matter of fact, the very groundwork of Finch has always been to be a place of inclusiveness. We acknowledge and embrace that we have customers who come from a wide variety of political, racial, and religious backgrounds. Just as this diversity of beliefs occurs in many of our own families, the Finch family is a safe haven, a neutral space where any and all beliefs are sacred and anybody should feel welcome. All belong here.
My favorite thing about Finch is that when I walk through the doors and see your pretty faces, we meet on common ground. We rise above all the anxiety of the day to focus on something that connects us rather than what divides us. Just remember, you belong here.
All my love, Nicole
Where Poe was the bully, Morganthau was the victim of an injustice. Her store was targeted and she was asked to defend herself. Morganthau stood up to the bully by publicly stating that she welcomes anyone and everyone to shop at Finch. People shared her post because they wanted their friends to know what was happening to her. And people offered protection from the bully by publicly posting five star reviews.
It’s important to point out that neither of these incidences represent something that’s actually new. All over America, and throughout our history, there have been shops that have refused to sell to certain types of customers whether based on skin color, language, religion, sexual orientation, or some other aspect of a customer’s identity. And there have been countless incidents of shop owners being threatened by people in their community for serving particular customers or voicing a controversial stance on an issue.
What’s new here is that these incidences now unfold not just at town hall or in the newspaper, but before a global audience online. Everyone from the private citizen to the national newspapers has access to the same publishing platforms – Facebook in both of these instances – and everyone can react directly and immediately. Where once we might have called a friend and told them not to shop at a certain store, now we leave a public comment or publish a public review for all to see. Like wearing an “I Voted” sticker, and then taking a picture of it to post online, our private acts are now not just public in our local community, but supremely public.
Virality sticks in our collective memory (remember #cakewithcashmerette?) and it sticks in Google’s memory, too. We can’t know yet how these two shops will be affected long term by last week’s spotlight, but it’s clear that how your business behaves is now very hard to hide.