Why aren’t I a popufur!?
Popularity, fame, followers… it all sounds pretty awesome. Can you imagine Tweeting about what you had for breakfast one morning, and seeing it explode with hundreds of likes and retweets? It’d be pretty wonderful, right?
Well, I’d hate to break it to you, but maybe being the center of social media attention isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. In today’s article, we will look at the psyche that surrounds our desires for social media fame, and the cost of being a popufur that everybody in the fandom looks up to.
Firstly: what is a “popufur”? It’s simply a combination of two words: “Popular” and “Furry”. The definition is also just as simple: A furry in the fandom who is popular, or well-known. There are many in this fandom… from suiters to artists and even musicians. Just like any other relatively famous personality, they have many followers on social media, have strong audience engagement, and probably spend a lot of their time at conventions posing for photos with fans.
Before we dig deep into this topic, I want to make a confession: For a long time, I desired the potential fame and attention that could come with being a “popufur”, and when I joined this fandom that was one of my aspirations. It wasn’t until I met many other furs (both popular, and not so popular alike) that I decided to focus more on self-improvement and improving the lives of others around me… and if people wanted to get to know me, then great. So, while I may not be a psychologist (interestingly enough, my brother is, and we talk often), I do have my own experiences in this realm to borrow upon.
The purpose of this article is not to encourage or discourage you. Rather: it highlights the most common traits and behaviors shared among those who desire popularity and presents them back in a way that may help you recognize the validity (or invalidity) of each behavior. Let’s get started.
The Comparison Game
“Why does this person have so many followers and I have barely any?”
You have no way of measuring how much effort somebody put in to getting where they are, only a false assumption that it somehow happened overnight simply because you discovered them overnight.
We’ve all done this comparison. We’ve looked at the social media profiles of others and wondered how they have managed to gain so many followers. Sometimes, we can immediately recognize why this is the case. Maybe they are a fantastic artist, or maybe they have the most amazing fursuit you’ve ever seen. There’s a whole handful of reasons why some people will have gathered a strong following. But then there are others who simply appear to just be regular people. They don’t post art, nor have a special fursuit (sometimes none at all), and their posts usually consist of memes or every-day observations anybody else could make, yet they have thousands of followers. At this point, you’re probably scratching your head and thinking: what does this person offer that I don’t? This is an emotion called envy. It’s not a bad emotion to have if used properly. But it can do damage if you allow it to get out of control.
My college lecturer once told me something about envy which really resonated with me: “Nobody ever tells you about how many times they screwed up to get somewhere, only that they got there eventually”. This is so true… You have no way of measuring how much effort somebody put into getting where they are, only a false assumption that it somehow happened overnight simply because you discovered them overnight.
This is when we usually start to play the comparison game, with the odds already stacked against us. We discover Mrs. Popufur one day, the next day we realize just how popular they are, and the day after that we start to question why we aren’t in the same boat. But how do we know how much time, effort, stress or even tears when into that person’s journey to get where they are? They could’ve spent years trying to get there… maybe they’re still trying. And who’s to say they aren’t stressing over it this every moment, carefully timing their engagement and checking their phones every 2 minutes?
It’s very rare that people become popular for putting in no effort at all. Some will sacrifice almost everything to get there. I know one or two folks who quit their jobs to pursue a full-time video game streaming career, and being a streamer myself, I know it doesn’t pay very well at all until you make it big, and I mean big. Eating instant ramen every day, facing homelessness, some will endure this hardship for a whole year (maybe two). Eventually, some will succeed. One friend of mine is a partnered video game streamer who spent over 2 years building her audience. When she finally reached a point where she could sustain herself, I was so proud of her because I knew what went into her journey, and she deserved it. But if I didn’t know her, I would honestly think to myself “why am I watching this? Why are so many other people watching this?” Not to discredit her at all, she is a really engaging streamer and I really enjoy watching her. But she has her own style and sense of humor that you must take the time to get used to, like many thousands of other people have. But for somebody just hopping onto the scene, it may appear a bit curious as to how they have managed to muster such a large audience.
If you’re comparing your own efforts to another person’s efforts simply by how many followers they have, or how engaging they appear on a superficial level, then you’ve just lost the comparison game, becuase (as stated above) there is always much more to it than that.
“I’ve seen what this person has to offer, and I know I can offer more, but nobody seems to care about me.”
Welcome to level two of the comparison game. You’re here because you have chosen to follow somebody, and have discovered they are popular because of something they do specifically. But, this skill, trait, or personality doesn’t appear to be anything special… at least when compared to what you believe you can offer. So, if you can offer what they have or even better, why don’t audiences flock to you?
The internet is a fickle place. Have you ever put a solid amount of effort into something and was really excited about tweeting it, only to find that only 2 or 3 people liked it? Meanwhile, Poppy McPopular posted a curious observation about a fart and it’s now the talk of the town. That has to frustrate you, right? Your 200-hour art piece that you’re super proud of barely gets a second look, because everybody is too busy discussing the bowel movements of somebody else.
What’s even worse: seeing somebody with the same idea as you and they get all the attention for it and you don’t?
I’ve had a tweet of mine stolen before. I posted an image snippet from an article online and offered a socio-political commentary on it. I got maybe 10 likes and 2 retweets. Meanwhile, one of my followers (who I won’t name) copy/pasted the entire contents of my tweet and posted it themselves, and it EXPLODED. We’re talking about THOUSANDS of retweets and likes. I felt like crap at first and even messaged the person about it. They apologized and said they didn’t mean to take credit for it, but the reality is: they knew what they were doing because they had a much stronger follower base, and nobody was going to question it. It was a classic case of somebody offering the same thing as you (quite literally in this case) and getting all the recognition, while you remain unheard and unseen.
But in the end, I got over this really quickly. How, you might ask? It was really quite simple: the contents of my tweet were designed to spread an important message (and was political in nature). I didn’t succeed in doing this, but somebody else did. The message was spread far and wide. My original intent was not to gain popularity, it was to send a message to the masses, and regardless of “how”, it eventually reached a large audience. So, if I really wanted to get angry about this, then I would have to admit it was never about the message, but about me… which was not the case.
Remember, there is no disadvantage to celebrating the achievements of others in a public forum. Giving due credit to others for something does not diminish your own achievements in any way.
As for the person who stole the message: they ended up making it about them. If this was not the case, they simply would’ve retweeted my tweet or given due credit. But instead, they chose to steal it so they could not only spread the word but gain the recognition. Don’t be this person. Remember, there is no disadvantage to celebrating the achievements of others in a public forum. Giving due credit to others for something does not diminish your own achievements in any way.
So, if you are posting art or something you’re proud of and you see somebody else posting good stuff, don’t get frustrated, get inspired! Comment, like, share their stuff. Maybe they will start to see how engaged you are and pay you some attention back. If you’re posting art or creative content simply to get noticed, then you’re in for some disappointment, especially at first. But keep at it, and don’t be afraid to celebrate others’ success. After all, it’s what you want too, isn’t it?
“But what about these folks who literally post nothing special at all. What do these people offer that makes them so popular?”
I’m going to let you in on a secret… most don’t actually offer much at all! I conducted a bit of research on some of the fastest growing Twitter accounts within the furry fandom and closely observed the contents of their tweets. There were two types of fast-growing accounts: Creatives, who are sharing their work, and personalities who are sharing their thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Of the latter category, around 90% of their contents could be broken into 4 subjects:
- Look at me and:
- where I am,
- what I found,
- who I’m with, and
- what I think.
And for the creatives, while the above subjects can be prevalent, the most common is:
- Look at me and what I’ve done/made.
If the personal experiences of random people were really that interesting, art galleries would be filled with vacation photos and not paintings and sculptures!
So, if a good number of users who are posting their social commentary are getting dozens or hundreds of likes, what is so engaging about their posts? Well, the reality is: they’re not terribly engaging at all. If the personal experiences of random people were really that interesting, art galleries would be filled with vacation photos and not paintings and sculptures! What it really boils down to is: shallow posts get shallow responses.
When you post where you are, do people just like the location? If you share something you found, do people just like the discovery? If a bunch of folks respond well and like who you’re hanging out with, are they happy to see you or your guests? It takes very little to push a “like” button, and the more likes you get, the more you will begin to question what it is people are actually liking. Have you just become the social media equivalent of: “Look, dad – look at me jump in the pool” and the audience, just like dad, responds with: “Oh, wow, yes, good son. That’s great”, then goes back to talking about real adult stuff?
If that’s the case, how do these accounts keep growing? Simple: They are extremely active. We’re not talking 1-2 tweets per day. It’s more like 4-5 tweets per hour. It’s a job in itself, and one that takes a lot of time and effort. But for all the effort you’re putting in, you have to ask yourself: Is it worth my time, and do my messages benefit others, or just me?
Out of the handful of rising profiles I saw, most of the tweets were designed to maintain their own position as the center of attention. There were very few (if any) tweets that were designed to educate, assist or benefit others. This is not counting retweets, however, for example, somebody released a new commission, and it gets retweeted with a kudos. We’re talking about journal tweeting. If you’re putting in a lot of effort tweeting just to maintain your position as the center of attention, you’re going to burn out. Especially if you are trying to post many times each day (or hour).
Ultimately, if you’re posting for likes, attention or to grow your user base, you’re going to take the inevitable engagement “failures” personally, and that will eventually take its toll.
A friend shared a great video with me on social media engagement titled “More stuff won’t make you happy”. It goes into detail about how we respond to “likes” on our social media posts. It began by saying that when we’re starting out we are quite happy to receive only a handful of “likes” from our audience. But over time that number will grow. After a year (for example) you may have grown to a point where you can get as many as 100 likes per post, but are you still going to be happy about only a dozen likes? Not really. In fact, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
But hold on: When you started you were happy to have a few, so a dozen seems great right? Apparently not. The video tells us that the more engagement we get, the more engagement we seek, and how we are more likely to perceive our posts as social failures if not engaged to the extent we desire.
Artists and creatives can breathe a small sigh of relief, however. There are very few people out there in the wild who actually understand enough about your creations to offer a valid critique or provide a solid engagement. Aside from a few “wows” and “oohs”, you’re rarely going to get “I’ve been there” or “I’ve seen that!”. However, you can almost guarantee that when people do like or retweet your content, it will be for you and your content alone. You will still suffer the question of “Why does my 200-hour masterpiece fail to engage, while a doodle that’s obviously a joke get all the attention?” But perhaps it’s because many people who engage this kind of content are also doing it for the attention. Which leads me to the next topic…
The Attention Game
I’d like to introduce you to what I call the SNL Alumni Complex. It’s where you have a group of people get together and create something nobody actually asked for, which may have humorous merit, but it’s really just a handful of people trying desperately to out-funny one another. You can see why I call it the SNL Alumni Complex.
The same thing goes for quirky s**t-posts and humorous observations. Everybody wants to add their 2 cents for 2 minutes of fame. But does that attention find its way back to the source? Actually, no it doesn’t.
Have you ever seen a Twitter post that went viral, and then looked at who posted it? I can guarantee that in most cases if the original poster was not already popular (like a “verified” account), you will find they barely have any followers. They may have had some before their Tweet went viral, and they got a few more after, but they’re still just like any other modest user out there. Why is this the case? Because nobody actually cares about who wrote the tweet, they only care about sharing it with their friends because it gives them brownie points.
Think about it in another way: When you tell your friends a funny joke you heard, do you recall the last time you actually researched who wrote the original joke. Do you even care? No, you simply tell the joke in the best way you can and relish in the laughs and attention you get from your appreciative audience.
What we can learn from this is: If we are hoping that something we tweet, whether it be a humorous observation, or something phenomenally crazy goes viral, you’re probably not going to be as fulfilled as you might think. In fact, the only thing I can guarantee you will get more of is a desire to re-create this success at some point again. You will be driven by it, and every day you’re not reaching that same benchmark you may be considering yourself a failure. You should never be tweeting with the intention of having something go viral because you will never be in control.
But what if you’re getting the attention you desire… how far would you be willing to go to maintain the status quo?
We’re getting into controversial territory here, so hold on tight and keep your arms in the carriage at all times…
“Staying relevant” has been one of the greatest challenges for celebrities for a long time. Actors, musicians, and artists who make it big either work very hard to stay relevant or they let it slide and are forced into some kind of resurgence or reinvention to get back into the spotlight. The same thing is no different in our little furry community.
At BLFC (Biggest Little Fur Con) 2018, there was an incident where a young girl named Emma turned up in her own version of a fursuit. The story goes: she was bullied by some other attendees due to the fact that her suit appeared to be “store bought”, and it was reported she left the venue in tears as a result. Word got around, and a hashtag was started in support of her. Then a group of popufurs rallied together to bring her back to the con. When she was finally encouraged to return, she was showered with attention from this group of furs in an effort to cheer her up. It was actually a really beautiful story that had a happy ending.
The reason I bring this up is that a few people offered a different opinion on the matter. Their perspective was: “while it is fantastic what this group of furs did for this little girl, there’s no denying the positive PR it would’ve given this group of furs for swooping in to save the day”.
It’s an interesting perspective, so let’s explore it further. But before I do, I want to be clear: I’m not saying I agree with this perspective. I’m simply bringing it up to use as a counterpoint in this argument. So, for the sake of discussion let’s indulge this opinion and pretend it was a valuable PR stunt, and I will deliver it with the appropriate skepticism and incredulity for debate…
“Word gets around that a little girl’s feelings were hurt. This is unacceptable by any means. But instead of going directly to the con staff (who likely has a record of who this girl is, and how to reach her directly), a group is going to take immediately to social media so that EVERYBODY can see the good deed they’re about to do. They then start a hashtag. Great, it’s trending. Good news, the girl may be on her way back… so everybody involved in the campaign must make sure to greet her. This will indeed cheer her up, but the furs mustn’t forget to pose in all the photos. After all, they’re doing a good deed here. What about the handful of con staff who not only assisted in getting her back but also disciplined and banned the culprits? Well, never mind them, they shall henceforth be known simply as “some con staff” who helped out a bit. As long as we all know who the real ones are who made this happen.”
When you put it that way, it appears pretty self-serving. Thankfully, the majority of people didn’t see it this way. In all honesty: if I saw a little girls’ feelings get hurt, I probably would do everything in my power to make her day better. Sadly for me: I couldn’t have achieved nearly as much simply because I don’t have enough of a follower base to have made an impact. If I somehow was the closest person to this situation and put in the most effort I don’t believe anybody would be singing my praises because nobody would’ve known I was involved. But then again, if I was doing it for the praise, I was doing it for the wrong reasons in the first place.
So, now that you can see how perceptions can be thrust upon you, ask yourself: Once you make it into the limelight, are you the type of person who would relish in the popularity you get for your own good deeds, or would you relish in the positive impact of those whose lives you touch? How are you going to prove this to yourself and those around you one way or another? Do you even have to prove anything? If there’s a small shred of desire to help others because of the attention it would get you, then it’s important you look deeply into this because one day you may measure your success in this realm by the attention you receive rather than the impact you make. And believe me when I say that when you start measuring personal enrichment over impact, your failures will mount and people will notice. Sure, people may thrust conjecture upon you even if you are genuinely doing a good deed (as exemplified above), but as long as you can tell yourself your heart is in the right place, you can always hold your head up high,
In the end, you have to ask yourself: is it really worth it?
Now that we’ve understood just what it takes to become popular, we should all be asking ourselves “is it really worth it?” How much of ourselves do we sacrifice in the service of appeasing others, most of whom we will never meet? Can we ever truly engage with those we are close to if we’re constantly distracted by the opinions, feedback, and satisfaction of the next person? Are we able to measure our success when we compare ourselves to those with whom we barely have any real insight into? How many things are we missing out on, or putting in jeopardy because so much of our time is dedicated to climbing the social ladder or maintaining the status quo?
I actually discovered a fantastic way to measure this, and it’s a great exercise everybody should do once in a while to determine how balanced we keep our social lives and desires…
Try and count how many people you know who regularly express a desire to engage in a real-life social situation with you. We’re not talking about “I think this person said they would like to meet me”. I’m talking a real invitation, like: “Hey, are you free on Saturday, we need to hang out.” Got a number? Good. Let’s call this number our “genuine connections”.
Now count how many people you desire to meet and get to know better. This can be anybody. Social media personalities, friends of friends. This is anybody you wish you had a social relationship with, enough to call them a friend. Got that number? Good. Let’s call this number our “desired connections”.
Now let’s put these numbers side by side. If you have less “genuine connections” than “desired connections” then I’m afraid you’re probably not very content with where you are and are looking to meet more people, potentially at the expense of those who you may already be close to. If you continue down this path, you may find the gap between these two numbers will grow.
“But what if I struggle to make friends in general, and don’t have many people (if any) who want to hang out with me? I desire to know more people of course! Does that mean I have my balance all wrong?” No, this is different, we’re not talking about a desire to make friends. We’re talking about a desire for ever-increasing popularity. If you struggle in general with making friends, this is definitely something for another topic.
After all the effort, are we still just a big fish in a small pond?
Let’s argue that in spite of all the above, you’re still determined to make it big, and you become the most popular of popufurs. Are you going to be content with the pond you now swim in? Whether we like it or not, the furry community is a very small one. It’s growing, but compared to many other aspects of life it’s very small. It’s also a fringe fandom, which means it appeals to a side-culture that is not common. In most cases, it has no place in many people’s professional life, and in some: it barely has a place in their greater personal lives. For a lot of us, we tend to compartmentalize our involvement in the fandom, choosing to carefully manage how much exposure we give it. This is mostly due to the reputation of the fandom, which is improving but has quite a ways to go. If positioning yourself at the forefront of the fandom is your desire, you must be willing to expect it could spill into both your personal and professional lives outside of the fandom. After all, with everybody trying to take your picture at a convention, your business is now everybody else’s business.
“But I keep my identity secret, so this isn’t a problem for me.”
Indeed, it’s far less of a problem, especially if you are worried about any potential negative impact it may have on other aspects of your life. But then you have to ask yourself: does hiding in this manner affect your ability to feel fulfilled? Part of the psyche of those who wish to become popular or famous is the desire to be recognized (on a wide scale) as an important part of a movement or community. Wouldn’t it be good to share with your family, friends, or coworkers just how successful or influential you are in the fandom? If you somehow feel you cannot do this without facing any consequences, you may have just found the extent of your ability to grow, which is completely limited by the scope of the fandom. Even if you didn’t have any issue with your identity as a popular furry being common knowledge outside of the fandom, how many people would understand or appreciate your achievements?
I personally have never had any issue expressing my furry adventures to my family, and they don’t have any issue with it at all. But at the same time, they are unable to recognize how important this fandom is to me. “Oh, that’s nice” is probably the closest I get to any form of recognition. This is going to be the same reaction from the rest of the general public: “Oh, well, they’re happy doing what they do.”
If you’re happy to remain a big fish in this small pond, then, by all means, have fun! But you should also be prepared that in virtually every other aspect of your life, you’re going to be just like everybody else.
So, how do I keep my sanity and my own identity when navigating this social gauntlet?
In the end, the best thing to do is simply focus on being yourself, and helping others. Will you be a runaway success on social media? Probably not. Maybe you will post something that inexplicably explodes, who knows. Don’t be so focused on the numbers, and focus more on the connections, especially when you don’t have to pretend to be anything else to get them. At the end of the day, if you feel you are not accomplishing anything just because you fail to gain popularity on social media, remember this quote:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson