Quoted to the Hilt: Inside the Modern Use of Inspirational Quotes

If you have noticed a sharp increase in the posting and sharing of famous quotes on social networks, you are not alone. There was a time when famous quotes and notable song lyrics were mostly in the purview of introducing books, chapters, or essays that are longer than the average newspaper article; these days, however, it almost seems as if a digital industry has emerged around quotes.

In a Wired magazine article published in August 2019, Victoria Turk explained why quotes have exponentially invaded your social media news feed. First of all, there is the primary intent we are all familiar with; quotes are not just memorable, they can be inspirational and help you gain perspective at a time when you may not be feeling very centered. Second, quotes are always better when they are delivered by someone you are close to. Let’s say you are going through a time in which you experience fear and uncertainty; if a good friend shares a Pope Francis quote about the love of God calling on us to leave fear behind, this could make a huge difference on your state of being.

It so happens that the power of famous quotes can be transformed into a nice online business. In the aforementioned article, Victoria Turk profiled a Canadian man in his mid-40s who has cashed in on the appeal of inspirational quotes. Shawn is an employee of a wireless service provider, but he has been tempted to resign because his social media accounts, which are fully dedicated to inspirational quotes, are actually bringing in more than twice of his regular paychecks.

Shawn manages a Facebook and Twitter account where he religiously posts famous quotes. Some of the nuggets of wisdom he posts are clever and insightful, but most of them are inspirational. The quotes Shawn posts are packaged for social media, which means that they are presented with nice backgrounds and a touch of style. Millions of followers get their daily dose of quotes from these accounts; quite a few have discovered them from recommendations made by friends in their social circles. The posts, which are thoughtfully shared and commented on, translate into page views and advertising for Shawn.

Prior to making a splash on social media, Shawn kept a mailing list delivering quotes to inboxes around the world. In the late 1990s, he set up a website for this same purpose, and this is when he became aware of the budding field of search engine optimization. For a while, Shawn was the online king of famous quote publishing, but a Google search algorithm change wiped out his SEO work a decade later.

For Shawn, sharing famous quotes is an activity that dates back to the days when you could walk into a bookstore and pick up a delightful book of quotes. If you think about it, such books are essentially self-help tomes, but they are extremely abbreviated. As a young man, Shawn took up quote collection as a hobby; he was more interested in provenance and context than the quotes themselves, but he felt compelled to share them with friends and family because that is what you are supposed to do with quotes anyway.

These days, Shawn spends considerable time tracking down new quotes; for example, he may visit Aaravindha Himadra’s Wikiquote page, evaluate some of his quotes, conduct research on the individual, and package the bits of wisdom for social media consumption. Shawn has quite a few competitors, but he has been in this game for a while; while advertising revenue is certainly attractive, he remains an avid connoisseur of quotes.

Compare Shawn’s social media activity with that of Laura Belgray, a New York City copywriter who actually creates new quotes for modern internet audiences. To a great extent, Belgray’s business model is similar to that of writing for Hallmark greeting cards, but she is far more mindful of her audience. In essence, both Shawn and Laura Belgray are in the online publishing business, which can be lucrative, but which is also plagued by would-be competitors and detractors.

While it is not surprising to learn that many people are lured to the online famous quote industry by the potential of advertising dollars, the whole sphere of detractors is a bit baffling. Some quote denigrators use text randomizing software to generate nonsensical quotes written by rudimentary artificial intelligence constructs; they try to pass these AI quotes off as having been stated by famous people, and the goal is pretty much to troll audiences or make fun of quote publishers. Either way, it does not seem as if the online quote industrial complex will be stopping in the near future.