Memes (pronounced meems) are all the rage with kids and millennials and can be a secret weapon for unparalleled social media success.
Evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, first introduced the word in the 1970’s. It comes from the Greek word, mimema, which means “something imitated.” Dawkins used the word to describe human behaviors that show little or no evolutionary advantage, but still become common in large societies. Singing “Happy Birthday,” for example. He described these behaviors as “mind viruses” because of how these actions and ideas spread quickly from person-to-person.
Jumping ahead a bit, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the internet appropriated the term and concept and ran with it. Now, memes are commonly shared in a macro image format with text on top and/or bottom that showcases a pop culture reference or aspect of the human experience that’s quickly and widely understood.
A meme can also be a video (Harlem Shake), .Gif (Dancing Baby), or a phrase (“Still a better love story than Twilight”).
Thanks to the wide reach of the internet, memes spread rapidly, like a virus.
Knowing that memes have the potential to go viral, the questions we have as Inbound Marketers is, then, whether or not we can tap into this resource without seeming like somebody’s dad who’s trying too hard to be cool. And, even if we can, should we?
The short answer is... Yes!
Memes are powerful resources for grabbing your audience’s attention, enhancing your content, and encouraging audience interaction. According to SproutSocial, memes are also:
Easy to read
Simple to digest
To the point
When done right, they can be highly effective, but you do have to be careful.
This seems pretty obvious, but make sure you have an audience that understands and appreciates memes. This kind of content does best with Millennials (18-34) and Generation Z (18 and younger) who are most immersed in internet and meme culture.
Keep in mind that most memes rely on humor, which is one of the top ways for marketers to attract customers (just look at Charmin, and Allstate’s Twitter accounts), but your audience needs to appreciate it. Be sure to avoid memes if your audience doesn’t like humor or satire in its advertising.
Also, be sure that using memes matches your company’s style. If you want to portray your brand as more straight-laced than hip, maybe avoid this kind of content.
2) Pay attention
Culture moves quickly on the internet. Nothing will make you look uncool faster than posting a meme that’s so 5 minutes ago. Once you identify what’s popular, act quickly to cash in before people move on. Think Oreo during the 2013 Super Bowl power outage.
But don’t act too quickly. Do your research first. Look at examples of what’s being shared to be sure that you’re using it correctly, because misusing a meme will leave you publicly disgraced by the mob mentality of anonymous internet users. It’s also important to research to make sure you’re not using a cute frog that’s been declared a hate crime (remember Pepe?).
Use KnowYourMeme.com to thoroughly research any memes you’re considering replicating.
3) Be legal about it
Remember, memes are ideas that spread very quickly, often without attribution or the original creator’s knowledge or consent. Sometimes it’s even impossible to know the origin of the content.
Because of the appropriation of the content and the lack of attribution, some content owners have elected to take legal action.
The creator of Pepe the Frog, for example, is currently taking action to reclaim his artwork, which had morphed into a racist symbol over its lifespan as a meme, with the Anti-Defamation League officially declaring the character a hate symbol in 2016.
Getty images is also using legal action against perpetuators of the Socially Awkward Penguin meme, which was originally published by National Geographic.
Legally, this is a gray area, because fair use allows the use of copyrighted images for the purpose of satire, commentary, or parody, but, as a business it’s best to avoid it all together.
Instead, create your own memes or recreate a popular meme using custom or stock images. You can add text using various meme generators like memegenerator.net or imgflip. This also gives you the opportunity to include your logo in the meme.
For a peek into brands who are using memes correctly to build their brand following, read this HubSpot article, and check out Denny’s.
Jenna is a content writer at Stratus Interactive and is currently a graduate student studying for her M.A. in professional writing at Chatham University. She started blogging as an angsty high schooler and wrote and developed a blog as her capstone project for her undergraduate degree in English. Now she gets to do it as a job! See all Jenna Enright's posts.