WHAT IS A MEME? BABY DON'T HURT ME.
As a true millennial, I feel like I should be the expert on what memes are and how they work. But here’s the thing: no one quite knows why things become memes. Memes aren’t predictable. You never know what joke, picture, or video is going to go viral and become the thing that is plastered all over Facebook and Twitter for three weeks straight. You may be saying to yourself “well, blog post author, why am I reading this then if you don’t know how to help me have a lit AF ‘fire emoji’ meme?” And I would say “Why are you talking like that?”
This blog post won’t help you create a meme. Memes happen organically. You can’t force them into popularity. What I can help you with is explaining what a meme is and whether or not you should use pre-existing memes as part of your social media presence.
I WANT TO KNOW WHAT A MEME IS. I WANT YOU TO SHOW ME.
According to Merriam-Webster, a meme is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene, claimed that memes are the behavioral equivalent of genes, saying:
Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes.
All this is just a fancy way to say the memes are the cultural trends that you see pop up. Going to a high school football game and seeing every fourteen year old dab every twelve seconds is an example of a meme in action. On the internet, memes tend to be pictures with accompanying text, where the text is a joke that has a formula that you can easily replace a piece of it to suit your meme needs. Confusing? Here’s an example:
This meme’s origin came from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring. This character, Borormir, is telling his compatriots how they can’t “simply walk into Mordor,” an evil place where the main bad guy of the series spends his time.
People latched onto the meme and created their own versions of things one simply cannot do.
After a while, the photo itself gets photoshopped in order to keep the absurdity going.
This is typically how an internet meme looks. Sometimes videos capture the attention of the internet that lead to copycats and a million references. Here’s my favorite “Damn, Daniel.”
This video of two friends goofing off led to them appearing on Ellen, serving as correspondents for the red carpet coverage of the MTV Movie Awards, and getting a lifetime supply of Vans shoes. When memes get big, they get huge.
I JUST WANT TO USE YOUR MEME TONIGHT. I DON’T WANT TO LOSE YOUR MEME TONIGHT.
As I said earlier, you can’t purposefully create a meme. They happen organically. You can, however, take advantage of a meme that is currently catching fire. Here’s some things you should watch out for if you do.
- Make sure it’s still relevant:
Memes burn bright and fast. Don’t try to make references to memes that have already become old hat to your audience. The last thing you want to do is seem late and out of touch.
- Don’t try too hard:
You don’t want to sound like a dad trying to relate by using cool kid lingo. If it’s a meme that makes you laugh and you know how to make it your own, use it. If you don’t get it, but it seems popular, leave it alone. Don’t be phony.
- Be sure that the meaning of the meme hasn’t shifted.
Sometimes a meme won’t die out, but the meaning and intention behind it will change. Keep an eye out so you’re not posting a meme featuring a person who has become a dumpster fire of a person or a cartoon frog who has started wearing hate symbols in his other appearances.
WHAT’S MEMES GOT TO DO, GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Now you know what a meme is and how they catch fire. But here is the biggest question: Should you use them?
It’s tricky. If you feel like you can capitalize on a meme and it’s something that your buyer personas will find engaging or fun, then go for it. If your audience skews more serious, a meme would feel out of place and potentially damaging to your credibility. Like everything in inbound marketing, everything you do should be based around your buyer personas.
Memes definitely can be used as a part of your visual content strategy, but in my opinion, it’s just better to create your own content. The better your content is, the less you have to rely on whatever is popular or in the psyche of the world at the moment. If you create remarkable content, it will catch fire with those who would benefit from it most.
That being said, memes are fun to look at. They just might not be the best option for your brand. So I’ll leave you with one of my favorite memes. It’s 1960s Spider-Man and he’s weird and aggressive. Do yourself a favor and Google some more examples.
Memes are some of the most prevalent visual components of the modern social media landscape. For more on how Visual Content can be a part of your inbound strategy, read our FREE eBook.