How memes changed the face of social media

If you’ve ever giggled at a captioned picture shared by a friend on your social media feed, you have already been a part of the viral internet meme movement. But while it offers a quick smile, does this seemingly nonsensical trend have any impact on the world of business?

What is a meme?

The original meaning of the word meme (pronounced ‘meem’) comes from the Greek word for ‘something which is imitated’ and historically refers to genetic or cultural heritage. In the internet world, however, the word has evolved to refer to an image or video, often with a sarcastic or funny caption. Some of the most popular early memes featured a typical character such as the Grumpy Cat and Success Kid.

Memes as a cultural gauge

Throughout the relatively short history of the internet, we have seen huge shifts in how people consume, create and share content online. From the rudimentary text blocks of the first HTML pages to the dynamic, colourful and media-rich feeds of today, people have come to expect more from the internet than just being a database of information.

The modern user wants to be entertained, engaged, and guided – instantly. When we see a piece of content, we decide within a matter of seconds whether or not we want to continue reading, watching or sharing. This means, in many ways, that the internet meme is a perfect representation of what the social media experience has evolved into: A quick message, a visual cue and a button for instantly passing it on to your network.

The business use of memes

As with most trends, there will always be an opportunity to harness the power of popular culture for business purposes. And for digital marketers, memes have become an attractive tool for engaging an online audience.

So, what is it that makes memes particularly useful? Well, memes are really just another flavour of visual online content. But the following statistic makes the concept very interesting:

We remember only 10% of the information we hear. However, if we see a relevant image coupled with the same message, we retain 65% of the information three days later.

In other words, it’s good marketing practice to use the existing behaviour of the human brain!

How memes are used by businesses

These are some of the most common ways of riding the meme wave:

  • Meme-jacking
    Some brands have used existing meme characters that relate to their products or services to get quick engagement on their social channels. This is easy to do, thanks to a number of free meme generators online, where no photo attribution is required.While easy, cheap, and engaging, this tactic does have some pitfalls. There is a risk that the humour is lost on some members of the audience – particularly if the typical client base is mixed in terms of age and cultural background. Also, the viral aspect of the particular imagery means it can become dated and uninteresting very quickly.
  • Quote images
    Another way to capitalise on the ‘shareability’ of meme content is building your own newsfeed imagery – with custom backgrounds and quotes or brand statements. This type of meme can be great for building brand visibility as it encourages sharing from one user to the next.One company that has embraced the quote meme format very successfully is Virgin, using Richard Branson as the figurehead. The eye-catching pictures and inspirational quotes make for perfect sharing material. By publishing and spreading images like these, a business can efficiently expand its reach and popularity.

Micro videos

It’s been proven again and again: The internet audience loves video. In 2017, it was estimated that video content represented 74% of all internet traffic. While we are now more easily mesmerised by moving images compared to traditional text, our attention span is also getting shorter. This calls for bitesize, snappy video content that captures us quickly and gets straight to the point.

Many businesses have started using micro videos in their advertising, designed to immediately grab the attention of the viewer as they scroll through a busy media feed. Apple’s recent iPhone advert is an example of how one feature can play the lead role in a very eye-catching brand message – in less than one minute.

Using memes in your business

In summary, the meme plays an interesting part in how buyers and sellers are behaving online, and can be a useful tool for sharing content. However, it’s crucial to focus on the brand message before deciding on any of these or similar tactics. A strong, meaningful message and clear strategy should always come first!