Can memes be used as marketing messages?

By Ciara Tomlinson 3 weeks ago

As you might expect from a stereotypical 20-something Millennial, I spend a lot of time on social media. In fact, earlier this month, a somewhat alarming notification kindly let me know that my 10 year Facebook anniversary was coming up. A whole decade. At the tender young age of 23, that’s not far off half of my life spent under the (oh-so) watchful eye of Mr Zuckerberg.

At first, I spent my time on social media chatting to friends. After that, I used it mostly to discuss bands on forums or on Myspace. These days, I’ve noticed that I spend most of online time scrolling through endless memes on Twitter. In fact, perhaps one of the most common phrases said in the office is “I saw this really funny meme yesterday…”

Memes are everywhere. They’re the internet currency you can exchange for popularity if you’re willing to risk losing face if the joke completely flatlines on the timeline. Everyone from Gucci (yes, I said Gucci) to meme influencers (and yes, I also said meme influencers) are using memes to make the most out of social media, and most other brands are wising up to their magical meme powers.

So should your brand use memes in your social media strategy?

 

Firstly you need to know what a meme is. So, what is a meme?

You might think of memes as a fairly new phenomena. If you’ve been a long-standing social media user (anyone else celebrating their ten year anniversary with me?), you might think they’ve been around for a good few years. The idea behind memes, however, is perhaps even older than you might think. Surprisingly,the word “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins way back in 1976. His argument was that virality didn’t just apply to infectious diseases, but also to anthropology. Essentially, any cultural element that could be shared and spread rapidly across a community was a ‘meme’. Today, however, memes have a very specific connotation – a digital joke, if you will. But memes can – and have – evolved. You might think of something like this…

….when you think of memes, but memes can be anything from videos, text formats, physical challenges… you name it. As long as there’s an element of virality, it’s probably classed as a meme.

 

So why would a business use memes in their social media strategy?

There’s plenty of reasons you might want to use a meme in your marketing strategy. The first and most obvious reason is to maximise engagement. People are increasingly savvy when it comes to sussing out – and consequently scrolling past – marketing messages, but memes are a subtle way to engage your audience with your content. Not to mention, when used correctly, memes can help your business come across as modern, fun, and exciting.

Memes can also help you reach new audiences – their inherent shareability means that they’re likely to help your business be seen by more people, as well as giving people a genuine and enticing reason to follow you or like your page.

The appeal is obvious – memes make people like you. Therefore, businesses should use them in their social media strategy.

 

Or should they?

The reality is that it’s not as simple as memes = more engagement and more customers. In fact, I’d suggest that if a business wants to use memes in their social strategy, they’d better be really confident that it’s the right thing for their brand.

On the flip side of the meme-verse is the fact that they can quite often be completely meaningless and fall upon deaf ears (or apathetic thumbs). They’re so ubiquitous that it can be a challenge to find the right format that really resonates with your audience. The internet is saturated with memes to the point where your content is vying for attention amongst thousands of others which follow the same format.

In addition to this, not only do you run the risk of posting something that’s – to be blunt – just not funny, the very nature of memes mean that it’s quite easy to miss the mark when it comes to using them as a brand. Memes are the grassroots of internet content, and sometimes the use by a business or brand signifies the death of a meme – once it’s gone corporate, the joke’s over and it’s time to move on to the next thing. Plus, the short lifespan of memes mean that it’s incredibly easy to miss the boat and look even more out of touch by posting an out of date meme than if you simply hadn’t bothered in the first place. (Hint: if you want to keep up to date with the world of memes, check out KnowYourMeme, which will help you find the origins and understand the meanings behind popular memes).

 

That’s not to say that memes can’t be done well. Plenty of brands do it well by mixing humour with relevant, on-brand content – Netflix, Innocent Drinks, and Wendy’s are examples of brands doing just that. You’ve just got to make sure that your memes mean something and you’re not just sharing them for the sake of it. Make sure that you’re using them to build a proper communications strategy, not just because you want to jump on the latest trend. After all, content is still king, so you better make sure you’re using the right kind.

And if you’re still not sure… here’s our handy ‘should I post this meme?’ checklist:

  • Is the meme right for my brand? Does it fit with my tone of voice and the messages I want to convey?
  • Is this meme right for my audience? Will they understand the format? Will they get the joke?
  • Is the meme original, funny, relatable, and shareable?
  • Will posting the meme help me achieve my goals? For example, are you looking to increase your engagement or grow your audience?
  • Is the meme relevant still?

Checked yes to everything? Happy meme-ing!

Want to find out how to use content to increase your engagement on social media? Get in touch to find out how we can help!

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  Social Media
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