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Memes can grab attention, that's for sure. But the right attention? Not always.
As marketers, we're always looking for the latest social media growth hack to benefit our clients.
Memes, when done right, can build positive brand associations through humor.
When they're done wrong, they can make your brand look insensitive or even cruel, leading to bad publicity, dropped sales and a long-lasting negative effect.
No pressure, right?
Here's how to delight your audience and attract new followers with viral, relatable and humorous meme content — the right way.
In case you've been living under a rock, a meme (pronounced "meem") is a photo, GIF, video or other short-form digital content that spreads quickly among Internet users. Typically, it's humorous as well.
Memes change all the time, so if you're going to incorporate them into your social media marketing, you need to stay on top of what's popular.
Most of the time a meme is a direct response to an event happening in the world, or something memorable from a current television show or movie.
For example, many of 2020's top memes so far have centered around lockdowns and COVID-19, though not all of them. Some of the most popular so far this year are:
This meme from Kyle Maclachlan followed a widely shared meme that Dolly Parton posted on Instagram. The challenge was to post a funny take on what profile picture they'd use on each of the named platforms in a 4-square format.
With Zoom meetings becoming necessary after strict lockdowns took effect in late March 2020, jokes aimed at the platform became meme royalty.
Why are they so popular? Because so many people can relate to them, and that's the secret of using memes for your marketing (more on exactly how to do that below).
The Netflix documentary “Tiger King” captured a ton of attention (maybe just because people were in lockdown with nothing better to do). It's actually the No. 1 watched show ever on Netflix. From the fascinating life of Joe Exotic to the mystery surrounding Carole Baskin’s missing husband, memes about the show and the people in it were everywhere in spring 2020.
OK, memes are funny. But why would you actually want to use memes as a marketing tool?
It may seem like memes are just jokes to share among friends or aimed at teenagers. But memes aren't only for kids. About 75% of the 13-36 age group share memes, with 55% doing so every week and 30% doing so every single day, according to youth research company YPulse.
The main reason is to get a reaction, usually a laugh. Here's how that can help your brand:
Someone finds a meme funny because they can relate to it. And, if you're using a well-known meme circulating at the time, then your audience will recognize it right away.
Memes are the ultimate "antipitch" content. It isn’t trying to sell them anything, you're just trying to make them laugh. That goes a long way toward our next point.
Want to be one of the "cool brands?" You know, the ones who seem to have crowds of raving fans everywhere and their name is on everyone's lips.
If you're in the software-as-a-service industry, it may not look as glamorous as, say, millions of tweens extolling the virtues of Mountain Dew on their social media channels.
But there is an equivalent in the tech and other professional industries: your brand image.
It's how your audience perceives you and what they expect from you.
Sharing humorous memes may not be right for the most serious of brands, but if you're wanting to come across as a brand for "the everyman," memes work quickly to build that image. Especially among the millennial demographic.
Memes work because they provoke a reaction: They make people laugh and that makes them want to share it. Hence, they spread.
About 45% of people say that their main motivation for sharing a piece of content is because it's interesting or funny, according to The Social Times. And 15% of people say they share stuff just to get a laugh.
The more often you can provoke a reaction and get someone to share your post, the higher chance of going viral. Even if you don't go viral, you'll still attract new followers and potential customers.
Half the battle of social media these days is getting people to pay attention.
Thanks to algorithms at work, your channel's followers may only see 5.2% of your posts organically, according to research from We Are Social.
But seeing a familiar meme can catch someone's attention long enough to make them curious about the post. They may not even notice it's a company who shared it at first. They see it, stop scrolling for a minute, their interest is piqued and then maybe, they check out your full profile or latest offers.
It's quick, easy to understand content that makes people want to stop scrolling because it'll make them laugh.
If there's one thing most memes have in common, it's that they aren’t exactly professionally designed.
They're choppy, hastily put together, sometimes even blurry but you know what? People don't care. They laugh and share them anyway.
Unlike with your company website, logo or regular polished social media graphics, looks aren't important when it comes to memes.
You don't need fancy design software or even a graphic designer to make them for you. We'll cover how to make them in the next section but you can do it yourself in about 2 minutes.
It isn’t the design that matters, it's the message.
There are 2 main rules when it comes to posting a meme:
As for actually making one, here are a few popular options:
Here's an example of a Twitter screenshot on Instagram from BarkBox:
If you do have access to a graphic design team, use them to put a unique spin on a popular meme, like Wendy's did with the "Woman Yelling at a Cat" meme by turning it into a sketch that matches their brand colors:
After seeing a few examples, it may seem easy to incorporate memes into your social media marketing. And it is, but there are 5 key things you need to keep in mind.
Most of these apply to all kinds of content, not only memes, but they are much more likely to happen with memes. As always: think before you post.
Humor drives memes. We know this. But sometimes there can be a fine line between a clever joke and offending an individual or group of people.
For example, some memes are associated with racism, such as Pepe the Frog. Obviously, avoid sharing such memes as you don't want to support racism or associate your brand with it.
Before you post a meme, you need to understand its history. Also, if someone else is handling your social media, you need to set clear expectations. Or better yet, set up an approval process to catch offensive content before it ever goes out. The cost to your brand can be catastrophic otherwise.
OK, so your meme needs to be humorous and fun, but it needs to be relevant to your brand.
You know when you see an ad and it just doesn't feel right? That "feeling" is what branding is all about. It feels wrong because it doesn't align with the knowledge and expectations you already have of that brand.
Or, sometimes, it just doesn't make any sense. Like this attempt from Trident. What message does this send? What is the joke? What's the point? No one knows...
Unless sexual innuendo is part of your brand, stay away from it. It may be clever but it can be a bit icky for many brands, especially those who are known for being "family friendly."
Netflix made headlines with their ask of, "What can you say during sex but also when you manage a brand Twitter account?"
They received a ton of responses from other brands (and these responses also show on those brands' public pages). Netflix may be able to get away with it, being known as a sarcastic, push-the-envelope type of brand, but some of the brand responses were quite a departure from those companies' normal marketing activity.
Funny, sure, but since when does Penguin Random House use sex in their marketing? Never, is the answer, so it shouldn't be part of their memes marketing strategy either.
Memes thrive on current events. They spread rapidly and get the most response when they are timely and relatable to people's emotions about world events happening right now.
Some memes have a longer life-span, like the classic Rage Comics or Grumpy Cat, but for the most part, you need to react early to ride the viral wave.
Unless you've got something pretty funny. Obviously, "Quinoa feel the love tonight?" is always going to be hilarious.
Think back on all the coronavirus related or work-from-home memes in 2020 so far. Sure, they're still relevant now, but people have seen a lot of them. It's a bit tired. Unless it's extremely funny, most people aren't going to be as willing to share a post-lockdown meme now as they were back in April 2020. It isn’t as fresh in our minds.
To take part in a new meme, you need to be prepared to produce a post and publish it within days, not weeks.
Memejacking is a term used for what we've talked about in this article: taking a meme that's already popular and creating your own version to post on your company social media accounts. However, it's usually meant in a negative context when a brand doesn't pull it off well.
It can work well, as some of the examples in this article have shown.
But if your post falls flat, it can look like you're trying too hard. That’s exactly what you don't want when you're trying to appear cool and hip. The same logic from the schoolyard playground applies to social media.
A few ways to avoid this:
Memes are worth adding to your social media strategy if you have a casual, funny tone to your social media accounts. Or, even if you don't, using them once in a while to comment on world events can still pack a positive brand punch.
Just make sure to stay away from controversial or offensive memes, know the history behind them before posting, and ensure it makes sense with your product or service before posting.
When done right, a hilarious meme that makes sense for your company will go a long way toward building rapport with your current and prospective customers, as well as grow your social media audience.
But one misstep, and you could find yourself in hot water. For a long time.
Play it smart, be funny and be relevant and watch the likes, shares and followers roll in!
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