People love memes. They’re some of the most viral pieces of content ever to grace the Internet, and they’re universally incredibly simple. All it takes is an image – one of a specified set – and a bit of text. With under 10 words, you can have a piece of content that can out-perform the best blog post you’ve ever written… when used properly.
That’s the problem with web memes. They’re fairly strict in their formula. When you violate the formula, you lose the potency of the meme. If it wasn’t a meme, you’d just end up with an image with some text you hope someone finds funny. When you start with a meme, the violation just makes you look out of touch.
In order to successfully grow your traffic with memes, you need to use them properly. You also need to use modern memes, which means keeping up with meme culture on sites like Reddit and Tumblr. The only exception is if you can go completely insane and make your own subculture, like Denny’s Restaurant.
Before you begin, though, make sure memes are right for you. If you’re not already immersed in memes and you’re not a frequent visitor on Reddit, 4Chan or Tumblr, memes probably aren’t for you.
Step 1: Know Your Memes
There are two ways to learn about meme culture. The first is to be an Internet denizen spending time in the places where memes are made and shared, places like Reddit, 4Chan, SomethingAwful, Imgur and Tumblr. These are communities, large and disparate, and they have their own cultures. You can’t step in as a business and attempt to fit in; the best advice I have is to “lurk more” as they say. In other words, just watch, don’t post. These communities never forget, and if your first impression is sufficiently memorable, it will follow you for the rest of your life.
The other way to learn memes and meme culture is to dig into Know Your Meme. This site is sort of a combination of Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary, in the sense that it catalogs all of this Internet culture. It attempts to be as accurate and scientific as possible, but it’s also studying a culture that moves faster than it’s possible to monitor, and so a lot of what passes through isn’t very current. Often, a meme will live and die before Know Your Meme is able to catalog it. There are also plenty of memes that don’t make it on the site. The bottom line is to not consider it the ultimate authority, and rather use your judgment.
The best authority is to spend a bit of time on the sites you will share your meme on later, if that’s your plan. Each site has its own culture and some of them dislike the memes created by others. A meme can live and die on Tumblr before Imgur or 4Chan picks it up, and once they do, Reddit and SomethingAwful might hate it just on principle.
Step 2: Find a Trending Meme
As I’ve mentioned several times, the life cycle of the average meme is very fast. It’s born, it circles its community, they get the feel for it, then they let it die. Very few memes are truly timeless and keep coming back, like lolcats. Most are like Rage Faces or Advice Animals; they start out with a theme, they’re quickly expanded into a variety of sub-memes, and those individually die as interest wanes. A few may stick around in novel combinations, but most fade into obscurity.
Your job, if you’re trying to market using memes, is to spend time in your target communities and monitor meme trends. Figure out what’s on the rise and capitalize on those memes. I don’t recommend trying to create your own, as it typically ends in failure. Even if it’s hilarious, as a marketing attempt, many users will rebel against it.
Step 3: Be Funny
A sense of humor is important, but more than that, you need to know what your target audience finds funny. You’re probably going to try to create industry-specific memes, which means you’re targeting an industry audience. You might discover that most of your audience doesn’t find typical Reddit humor funny, and your memes fall flat.
Knowing your audience is important for all marketing, and meme crafting is no different. You only have a few words and a picture to appeal to your audience, and if they aren’t particularly internet-savvy, they might not even get the joke. Always be careful with meme marketing; if your audience doesn’t get it, it’s not worthwhile for you.
Step 4: Make Them Properly
Now, you can easily enough open up Photoshop and slap some text over an image, but that’s not always the best idea.
For one thing, you need to pick the right font and size. Most memes use Impact, which is a very recognizable font. Trying to imitate it or replace it just looks out of place.
For another thing, creating a meme in Photoshop typically means finding a blank template and using that as a base. Images tend to degrade when they’re saved repeatedly, and the source you use might not be very high quality. It’s a risk.
Instead of creating them yourself in an image editing program, you can use a web-based app. Quickmeme and Memegenerator are good choices. They also have the added benefit of a trending feed, to help you know what’s going on and what’s being created.
Step 5: Share Your Meme
How specific is your meme to your industry? If it’s a very specific meme, you’re going to have a hard time sharing it in any of the large communities. Imgur will keep it down in user sub, Reddit will downvote it or leave it at the bottom of the list, Tumblr will minimize reblogs. You’d be better off sharing it on your own site, on your blog, and maybe in certain industry communities. Posting it on your Facebook and Twitter can be a good idea, as well as possibly Instagram and Pinterest. Groups like LinkedIn Groups work as well.
On the other hand, if your meme is more general and you’re relying on people noticing that it was created by your brand, you can share it more widely on the major sites. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using 4Chan or SomethingAwful for marketing, but Reddit, Tumblr and Imgur all have their roles.
Let your meme out into the wild and watch how it lives and dies. Learn from your experiences – most will be failures – and keep trying. Nothing is more shameful than a business failing with meme culture and giving up.