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The Savvy Marketers Guide to Jumping on Internet Memes

The web’s most recent viral success – the Harlem Shake video – was notable for the way companies in all industries jumped on board with their own variations on this funny meme.

But while these businesses certainly experienced a temporary boost in their overall traffic levels, the process of jumping on an internet meme is one that companies shouldn’t undertake lightly.  With proper execution, the following tips can help your company to drive sales and be seen as “with it” amongst your target customers.  When handled inappropriately, though, you risk turning off customers and having your business labeled as being socially inept.

So before we jump into how to appropriate internet memes effectively, let’s look at a few of the different ways you can do this.  You can:

  • Release your own version of a memetic image(for example, an industry-specific version of the “How I See Myself” meme)
  • Release a video that copies or builds on another viral success (as in the case of the popular Harlem Shake variation videos)
  • Attempt to start your own video or image meme

As a general rule, most businesses are wise to avoid this third option, as there’s no true way to guarantee viral success.  You could spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to crack the meme code – only to wind up with a blown marketing budget and no measurable sales or traffic increases to show for your efforts.

And, in fact, you could torpedo your brand’s reputation in the meantime.  Memes are supposed to represent a “by the people, for the people” sensibility, meaning that your corporation’s attempt to leverage this process for branding purposes could be perceived as being intentionally manipulative.  Nobody likes to see a brand try to shoehorn itself into pop culture, which is why all but the savviest of marketers would be wise to stick to jumping on to existing memes.

Of course, this process isn’t without peril either.  Consider the following tips carefully before making the courting of memes an active part of your social marketing strategy:

Tip #1 – Jump fast, or don’t jump at all!

Memes are, by nature, short-lived.  It’s important to keep this short shelf-life in mind if you decide to make jumping on memes a part of your business’s promotional strategy.

For example, if your office jumped on the Harlem Shake wagon, releasing your own version a full month after the initial video dropped, your attempt wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact as brands that capitalized on this trend from the start.

If you want to take advantage of memes, you’ve got to jump fast – and that means keeping a regular finger on the pulse of what’s hot on the internet.  While being active on social channels might give you some insight into these trends, regularly checking into a site like “Know Your Meme” can help you to identify future memes before they hit it big.

Tip #2 – Understand the meme’s background and subtext

Now, let’s say that – through diligent tracking – you’ve hit on a hot meme in its earliest stages.  Given how quickly the topic is trending, it’s a good idea to go ahead and release your own version, right?

Well, not so fast…

Internet memes are typically intended to promote a quick reaction – whether that’s shock, laughter or a sense of camaraderie.  As such, the humor or imagery used in internet memes can be considered crude or offensive by some groups, making it vital that you understand the meaning and subtext behind a viral image or video before coopting it for business purposes.

As an example, take the “Engrish” meme, which showcases examples of poorly phrased English found in other countries.  While some audiences might find these images humorous, others may find them to be in poor taste.  Consider carefully whether your chosen meme’s message reflects positively upon your company, as mistakes in this area can have disastrous social media implications.

Tip #3 – Match your meme to your market

But beyond the question of taste, ask yourself whether or not your audience is likely to respond well to the meme in general.

The Harlem Shake meme, for example, spread quickly between young users on Facebook and Twitter.  Older adults, on the other hand, were much less likely to be aware of this trending topic.  If your company targets young consumers, producing your own Harlem Shake video could have been a great way to capitalize on this quick internet popularity.  If you target elderly customers, this effort would have been wasted.

The easiest way to determine whether or not your audience has some familiarity with the meme you’re thinking about targeting is to monitor your target market’s activities on popular social sites.  If, for example, you see that a large number of your brand’s followers are sharing a new viral video on Twitter, you can safely move forward knowing that your meme variation won’t fall on deaf ears.

Tip #4 – Don’t overinvest

Finally, keep in mind that attempting to capitalize on popular internet memes isn’t a solid promotional strategy on its own.  Because memes are so short-lived, any effort you put into them will likely only pay off for a quick period of time.

Say you go all out and produce your own version of the web’s latest viral video.  Initially, your variation sends floods of traffic back to your website.  But after a few days – once the fervor surrounding the initial meme has died down – your inbound traffic stops, limiting the amount of time you’re able to recoup the investment you made in capitalizing on the meme.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to think of jumping on memes as the raisins in the Raisin Bran of your company’s marketing strategy.  They can be a fun way to boost interest temporarily, but they shouldn’t represent the bulk of your promotional tactics.  Keep your ROI in mind and remember that more established business building tactics are much more likely to result in increased sales and profits.

The bottom line is this: your business doesn’t need to capitalize on a popular meme in order to be successful online.  There are plenty of other promotional methods – for example, SEO and content marketing – that don’t require as much up-to-the-minute knowledge and social finesse as this particular technique.  Jump on memes to your marketing strategy if you see an opportunity to do so, but don’t let the pursuit of this temporary popularity distract you from more profitable techniques.

Has your business ever jumped on a popular web meme before?  If so, share whether or not your attempt was successful in the comments section below!


Category Social Media
Sujan Patel When I Work

Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost ...

The Savvy Marketers Guide to Jumping on Internet Memes

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