What is a meme

An Internet Meme is an idea or concept expressed through an image or gif, with these two being the most common formats. They can also be presented in other formats like short videos or audios and are shared through internet social media. Memes are often ironic, satirical, irreverent, or make a social statement.

Where the Word Meme Comes From

Meme originates from the Greek word mimema, meaning “something imitated,” because typically, the inputs for constructing one are catchy phrases, clichés, popular cultural ideas, repetitive images, metaphors, and analogies that represent what words cannot.

However, most publications agree that the term “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins, a biologist. Dawkins believed that cultural ideas are like genes. He thought that our societal concepts spread from brain to brain, multiplying and mutating as they go. The resulting trends were his definition of a “meme.”

Most modern “memes” are cultural inside jokes. They are a way to connect with people on the Internet through unique pictures that are instantly recognizable. Memes encapsulate emotions, ideas, and actions in a format that is easy to translate. Memes are ideal for the digital age.

In some cases, phrases used in memes are adopted by young people who introduce them into their conversations and make them part of their everyday language.

One of the main characteristics of meme culture is that it entirely depends on its ability to be reproduced and shared countless times, that is, to go viral.

Thanks to its extraordinary behavior and other phenomena that are part of its culture, the meme has become a field of study for various branches of knowledge.

¿What Makes a Meme a Meme?

Even if memes seem baffling, chances are you’ve stumbled upon at least one in recent years that clicked with you. Whether you participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, own a “Keep Calm” mug on your work desk, or have used the words “fail” or “win” either ironically or sincerely, then you’ve engaged with a meme. You heard about it through word of mouth, grasped it, altered its context, and repurposed it for your own use. These are the key components that make a meme a meme.

Defining what exactly a meme is can be tricky, but generally, the term is associated with an image or video representing a particular concept or idea that spreads via online social platforms. This idea continues to proliferate through social media, forums, instant messaging apps, and even news sites. The images and videos conveying the message are often modified and evolved in this process, often turning the original idea into something entirely different. They might simply be reposted with a new caption to show an altered take on it.

Context can greatly impact a meme’s meaning or its relevance to the receiver.

Memes can also convey much more information than just text. Just as emojis have been used to express complex moods or emotions, a meme can convey a complex idea, a mental state, or a shared understanding much faster than writing and reading a written explanation of an idea.

Benefits of Memes for Brands

While memes are popular in the consumer world, they are also powerful for businesses. Companies use memes to:

  • Share information in a fun and memorable format.
  • Humanize their brand by showcasing personality.
  • Illustrate complex concepts like company culture uniquely.
  • Achieve greater engagement with their audience.

Why Marketing Specialists are Using Memes

The average internet user spends around 100 minutes a day on social media. Most of our conversations today are influenced by the jokes and references made online. Whether it’s an image of a social influencer or a brand’s video, memes are shaping the language customers speak online. This means brands need to learn how to translate their advertising for this new world.

Memes generate better audience reactions because they are designed for social media. People naturally share memes as part of their online experience, making them an excellent way to enhance engagement.

What Determines the Effectiveness of Memes

According to memetics theory, there’s a classification of memes based on their behavior in the network, which can help predict their reach:

  • Fidelity: refers to a meme’s ability to mutate or vary. According to this classification, there are two types:
    • Replicator: Has little capacity for variation and remains highly faithful to the original.
    • Metamorphic: They have a capacity for variability depending on the reinterpretation processes they undergo.
  • Longevity: is the ability of each meme to be replicated and remain relevant over time, also two types:
    • Persistent: have the ability to be replicated over a considerable time.
    • Volatile: have little capacity for propagation and disappear quickly.
  • Fecundity: refers to the speed at which a meme is replicated, reinterpreted, and goes viral
    • Epidemic: when the speed of propagation and reach are very high.
    • Fecund: spread at a slower speed. Generally made by and for specific groups, limiting their reach.
  • Reach: is related to the scale of viralization of the meme
    • Global: when the meme has global reaches.
    • Local: when it is known only in communities and local groups.

This is how we’ve seen some memes stay in our memory because they have been used in many situations representing common ideas, feelings, and situations that, over time, and with new memes, have not lost relevance.

The ability of a meme to be intervened, reinterpreted, modified, and shared by anyone makes it a unit of information with very high cultural value and easily assimilable for almost anyone.

Depending on its characteristics, a meme can cross many borders.

Memes in Digital Marketing

In digital marketing strategies, the use of memes by companies to viralize certain aspects of their products or services has been increasing. This practice is known as meme-jacking.

Meme-jacking is essentially the ability to identify an opportunity and capitalize on the right moment to generate and propagate brand-specific content. For example, using the momentum of current trending topics to promote and sell related products or services.

From a technical standpoint, memes are effective as long as people interact with and share this type of content. Each interaction stimulates the social media algorithm, increasing the relevance and reach of the account from which the post originated.

It’s important to ensure that the tone of the content aligns with the company’s tone, as misuse can lead to negative impacts and unexpected reactions from users.

How to Use Memes on Social Media

Brands using memes on social media need a strategy.

Just like any other social media marketing plan, posting memes should be a measured process tailored to the audience. Remember:

  • Target your customers: Understand your audience’s sense of humor before starting to post. Humor has a very broad spectrum, and poor planning could cause offense.
  • Create brand-specific memes: Instead of copying and pasting memes, organizations often achieve better results when they create their own images and videos. Make sure you understand the context of the image or video you are using.
  • Don’t force it: If memes seem forced or out of place, they can damage your reputation. Ensure that your use of memes feels natural.
  • Don’t overuse memes: Memes are best used in moderation and in appropriate circumstances. Too many memes on your timeline will make your customers question your professionalism.

Juan Esteban Yepes

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