Social media experts dream of achieving the kind of online exposure that Australia’s Kate Miller got this week. If you’ve never heard of Kate Miller, here’s the quick version of the story:
Miller recently created a Facebook event called “Kate’s Birthday Party,” where she listed her home address and inadvertently left the page open to the public. The kids at 4chan picked Miller at random and encouraged their members to RSVP to the party. By the time Miller figured out she’d become a meme, 65,000 people had RSVP’d.
In a panicked post to the public, Miller wrote, “WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE? WHY ARE THERE 10000 PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN INVITED??????? THIS IS A PRIVATE PARTY AT OUR APARTMENT.” She shut down the page shortly afterward.
Bloggers have mostly focused on Facebook’s lenient privacy measures, and the users who are so cavalier about posting their home addresses online. We’d like to take a different tack – and instead talk about capturing the holy grail of social media: memedom.
Memes are like waves in the ocean; they come one after another and they’re impossible to fully capture. The great majority are organic. They begin in one place, and get passed from user to user because they have an inherent buzz factor. In Kate’s case, the motivating factor was a collective feeling of meanness – the rush of adrenaline the Internet gets when it’s found a new victim. But memes aren’t always negative. Consider last year’s JK Wedding Entrance Dance. With 48.5 million views and counting, that video got traction because it was heartwarming. In the case of Susan Boyle’s YouTube performance, the motivating factor was novelty, and surprise.
In each of these cases, the producers of the original content never intended to go viral. Doing so was unexpected – and in some cases – totally undesirable.
Media-savvy companies, meanwhile, have teams of people who do nothing but try and manufacture memedom. If they achieve a tenth of the popularity of memes like Kate’s Birthday Party, they rule the campaign a success. It’s clear that companies can be successful at building a meme – the big question is how.
First, memes must have broad appeal. To spread rapidly, they need to hook construction workers and accountants, toll booth operators and schoolteachers in the exact same place – the gut. Figure out the single most important piece of your message, and craft a powerful idea around that piece. A quirky sense of humor works particularly well in this arena.
Second, it’s got to be fast, and it’s got to be visual. If it’s a video, you need to get to the meme in the first 15 seconds. If it’s a website, it’s got to be instantly novel. If it’s an idea, it needs to be boiled down to 10 words or less. If you find that’s a challenge, your meme could be DOA.
And lastly, it needs to be different. Show the public something it hasn’t seen before. Like creepy, digitally-enhanced roller skating babies, or wolfpigeons. To pardon the phrase, think outside the box.
Building a successful meme can do wonders for your brand. Building a meme that falls flat could be detrimental. As with everything ambitious on the Internet, tread carefully.
Happy hunting, marketers!