As social media has grown over the past ten years, so have business's desires to achieve virality on the Web. While making content viral is not easy and certainly not predictable, there are techniques that might help marketers get somewhere close. Two that have become extremely popular are memes and storytelling.
An Overview of Memes & Stories
Both storytelling and meme production have applications in many aspects of the Web, but for the purposes of marketing, I like to think of them as gifts that keep on giving. For memes, this is certainly true. Memes are elements of culture that pass on because of their own inherent value. When a meme catches on, it can last for years, and not just for you, but for other groups too. Here’s one really old example. In 1939, the British government produced a propaganda poster to encourage British citizens in the wake of Nazi air strikes on London. The poster proudly displayed the British crown with the words, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Now well known as a meme for t-shirts, beer producers, and various blogs, the meme carries on two and three generations later because it is constantly being reproduced.
Storytelling is similar in that strong storytelling can be retold and reproduced with increasing levels of creativity. One of the most famous marketing examples of this, of course, occurred during the 1984 Super Bowl. Apple’s immediately famous “1984” TV ad aired only once, but the story told in the commercial was reproduced over and over by word-of-mouth, which propelled the expectation surrounding Apple’s release of the first Macintosh computer. It was a bold story that captivated the audience with seriousness rather than good humor, and it proved how effectively a good narrative can captivate an entire market. (Macintosh’s release completely reset the computer world at that time, limiting IBM’s grip on the market and opening an opportunity for Apple.)
In the preceding paragraphs, I’ve essentially provided “old media” archetypes of what memes and stories can do in a marketing context. However, neither example is from today's fast-paced marketplace, driven by the Internet, mobile devices, and growing social media. Today, meme usage and new media storytelling are becoming near-standards of marketing content creation—and it’s clear that being innovative with old techniques is becoming increasingly difficult.
If obtaining viral appeal is your goal, coming up with new presentations of strong content is key. To help get started, here are three tips for making your memes and storytelling standout as different!
Tips for Giving Memes & Stories Viral Appeal
1. Take a tip from Apple’s 1984 ad for how to make storytelling catch a wide audience. 1984 had absolutely nothing to do with the Macintosh. Computers had very little to do with the Super Bowl. The lesson is that not all social media marketing has to directly connect with your brand. Here at Weidert Group, we publish a lot of information on marketing, but every now and again we venture into a completely random field. Sometimes these creative excursions are exactly what draws in a wider audience of users. While Apple took an extreme creative excursion, it worked beautifully because they stuck to strong storytelling. By balancing good technique with a strong context, you can build similar appeal in a variety of online situations.
2. With memes, it's important to keep in mind that nobody really owns them. Even if you stumble into creating one (e.g. the Dos Equis spokesman), the thing that makes something a meme is its shared adaptability across situations. This means that drawing on current memes while creating new concepts is perfectly acceptable. Furthermore, I’d argue that it will help build your creative appeal. In a recent online contest between non-profits called the American Giving Awards, memes were thrown about incessantly. Every organization was trying to appeal to a wide range of people. In doing so, they didn’t just join in meme culture—many organizations became increasingly more creative.
3. Often we think of memes and storytelling as pieces of content. In practice, they are more akin to social media interactions. As I said before, they don't need to relate directly to a brand or a company's mission. Instead, connect them to your social media strategy. If your using Pinterest, try throwing in some memes that show your business' personality. On Twitter, tell a hashtag story that draws people in to your regular flow of content updates. The best way to use memes is to tie them directly to your online social presence.
These three tips are aimed to provide some basic parameters for how to use memes and storytelling effectively. They overall takeaway: memes and storytelling are just two ways to add a viral component to your social media marketing strategy. They don't have to connect directly to your content because creativity is key for gaining a larger audience. Memes and stories are meant to be shared, so be sure to participate actively and with personality.
Of course, maybe you just want a firm foundation for your social media. In that case, a key tool is our guide to social media optimization. Make your social media presence bloom by utilizing our top-notch tips for building a strong social media base.
Jamie is Weidert Group’s Marketing Manager and key contact for co-promotional efforts. A frequent author for various online publications, Jamie has been recognized by HubSpot and Business2Community as a top content strategist. Feel free to follow @cart_writing for insights on inbound marketing.