Social media users love memes.
These attention-grabbing images, augmented by a few humorous or clever words, tend to garner high engagement and can spread quickly on social media.
Many brand managers have noticed their popularity. Memes can humanize a brand, concisely summarize a complex idea, and dramatically boost reach and brand awareness. They’re also relatively easy to create. PR and marketing pros can create memes with basic graphic design skills and Photoshop or less expensive image-editing tools.
Sometimes, though, brand managers try to jump on the meme bandwagon—and miss by a mile. A poorly conceived or badly executed meme can embarrass an organization and even offend its audience.
PR pros and marketers can avoid such disasters by following these recommendations:
Understand your audience. A solid grasp of demographics can help you determine whether the strategy is appropriate and what kinds of memes to create. Edgy memes are widely popular among millennials but might not be palatable to other audiences. Older audiences, for example, tend to prefer inspirational memes. Consider first testing a meme on a small audience segment, using the targeting capabilities of Facebook or another platform.
Understand your brand. Snarky memes are inappropriate for many brands, specifically those that desire a more formal, high-brow image. Still, some high-end brands, such as Gucci, have created effective memes. The key is to post memes that align with your brand’s image.
Understand your purpose. Memes are ideal for creating a good feeling about the brand and fostering a connection. Soft-pedal overt product promotion. If you do promote a product, make it humorous.
Use eye-catching visuals (and check the image rights). Use images that immediately capture attention. If you use an image that you did not personally create, make sure it’s free to use. If necessary, obtain the license and pay the fee to use it. Even if the chance of a complaint is small, it’s essential to understand the risks you face.
Move quickly. Popular memes often capitalize on trending news, and pop culture moves quickly. “A meme can complete its entire life cycle within 24 hours,” writes Erika Montgomery at Three Girls Media. “If you’re inspired by a current meme, do not hesitate to create your own iteration. Tomorrow might be too late.”
Be careful. Avoid race, gender and controversial issues. Also beware of implying an endorsement. Brand managers sometimes include a product image, but if the product is the main focus, the meme becomes an ad. Determine the brand’s risk level and desired tone and voice, and create guidelines that all team members can understand and follow.
Require reviews. One person can easily make an error in judgment and create and distribute a distasteful meme. A review by the social media team or a higher-up can prevent inadvertent miscues.
Be understandable. The strength of memes is their ability to succinctly communicate a common feeling. Obscure images and complex wording will probably fall flat. “If the meme you create is irrelevant or unrelatable, it will not garner engagement. A good meme often hits on a universal feeling or a situation many people have found themselves in,” writes Alyse Carbonell for Karwoski & Courage.
Employ proven meme approaches.Successful memes fall into proven categories. Cute animals almost always work. Inspirational quotes attract wide attention. Well-known, but noncontroversial, people are popular. Humor always engages. Free offers often produce overwhelming response.
Have fun. Lightheartedness is the best approach. “The greatest aspect of meme marketing is that it allows most any company, no matter how staid its typical image, to create something memorable in a spirit of fun,” advises Cheryl Conner, founder of SnappConner PR.
Keep at it. “Don’t be discouraged if your first few memes flop,” Montgomery adds. “Take time to experiment and find out what works best for your brand. When used correctly, memes can be an incredible asset to your marketing strategy.”
A version of this post first appeared on the Glean.info blog.