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The Internet's Magic Business: Leveraging Memes in Social Business

If you've made it this far online, chances are good you've seen a meme. Whether it was an amusingly captioned cat, a demotivational poster or a Rickroll that you don't want to admit to, it was probably good for a smile and has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people before you.

Anatomy of a meme

Photo by divens222 via Flickr

Photo by divens222 via Flickr

 
 Memes are, by and large, easy to reproduce, even if you don't have a background in computer schools training. Benjamin Huh, owner of the I Can Haz Cheezburger network, estimates that his sites get roughly 18,000 submissions a day -- only about one percent of which ever see the web -- which means it simply can't be that difficult to slap a caption on a funny picture. Memes, as we've come to know them, should also be easy to remember and funny.

Whatever the recipe, the goal of any meme creator is to go viral, to have millions of people viewing and smiling and resharing (known as "going viral"). Joe Randazzo of The Washington Post, says that "Once an 'enjoyable thing' becomes a 'meme,' we stop enjoying the thing for its own sake, but consume and regurgitate our enjoyment of it as a symbol of hipness, as if to say: 'I am aware of this thing's popularity -- therefore I, too, exist!'"

Where does business come in?

Monetizing this elusive breed of content can be an onerous task. Let's look at how one might go about making money from memes.

  1. Driving traffic. "There's no clear recipe for getting something to go viral," says Internet analyst and professor Alex Halavais of Quinnipiac University. If you do manage to get something to go viral and drive server-crashing numbers to your site, the question becomes, "is it the right traffic?" Meme-chasers aren't known for doling out cash. Sites like Will It Blend credit sales boosts to great memes, but most successful meme-based sites make their money from advertising.
  2. Developing a community. When a site develops more of a following, a community, regular visitors instead of a spike, things start looking green, but just like traffic spikes, it's important to gauge whether or not those visitors are bringing in anything other than page views. There's an unspoken sell-out rule online, too, making straightforward monetizing of your meme a potential death sentence for it. Take for example, the case of Tay Zonday, singer of the infamous Chocolate Rain song. His video got him a Dr. Pepper commercial, but his supporters shunned the decision and walked away.
  3. Connecting with your audience. You will need to share your meme if you want anyone to see it. Adding sharing buttons to your site doesn't take web developer training, fortunately, and social networks are pretty easy to set up. Once you have a following, though, you need to nurture it -- this isn't a set-it-and-forget-it kind of operation. You should be engaging with your users and directly encouraging sharing. This can also help you identify what's popular and more importantly, what your actual customers are enjoying.

The moral of the story here is that if you want to make money from memes, you need to reach out to your target demographic directly and intelligently. If they only want your funny pictures, it's probably time to consider revamping your business model (unless it was advertising all along -- merchandising won't get you far on its own).


 

About the Author:

Karl Fendelander cut his teeth on web writing in the late nineties and has been plugged in to the newest technology and tuned in to the latest trends ever since. With an eye for design and an ear for language, Karl has created content and managed digital media for startups and established companies alike. When he's not working or taking online computer courses, Karl can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.

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