marketing with memes

Boost Traffic by Marketing With Memes

I love marketing with memes. When I’m on Facebook, nothing inspires me to click “share” faster than a clever meme. Chances are you’ve seen memes as well, but you may not have known what they were called. Memes are captioned images that contain a pithy saying or sarcastic comment. Social Media is full of them, and you’ve probably shared a few yourself.

The term “meme” was coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene”. In biology, meme refers to the way that genes are transmitted. Socially, it has come to be defined as “a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way.”

It’s the “spread by the Internet” part that is of particular interest to marketers (that means you, business owner!). Good memes are viral and, in some cases, may provide back-links to your website. Let’s consider what is involved in marketing with memes, and then we’ll look at how marketing memes can be used to get back-links to your website.

Key elements of marketing with memes:

First, it’s well established that Social Media posts that include images are more engaging than straight text posts. Wharton School Associate Professor of Marketing Jonah Berger points out three characteristics of viral web content:

1. Positive content is more viral than negative content. Funny, clever or “warm and fuzzy” memes get shared more often than memes with degrading or mean comments.
2. Highly emotional content – either positive or negative – is more viral than emotion-neutral content. Memes that speak to one’s core values (God, Family and Country) and/or those that engender love, hate, humor, anger, fear or lust are shared more often.
3. Practical, utilitarian content is often viral; folks like to share recipes and “how-to” hints with family and friends.

With the above in mind, let’s explore how you can use memes as part of your marketing.
For starters, determine what it is you want to accomplish. Do you want general website traffic, Facebook likes or to build a niche in a particular collectibles category?

Meme strategies:

If you want to establish yourself as a memorabilia seller, for example, a popular approach is to post a “remember when” meme. The Facebook page “The Good Old Days” is particularly good at this technique. They recently posted a meme of a 1960s television dial with the caption “Remember When We Were the Remotes? And Only Three Channels to Pick From?” that received more than 48,000 Likes, had more than 25,000 shares and more than 4,000 comments.

On the other hand, consignment store owners may find that something like the attached “Gangster Baby” (or “Baby Godfather”) meme may be popular with their “thrifting” customers. Such a yard-sale meme is good for general traffic building for your website and/or Facebook page.

Once you know what you want to accomplish, it’s time to define your audience and identify shared experiences. Effective memes relate to a particular audience by using the “it’s funny because it’s true” type of humor. For example, the “television remote” meme mentioned above is targeted to Baby Boomers, because Boomers grew up without remotes and can relate to the meme. Boomers will have mostly Boomer friends, and it’s very likely that that their friends will relate as well, so the meme is shared.

The yard-sale meme will ring a bell with yard-salers; who among us has not had the experience of being low-balled on price for coveted items? When yard-sale enthusiasts see this meme, their reaction is “ain’t it the truth?!” and they share the meme with their friends.

Keep in mind that viral memes don’t have an overt marketing message. Memes containing a marketing message are perceived as just another advert, and usually die a quick death. Truth be told, marketing memes in general have a short shelf-life compared to “evergreen” (always relevant) text content. So, don’t rely on them too heavily; they are part of a marketing strategy, not an entire strategy.

Marketing with memes may get you back-links

Though not as important as they once were, back-links still hold sway in Google’s search algorithm. Google pays attention to the quantity and quality of websites that have linked to your site in determining where to place you in search results. Each link is like a vote for your site; lots of votes means you must be offering some good content on your page. Everything else being equal (and it never is with search engine optimization), more votes results in better search position. Better search position should result in more traffic to your site, and more traffic should equal more sales.

To get back-links, the posting platform must offer “dofollow” links. Dofollow links are those that instruct the Google bots to place value on your link. Nofollow links, on the other hand, don’t count in scoring page position (this is an over-simplification but sufficient to make my point). A few years ago, dofollow links were commonplace on most Social Media sites. Then spammers attacked and sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. had to defend themselves against irrelevant spam content. They did so by changing most dofollow links to nofollow.

The upshot of the dofollow vs. nofollow discussion is that the rules vary from platform to platform and are under constant revision. Since Behind the Gavel columns tend to stay around for a while, it’s prudent for me to suggest that you confirm a platform’s “follow” status before posting a lot of meme links. To do so, Google the platform name and the word “dofollow,” as in “Tumblr dofollow.” Each platform will have instructions on how to create dofollow (or “sharing”) content links.

Do-it-yourself marketing with memes

The “graphics” end of making a meme is really pretty easy. There are two ways to go:

1. Make one from scratch using your own photos and an editing program like Photoshop or Irfanview (unusual inventory items make good “remember when” memes).
2. Use a free meme-making website such as,, or

Once you get the “hang” of marketing with memes, it’s really satisfying to watch the number of Shares, Likes and Comments increase. Who knows? Maybe your meme will become the next viral sensation.

Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine

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