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How to Use Internet Memes to Market Your Content, Your Products, and Your Brand

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The Internet has gone visual. With the world moving at the speed of a tweet, getting your message out there can be tough—especially if you're only using words.

Studies show that our brains are more efficient at processing images than words. Some 75% of Americans have used emoji to communicate to others. Virtual corkboard site Pinterest has 53 million unique monthly users. Even Facebook is leaning hard into the image game, as evidenced by its recent $1 billion acquisition of Instagram, which has 300 million users itself.

Images overlaid with text—often called Internet memes—are a popular way for brands to reach their audiences. Ride that popularity wave by creating your own marketing images for distribution. As your followers and fans share the images, your products, your logo, and your brand spread to people you may not have reached otherwise.

It's the Age of the Image and you can take advantage of it by mastering three steps:

  1. Selecting the right images to use
  2. Adding the accompanying copy
  3. Using social networks to spread the message

1. Start with the images

The first step is to choose images appropriate for your message. The possibilities are literally endless. You can take images from your products or customers. You might look for images that evoke humor, pride, or any number of emotions. Just stick closely to your brand's core message to determine what type of images you should use.

The images you're using should also be watermarked. A watermark is an image that displays a message or logo and is overlaid on another image. Remember, you're creating these memes to be shared; ideally, people who have never heard of you will see these images long after you have posted it.

Watermarking the image with your logo, website address, or social media handle gives those readers the ability to trace it back to you.

Remember that you must follow copyright law. Using images that you don't have the right to use, build upon, or distribute is a fast way to find yourself on the other end of a lawsuit. If you don't have your own images to use, try finding some under Creative Commons license for use.

2. Add the words

The second step to creating marketing images is to add copy to the image. You want the copy to enhance the message. There are some formats and tools that are popular with current meme makers:

  • "That moment when [something funny happens]"
  • [Group of people] be like [some common occurrence]"
  • Puns
  • Babies saying adult things
  • Animals saying human things
  • Lines from popular movies or television shows
  • Popular quotations

This should go without saying: The copy on your images should be grammatically correct and typo-free. Your memes can be funny, inspirational, and incredibly shareable, but there are plenty of people who will not share them if the copy looks like someone without a clear grasp of English wrote them.

The exceptions are popular sayings or direct quotations: They may not be grammatically correct, but you can use them because everyone realizes it's a direct reference to something else. If the misspelling isn't a part of the joke, it's not advisable.

Also, remember that typography matters. Use fonts that match the mood. Color, placement, and sizing all contribute to visibility of the copy. Depending on the device, your target audience may be looking at much smaller images than you intended. You want to them to be able to read the copy from various distances or displays.

3. Spread the message

Once you have your images and copy in place, it's time to send out your meme to the world. Lots of social media networks are suited to the use of memes. You can use just one or two networks, or all of them, but most social media marketers find that mastering one is far more effective than spreading efforts over all of them:

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus

Do your research, though. Each social network displays images in different ways. For example, Instagram allows only square-shaped images. Facebook displays images in its News Feed differently than in picture albums. Your images should be optimized for best display possible on your chosen networks.

Share times are important, too. Knowing your audience can go a long way toward getting your message in front of as many eyes as possible. Is your target audience the work crowd? Posting immediately after business hours can be helpful because they're all checking their social media feeds. Are you going after a younger, edgier crowd? Your prime sharing time will be a lot later than someone targeting young moms. Use tools such as Hootsuite to analyze your current social media following and find your prime sharing times.

Don't forget your hashtags, either. Hashtags will help you reach people not following you who might be interested in the same subject. Use popular hashtags that users often search. Sites such as Tags for Likes compile lists of high-ranking tags for each subject. You can use them to help you find which tags you should use.

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Elizabeth Victor is brand adviser for Isentia, a media monitoring, analysis, and intelligence company.

Twitter: @evictorisentia

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  • by AB Fri Dec 12, 2014 via web

    I see what you're saying. Although it's hard for me to see using memes as a way for brands to covey their messaging. I've always viewed as memes being satirical in nature, usually mimicking or poking fun at an event/person/scenario/behavior, not necessarily for brand promotion.

  • by Tam Frager Mon Dec 15, 2014 via web

    @AB - I think the problem you and I both had was with the word "meme." Because not all visual images are memes, and many memes are snarky.

    But if we take out that word and just think of visual messaging, which I think is the true point of the article, then it's not so difficult. I work for a data center and ISP, so one of our big messages is to protect your data. To that end, I created something that, by this article's description, would be a meme and shared it today (you can see it on our fb or G+ pages). I wouldn't consider it a meme, but I think it fits in with what the author was talking about.

  • by Tam Frager Mon Dec 15, 2014 via web

    Sorry. I just realized I totally linked to the wrong thing -- an article that had nothing at all to do with what I was talking about. And had nothing to do with my company. It was unintentional spam, really. Sorry.

    I was trying to link to my company's fb page, because it has the image I referenced in my earlier post:

    We have other images, too, but I need to get better about making sure our logo is on them.

  • by sherrainex Tue Dec 16, 2014 via web

    helpful for website design. thanks.

  • by Gwen Wed Dec 17, 2014 via web

    My first thoughts "Danger, Will Rogers! Danger!" particularly in regards to "popular" memes. While memes are certainly a great match for many brands -- particularly those that are avant garde or light-hearted in nature -- there are probably more things that can go wrong than right. When one weighs the potential risks versus the rewards, most brands would be better off just saying no.

  • by James Wed Dec 17, 2014 via web

    "Do your research, though"... "Images overlaid with text—often called Internet memes". This is not what a meme is. Meme comes from mimesis or imitation. The idea being that the image with text has a continuous underlying pattern or theme that can be repeated using the same image by many users. I.e. Socially awkward penguin always has an uncomfortable social situation represented in the same format each time. Adding words to a picture is just that and promoting it as an new advertising concept falls a bit short. Meme's are useful to engage your community and show your human side but this article doesn't seem to instruct on what they actually are or how to leverage them.
    And for the love of god please don't watermark them... what better way to separate yourself from your audience. Post them from your branded accounts and let the human content work to destroy that corporate identity.

  • by Gwen Wed Dec 17, 2014 via web

    James, I couldn't agree more! Watermark a logo on a "meme" and you've basically just made an advertisement thinly disguised as a meme. Great way to turn off and alienate your brand from the audience that actually gets memes.

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