There are few things that are as exciting for an aspiring creator as creating a piece of content that goes viral. I’ve had acquaintances who’ve sat glued to their screens for days following the spread and traction of something they’ve put out there (not that they – or I for that matter – would be glued to any screens otherwise, of course, whatever gave you that impression?)
Something you created can affect how large parts of humanity view their world, if you manage to create something succinct enough while also having a generous amount of luck when it comes to rolling it out and reaching a critical level.
This is where I think we’re seeing the next awakening of the creative hive mind, that which just might help us usher in a greater sense of belonging, tearing down the silos and echo chambers different factions have been busy erecting around themselves.
Back in the days, when we were talking about transmedia storytelling, user generated content and all those things, interaction was most often viewed as something that could only take place within certain set parameters defined by the original producer. While this of course made life easier for the producers and IP owners, it made for quite limited interaction and stifled engagement. Back in those days, though, there was quite a gap to be breached between high-budget content created and produced by professionals, with the aim to reach national or global audiences, and the efforts of everyday people engaged with the story or the brand.
Not so, not anymore. Along came the YouTubers, Viners, Instagramers, Twitchers and TikTokers who quickly grabbed a sizeable chunk of especially the younger audience’s attention.
Still, though, there was a bit of a gap between them and the rest. Not everyone was cut out to make it in front of the camera. Not everyone had the looks or the confidence, the charisma, humor or stubbornness to arrive at a successful videobased online career.
Then came the meme makers. Now, memes have been around for ages, identified first in the mid 1970s, but over the past couple of years what started out as quite niche creations on Reddit, 4Chan, spilling over to 9GAG and other media, have become truly mainstream. Not only that, but they can also increasingly have a true impact. For instance, in an email to supporters, Texan senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke identifies “powerful memes” as one contributing factor to how the elections turned out.
The wonderful thing about a well crafted meme is that it builds on the accumulated knowledge of the target group. If you know your memes then you know what this particular one is built on, you know the connotations and what context you should imagine it in. This in turn draws you in and engages you and sparks feelings of connectivity, of belonging, of familiarity, of being in-the-know. All very powerful stuff, which then again – if the meme is funny or witty enough – will entice you to share in onwards.
Over 40 years ago Richard Dawkins from the university of Oxford looked at memes and compared them to genes. This still holds today, in my opinion. Just like genes, memes compete to be the most viable, the most robust, the most plausible to survive in the long run. And just like genes, the weak, inappropriate and unconvincing memes get weeded out over time.
What memes allow though, is for anyone to become a creator – gifting everyone possibilities to an even higher level than before. Now there are templates at the ready, generators aplenty and a more than ready audience waiting for new memes daily. If you can be interesting, challenging or witty enough, your meme could be the next one to travel the world in an hour flat. At the same time memes are largely anonymous, so no one will call you out on crappy memes. All to win, very little to lose.
I feel this is now something we as more traditional creators need to take into consideration. Just imagine that every second person you meet during a day can and will create a meme of sorts. Then imagine how you can tailor your project, your content, so that it is about or using your content their next meme will be. It’s a healthy mind exercise – and you’ll need it, sooner rather than later.