Teresa Ovalle

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Meme and You – How Memes Need to Spread to Go Viral

on February 24, 2014

As soon as I became a Facebook member, I noticed a good number of photos with verbal layovers.  I didn’t realize what they were or that they had a name – the meme – until this class.  Most of the memes I’ve seen have been simple, fun and clever.

I’ve seen memes transformed and I’ve seen them imitated.  I think their potential for virality is equal.  There are so many examples of each type of meme and to say that one has a propensity to go viral over another would be challenging to prove.  I think it depends on whose inbox the meme hits and whether that person wants to imitate or transform it.  In general, a meme is easy to create, it’s the virality that’s challenging.

According to Rice, “Memes are easy to make, but virality depends on novelty, cleverness, and luck, all of which thwart the duplicative craft of advertising.”  I tend to agree.  Although it took someone time to create a photo meme, it seems simple; almost as though anyone could do it.  I think novelty, cleverness and luck are important components of virality.  Novelty means that you have something new and unique, something that hasn’t been shared yet.  Cleverness means that the meme is catchy in some way and either makes people laugh, think or laugh and think.   Luck means that of all the millions of social media users, that one meme hit the right group of people at the right time to go viral.  As Rice puts it, “Successful memes self-replicate, like genes in the cultural ecosystem.”  I think that’s true, but novelty, cleverness and luck do help the process.

What is also helpful to the virality of a meme is the spreadability of it.  Of the five factors of spreadability, “participatory culture allows consumers to take media in their own hands, not simply selecting content from the menu of available options, but also producing their own media, often in explicit responses to previously circulating materials.” (Jenkins et al)  This is true.  As participants of the digital age, each user has the ability to produce their own memes, whether creating original work or replicating work, they are directly participating in their culture.

To help the spreadability of the meme, the user has only to push a button or two.  Jenkins et al says it best, “… widgets are becoming the machinery that allows media and content of all kinds to be easily distributed.”  We can easily push the Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr and/or the Tumblr widgets to share a meme.  When we do, the meme moves from our box to a million other boxes.

The importance of the meme hitting the other million social media boxes comes down to how we are networked.  As Rice states, “An egocentric network circles around an individual, bringing together a range of other friends, co-workers, family members, and social affiliates defined in terms of their relationship to their hosts.”  Each time we share with our friends, and our friends share with their friends and so on, there is an opportunity for a meme to go viral.

References to Readings:

1. Jenkins, H., Li, X., Domb Krauskopf, A., & Green, J. (n.d.). If it doesn’t spread it’s dead. Retrieved from https://quinnipiac.blackboard.com/bbcswebdav/pid-912898-dt-content-rid4161892_1/courses/ICM522DE_14SP/ICM522DL_13SP_ImportedContent_20130110031843/If_It_Doesnt_Spread.pdf

2. Rice, A. (2013, April 07). Does buzzfeed know the secret?. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/news/features/buzzfeed-2013-4/

For your enjoyment, I’ve included a link to a collection of imitation memes.  You’ll want to scroll down just a bit to see them.  You will see the original meme on the left and the imitation meme with a cat on the right.


These pictures are transformed baby memes.

baby12 baby14