How Do You Do, Fellow Kids: The Art and Science of Making a Killer Meme

At every turn on the internet, you’ve probably encountered memes. Slowly but surely, memes have saturated our online world, with lifespans that range anywhere from a few days to a few years. These humorous images, videos, and text posts vary widely in format and theme but share an important commonality: they can be easily reproduced by any user and reframed to fit a broad range of topics. 

Campaigns and organizations can tap into the online chatter by using memes to spread their message or share their story. 

The inherently elastic nature of memes makes them an ideal tool for reaching both new and specific audiences across social channels. And with younger generations becoming increasingly more politically engaged online, they’ve become an essential part of any campaign digital program. Over the sections that follow, we’ll go over some of the best practices for successfully using memes to engage your audience and avoid the pitfalls of appearing “cringe.”

Get in loser, we're making memes.

Pay Attention to Trends

By far, the simplest and smartest way to incorporate memes into your digital program is to stay apprised of trends appearing on your own feed. Maintaining an active presence on a wide array of platforms will help you keep your content fresh and on topic.

For example, you may have noticed the Star Wars prequel meme below making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram a few weeks ago:

In this case, the recognizable pop culture reference and adaptable format used in this meme offer a winning combination for communicating any number of complex ideas and themes. Take a look at how different users have made this meme work for them here.

Make it Timely

The landscape of the internet is ever-changing, and what’s relevant one day can quickly become yesterday’s news. Memes are no exception. The introduction, spread, and expiration of a meme have no defined time span, and a trendy meme can fall out of use just as quickly as it shot into popularity. 

While the Anakin/Padme meme was widespread across social platforms in early Summer 2021, it has since ceded popularity to other memes, like this photo from the Cannes Festival. While incorporating memes is an excellent way to keep your social program relevant and engaging to new users, using older memes can easily come off as out-of-touch or even disingenuous. 

For example, while cats dominate in the world of memes (and the author herself personally enjoys even the worst cat content), the image below, which uses a kind of text formatting that references the “I Can Haz Cheezburger”/lolcats memes of the early to mid 2000s, might seem out of place in today’s digital climate:

When it comes to making memes, time truly is of the essence.

Stay on Message

Just like any good social post, memes work best when they’re on brand and on message. Not every meme format is going to work for your account, and inauthentic content will be easily noticed by your followers.

Additionally, certain subjects may not lend themselves well to the meme format. Nuanced concepts are, by nature, much harder to break down into simple, digestible content. Broad ideas and simple wording will appeal to a larger audience and more effortlessly communicate your message than specific policy points and political jargon.

But keeping it simple doesn’t mean your memes have to read at a first-grade level. During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Elizabeth Warren’s team used digital content, including memes, to explain some of her more complicated economic policies:

Get Involved

Earlier, we discussed how staying on top of social media trends will help keep your meme content fresh and engaging. While maintaining a watchful eye and active presence on social are excellent entry points to meme-making, community-based platforms like Facebook and Reddit offer interested parties the chance to observe more closely and even participate themselves.

Facebook meme groups are all the rage these days. All it takes is a simple search to find groups with thousands of users who make and share memes on even the most niche topics. From New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens to Wild Green Memes for Ecological Fiends, there really is something for everyone. 

Some users may be hesitant to engage on Reddit, arguably one of the most unregulated social platforms on the internet, but subreddits like /r/memes can be useful resources for finding the hottest memes and identifying the latest trends.

And if you’re looking to dip your toes into the waters of meme-making but feel intimidated by the process itself, there are a host of user-friendly photo-editing programs available for free online. Sites like Pixlr, Fotor, and Canva offer easy to use tools for making the memes of your dreams come true.