If you want to get noticed online, you need a strong online strategy. Regularly posting boring blogs and looking all over the internet for stock images to use isn’t going to get you there. You need something exciting, like a meme. However, meme and other content forms come with risks.

Combining the wrong text with the wrong photo can backfire. For example, some people think non-PC language is funny, others find it horribly offensive. When your business dives into the world of meme generation and other potentially viral content assets, you need to understand content risk management.

So What Is a Meme, Anyway?

Many of us can identify content as a meme, but can’t define what makes a content a meme. Memes include more content than the captioned pictures that circulate online. They also include videos and written content that travel in a viral nature. If you can reference a piece of content with a few words and people know what you’re talking about, it’s probably a meme. Famous memes include:

  • That one picture of Nicolas Cage (you know the one!)
  • The “Damn Daniel” Vine
  • Grumpy Cat
  • Gangnam Style
  • The Old Spice “Smell Like a Man” campaign

Learning from Others’ Successes and Failures

You won’t find a rulebook on using the latest trends to create a viral post, although puppies, babies, and heartwarming stories of overcoming struggles tend to show the most promise. Who would have guessed the 33 second puppymonkeybaby commercial from Mountain Dew would have generated almost 24 million YouTube views? The commercial is so strange, and yet it sticks in viewers’ minds. It’s a clear, albeit shocking success. Even if you hate the commercial, you might find yourself humming “puppymonkeybaby” at some point later today. If that’s not successful marketing, I don’t know what is.

Other marketing attempts fail spectacularly and go viral for that reason. In an instant, a brand can lose part of its image and never get it back. Consumers may move past these glaring faux pas, but they may not ever forget them. Here are just a few examples that show how good intentions can go very, very wrong:

  • Starbucks and the “Race Together” movement – When baristas started writing the phrase on coffee cups, the company wanted to portray itself as a facilitator of constructive diversity conversations. Customers saw the move differently and took to Twitter to voice their concerns. The move didn’t align with public perception of the brand and further highlighted a lack of diversity in marketing and in the workplace.
  • Bic National Women’s Day remarks fall short – On National Women’s Day, Bic’s Facebook post said, “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss.” It’s not hard to see why millions of women (and men) were less than thrilled with the message.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Publishing a Meme

Wanting to go viral is great! Every company should want to stand out…for the right reasons. Before you craft that winning message, choose your medium, or hit “upload,” here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t get too serious – Successful content is light and may or may not inspire deeper thought. When you create a meme, avoid politically divisive topics, sensitive subjects, and violence. Self-deprecating humor can also come across wrong. Stick with small shared experiences, humorous exchanges, or piggybacking off of another viral message.
  • Do know your legal limits – Just because a piece of content goes viral does not mean it’s always free to use. Before you repost or create any content, makes sure that you have the right to do so! For example, you may have seen the “socially awkward penguin” meme. The penguin in the image was licensed by Getty. The company received settlement payments from numerous individuals/companies that used the content without paying. If you use a copyrighted image and the owner catches you, you may have to pay a fine.
  • Don’t forget to test your content – Before you release any meme-like content, consider testing the content on a focus group before you publish. Getting feedback early on will prevent any snafus that could later damage your brand’s reputation.
  • Do “memejack” the right way – For content that falls under fair use laws, using an already-popular meme could serve as your gateway to success. Do double check your use of the meme and its current relevancy before posting, however. You don’t want to miss the mark with your message or use an overused meme to spread it.
  • Don’t use company inappropriate language – All digital content should reflect your brand personality. Unless the word is really relevant, stay away from modern slang. Brands don’t need words such as YASS, on fleek, or turnt. Need some help finding what is and is not appropriate? @BrandsSayingBae posts examples of what not to do.
free for use with no attribution
free for use with no attribution
  • Do know your customers – You’re creating content that will resonate with your customers first and foremost. Earning internet fame is the pleasant side effect of viral content. Only pursue a meme, Snapchat, or other viral content campaign if you know your audience will appreciate the message. An office inside joke won’t cut it.
  • Don’t give up after one try – Gauging the success of content is difficult. Your first few posts may not quite live up to your expectations. Every company has taken chances that don’t pan out. Fails shouldn’t stop you from pursuing meme fame. Keep moving forward until something resonates in your niche, in your geographical region, or across the world.
  • Do keep tabs on your competitors – What other companies post on social media can minimize the associated risk. See which types of content readers respond to and what they ignore. How does the company incorporate its brand? Where is it posting content?

Memes and viral content are exciting because they allow companies to move past the comfort zone and tap into their creative potentials. Ready to get started? Here are some popular meme generators you can use to create image-based memes: