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I Can Has: Memes for social good?

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Have you noticed the increasing number of charities and nonprofits taking advantage of popular “meme” trends to share their messages with a wider audience? If the world’s first Cat Video Film Festival hadn’t already convinced you that the internet is powered by LOLs, maybe this article will!

What’s a meme? At it’s most basic, a meme is a concept spread by the internet. One of the most popular ways to express and share a meme is through clever or funny .gif and .jpg images.

You’ve probably already seen these images all over the internet: on Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and blogs. Who could forget the now classic LOLcat, I CAN HAS CHEEZEBURGER?

When carbon-dated by internet terms, that LOLcat is practically a Gutenberg bible!

The om nom nom and Hey girl memes that tickle the internet can be more than pleasant time-wasters. The use of funny pictures and text on social sharing sites can serve a higher purpose: Getting your important messages across in a single image!

Here are three ways your organization can leverage visual memes for social good.

You could react to real-time events with a meme

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) often uses powerful images with quotations or bold text on Facebook as a way of giving their followers striking, shareable content.

In reaction to recent anti-LGBT comments by Chik-Fil-A’s COO Dan Cathy, HRC quickly created images parodying the fast food restaurant’s branding.

Creating a memorable image is one thing, but conversion to action is another. HRC’s memes also direct supporters to their campaign microsite where individuals can “let Chik-Fil-A know they are on the wrong side of history.”

If your organization had decided to react to news, good or bad, it’s important to move quickly online. Trends and events only capture the public’s attention for a limited time. The best time to provoke a reaction, motivate action, or gain attention for your cause is not after many other organizations have already commented on the issue.

You could embrace memes your fans create for you

When Komen Foundation announced its intention to end funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings this year, public reaction was instantaneous and strong. Tumblr and Facebook were the perfect platforms for defenders of Planned Parenthood to create a wide variety of images expressing how they felt on the issue.

For many users, posting, reblogging or sharing these images in public is like wearing a badge indicating the individual is part of the movement. Essentially, the internet equivalent of wearing a button or putting a bumper sticker on a car!

When grassroots fans of your cause play with memes on your behalf and share with their friends, your organization faces a greater likelihood that the content will be widely shared. Embracing and sharing these content pieces is an excellent way to engage your online fan base.

You could integrate memes into a planned campaign

Greenpeace and YES Men’s (now notorious!) fake Shell Oil microsite,, was part of a campaign so well-orchestrated it fooled a lot of people...twice!

The most important feature of the microsite was a Social Ad Gallery, where (ostensibly) the general public could create their own images about Shell. Visitors were led to believe that Shell’s user generated contest had been trolled and that an anti-Shell meme had been created organically.

In fact, the images referencing Shell’s “Let’s go” branding had been produced as part of the overall campaign against the oil company. The meme proved to be irresistibly shareable. The images were especially popular on Twitter and Facebook where they were gleefully presented alongside the false story of Shell’s “fail”. Greenpeace ultimately crossed channels into the offline world by taking the most popular ad and posting it on a billboard outside Shell headquarters.

Whether your supporters are creating the LOLs on your behalf or you are thinking of creating one for a Facebook post on a slow Friday, a little bit of boldness or humour may be just the thing to try to reach out to your fans online.

Internet users are in love with visual content (see last month’s column on creating infographics). It may be a cliché to say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the research is starting to back that old saying up!

You are probably already aware that Pinterest is the third most popular social network. Do you know how successful it is in converting visitors to action? New research suggests purchasers are 10% more likely to buy when they are referred by images on Pinterest as compared to other social networks.

Not interested in transactions, thinking more of acquisition? Remember that the more shareable your content is, the more likely it is that you can reach new audiences.

If you’re using Facebook, you’re now able to more accurately calculate the “reach” of individual posts. Be sure to track if your meme-like content reaches more people than your average post does on Facebook.

Communications and fundraising professionals know that testing is the key! Has your organization ever participated in a popular meme or shared similar images on your social networks? Show us your favourites in the comments below!

Claire Kerr is the director of digital philanthropy at Artez Interactive. A nonprofit veteran, Claire has worked for charitable organizations in the economic development, education, and fundraising sectors. Connect with her on Twitter or on LinkedIn, or in person over a double-double at Tim Hortons.

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Claire forwarded another great one to me today from the Red Cross, featuring squirrels: http://osoci th_the_french_red_cross/
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