Things you ought to know about memes online

Claire Stokoe

The formula for Social Media is Memes equals Weem - or What the F*** is a Weem? and what has it to do with Social media?

Well they are not some clever iphone app that updates your profile every time you sneeze. To understand Weems, we need to go back a few years to when I developed an odd fascination with a thing called Memetics or the study of memes (pronounced meem).

Memes became famous when evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (the guy that writes books about how crap God is) coined them as the ‘Selfish Gene’ in his book of the same name. Richard related memes (none physical packets of information) to the genes (physical genetic information) that drive the molecular evolution of human beings, but from a cultural perspective. Basically they are the things in our brains that got us down from the trees and stopped us clubbing each other to death with bananas.

Modern studies into memes call them the ‘virus of the mind’ and ‘thought contagion’ and go further into the idea that memetics being the mother of all modern linguistics and the human sense of individually, which of course is the one thing that apparently separates us from other sentiment beings on this planet.

chimp laughing
chimp laughing

So after a lot of debating memetics now exists in two unique sectors;

1) The Internalist that followed Dawkins gene theory and

2) The Externalists that were concerned with the outwardly factors that memes made to

humans such as cultural difference

It is the externalists that we should be interested in when discussing online memes and searching for they by product ‘Weems’.

So, what is a meme? Well it is a unit or packet of cultural ideas within the brain, symbols or practices that are transmitted from one mind to another; offline this can be via speech, gesture or ritual, and online transmitted via email, tagging, video sharing, search, RSS, listening to podcasts, friends updates and many more.

Research into memes also consider’s that most memes will go through a series of changes from mutation, competition, to inheritance during their lifecycle.

Examples of online memes;

Competition (Various parties with one goal): Kayne Wests out burst during Taylor Swifts speech is picked up and blogged about, shared and becomes a trend topic

Inheritance (from an existing thing (person or object): Rick rolling – fuelled by the popularity for a Singer became a that led to the Singers new found popularity

Mutation (Caused by a misunderstanding or deliberate change): The film Downfall about Hitler has been recreated on YouTube numerous times with hilarious results from Hitler getting banned from Xbox live to damaging his new iphone. (its unlikey the most of the people creating the mashups had ever even seen the movie).

If the Video is playing - simply click stop and click play ;)

So how the hell did we get from Social media to genetic science? Well memes are the things we look at everyday and they are the link between that that exists online and that that exists in the mind of the user.

Basically, without the end user, social media is merely a load of data with no conscience. Some social media experts talk about memes as being anything from a tag to a full blown campaign, i am dubious of this and believe that this needs more thought and not to be thrown in with the rest of the 'Twitter' hype and malay.

Now I don’t really want to get into measurement at this point, I’ll leave that to a later post, what I do want to talk about is the by product of memes online that I have called ‘the Weem’, or the ‘web meme’ pronounced wee’m.

So lets look at a few examples that I consider to be Weems;

Taking the examples I have given about, lets look at the by products of these

Competition meme Kayne Wests – “Ima let you finish” (the phrase is now used openly to describe anything that people find better than something else)

Inheritance meme Rick rolling – Into Barack Rolling

Mutation meme The film Downfall – “Hitler finds out Kanye West Disses Taylor Swift at the VMAs” on YouTube

How an idea develops from meme to weem
How an idea develops from meme to weem

Ok, so a meme is the initial shared thought, something someone was angry about, like the Taylor Swift interruption, someone messing around with a film clip and adding dubbing as in the Downfall Film and someone using someone elses popularity or lack of, to enforce an idea such as RickRolling.


The magic happens when other minds begin to interact with that intial concept, adding their concepts to it and moving the packet of information on to the next stage, so someone bookmarks it, blogs about it, tweets it, even alters it slightly, this is a stage 2 meme.

Only after a full rotation and a critical mass of end users interacting with this 2nd stage meme does it move into the final stage – it becomes a Weem.

1) Underlying social / personal issues and belive systems

2) Something that is made, happens or is suddenly found

3) This something makes a difference to 1 person and they choose to share it

4) That something is then picked up by numerous others and becomes a meme

5) It is then picked up by influencers, TV, other media and reaches critcal mass

6) It then alters in someway and its origin is suddenly unimportant (it is now a weem)

7) It makes a change to popular culture which allows its orgins to be fully deleted

8) It alters a mind set and makes a difference to society (good or bad)

The progress to becoming a weem
The progress to becoming a weem

Other examples of meme lifecycles are;

progress from meme to weem
progress from meme to weem
From meme to weem to culture
From meme to weem to culture

When an idea has become a Weem, it becomes better known than the intial idea, infact where it came from disappears and you are simply left with the residual outcome the – LOLcats is a good example of this, I wonder how many people who share LOLcat pictures actually ever visit the icanhascheeseburger website, or indeed people who watch the ‘Funny Hitler videos’ have any idea what movie it is from? You see once something becomes a Weem it’s parent ideas become pointless because it is so changed or so ingrained in the minds of the user as something else that to point this out would be pointless.

So how can Weems help those working in social media and their clients?

Well, imagine your client sells dog food, its not a well know brand of dog food but its healthy, ran 100% online and not tested on animals. They want to people online to think of them when they think of healthy pet food.

Well ideally something about that product or business needs to become a meme, because becoming a meme means that they are suddenly alive within web users consciousness (it might only start off with a handful of people). Now becoming a meme means having exposure, so part of a social media departments plan should be to feed this coverage, make sure that there is enough great content to warrant the coverage and get the information out their in a number of mediums.


But how do we ensure that our memes develop to the next stage?

We take them there, we don’t need to wait around for someone to make to connection after all we are working with the people who know the product inside out, of course we open up the clients api to make any mashups welcome, we could even ask for a Crowd sourced idea, but we can also create it, create the second stage meme in the form of a video, podcast, animation or twitter account.

It is the Weem that we cannot create, we can only get our information out there, feed it, nurture it, change it, syndicate it, improve it and make sure it is the best possible information there is and then …. We wait and we could be waiting for some time, but this will be only one tiny part of any given campaign, so this action will be being done x 100.

Not all secondary memes become Weems, some with become extinct, which means that they don’t develop any further, they might get a few more views on YouTube and the odd comment on Flickr, a few more followers on Twitter and a couple more friends on facebook, but their light has dimished. Some might take years to reach a state where their creators become obsolete, but all we can do is plant the seed, create the perfect plant and see if it grows into a monsterous tree and a weed.

I feel that many campaigns aren’t set with the idea of making the groundwork eventually dissapear and become obsolute, much like an iphone app (who really gives a crap who made it, so long as it helps you find the nearest taxi) because everyone is so guarded over their individual sectons that they don’t want their ‘Corporate video’, ‘new podcast’, ‘New product idea’, ‘Set of photographs’ or ‘Article’ to grow up and move out of the family home and grow up.

Next time I’ll be looking at more examples of Weems, and a few examples of memes that didn’t make it from big brands.


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