The Beauty and the Beast of Social Media

The Beauty and the Beast of Social Media

By Carole Bersillon, Intern

A high-school teacher always repeated to me, “everything has a downside.” Social Media platforms are unanimously praised, studied and considered as the new means for social interaction and conversation. But sometimes social media can be wrong and appear as trivial and superficial. I was struck by the new meme that started with Angelina Jolie’s pose during this year’s Oscars ceremony, revealing her leg through a long Versace black dress. The pose turned out to be a media phenomenon including a dedicated Twitter account with a total of 47,000 followers, Facebook and Pinterest pages display “legbombing” pictures (you can see the Leg stepping on the moon with Armstrong, included on Napoleon’s portrait, or included to the Vitruvian Man by Da Vinci), a tumblr blog named the pose “AngelineJolieing” and hosts thousands of people jokes, and the New York Times even wrote a blog post about the pose.

Hopefully, the wide spread of an idea or a topic online, called by researchers a “meme” from the Greek “mimeme” (something imitated), does not always turn to be trivial and superficial. Some companies used memes as part of viral strategies to create buzz around a commercial, a product or a new concept and it turned out to be successful.

Volkswagen was one of the most famous companies using a successful meme as a marketing asset with its “Force” ad. The ad appeared on YouTube the week before its TV debut on February 6, 2011 for the 2011 Super Bowl. The 60-second spot displaying a kid dressed as Darth Vader and trying to use “The Force” to start electronic appliances and the new car, registered more than 12.5 million views on YouTube, 10,000 comments and 62,000 “likes” before the big game. In its first year, the ad had over 49.4 million views.

So what makes memes so popular and go viral, beyond their usual humorous basis, especially for companies?

Usually, memes drive people with a common interest. They spread through social media and create virtual communities. Thus they can represent a new factor of unity or at least of social cohesion. Also, they break the traditional top-down communication flow from companies that is sometimes criticized. With memes, the content is not necessarily generated by the company and it spreads horizontally and goes viral, conveying a more human and authentic aspect. 

However, memes are not always a success and some companies fail in creating buzz or lose control of their viral content. So, before diving head first into viral marketing and buzz, know your meme…

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