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Is Meme Culture Ruining Your Social Media?

Trust me, I get it. We all want to be Wendy’s. There is no denying that the fast-food chain’s Twitter presence is 🔥. Their recent National Roast Day was a continued lesson in viral conversations, real-time engagement, and a generous serving of memes and #shade. Their team has weaponized their vast knowledge of ongoing trends and pop culture, and used that to enhance their brand voice. It’s a clever differentiation, mainly because it’s done so well.

However, and this is the important bit, Wendy’s position as ‘social media darling’ did not happen overnight:

“However, you’d be mistaken if you thought this type of success came naturally for Wendy’s. Kane, a food and beverage industry veteran who was with Yum! Brands’ Pizza Hut before joining Wendy’s in 2015, said that when he joined, Wendy’s was “a very bureaucratic place.”“We had too many layers of approval,” he told me. “The team just didn’t feel as empowered.”Under Kane, Wendy’s social media team — which he said numbers only five in-house, as it also works with marketing agency VML — sits near its brand and insights team. The teams have “monthly powwows to come up with ideas.” They’ve also studied the company’s advertising history closely to have a uniform voice for the brand identity and worked with Wendy’s chefs and the culinary team to learn about menu items.“We are very intentionally integrated,” Kane said. “We spend a lot of time together as a collective.” Giving the team free rein means making mistakes at times, he acknowledges. “I see stuff that surprises me all the time,” he said. “We want to be likable and sassy. We don’t want to be seen as sarcastic and rude. But we walk a fine line. Sometimes we get it wrong in tone.” via

Here’s the hard truth…

We can’t all be Wendy’s. Memes and such have become a staple of our everyday lives. There’s a constant chase by many companies and brands wanting a piece of that relevance. But…is that chase worth it? The short answer is a probable no. The long answer is that trying to replicate the carefully built voice of another brand, when there’s no viable strategy to back the decision, is time ultimately wasted. At the end of the day, you can be part of every viral moment on the web, and have zero impact on your overall KPIs.

However, there’s no harm in having some fun with your online community. Dipping your toes into meme territory (like Burger King brilliantly did with ‘hamberders’) can be a breath of fresh air within your usual maintenance content. It can encourage engagement, draw more eyes to your general content, and be a welcomed data-gathering and message-amplifying exercise. With that in mind, here are three factors to keep in mind when creating meme-related content:


Not all memes are created equally, and there’s no need to bombard your community with half-baked posts for the sake of scraping the crumbs of that viral pie. Challenges such as the ongoing #10YearChallenge is a great example of a viral conversation that transcends industry. The newly minted Sasuke meme, however, is much more niche and will probably make little sense unless you’re a fan of anime. Always think about your brand, the demographics, and what you’re trying to achieve before making a decision.


Trust is an important factor in tackling the real-time aspect of social media. Whether you have an in-house social media team, or you’re liaising with an agency, time is of the essence. When there are too many bureaucratic lines to cross, and too many approval pools to go through, a message can quickly get lost. Decision makers need to be educated and understand that an autonomous system gives a team that creative space to execute on a brand’s behalf. Not everything will work, and that’s okay. You live (online) and you learn.


Speaking of creative, putting together a post should not be at the expense of your overall identity, strategy and plan. For example, if your Instagram has a specific scheme and layout, your best bet for a viral meme may be communicating through Instagram Stories. Give some thought to your touch-points, and where creative compromises can be made.

Meme culture doesn’t have to become the bane of your social presence. It’s dangerous to go alone (see what I did there?), so keeping the above factors in mind will ensure that sound decisions are made for your brand.

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