What is a meme – and how do I use them?
What does meme mean?
Memes have become part of our everyday lives in the past few years. Whether they come in the form of a funny image your friend has shared or a relatable video posted by your favorite brand, memes are everywhere.
But while we might be used to hearing the word, it can be hard to pinpoint what the definition of a meme actually is.
In short, a meme (pronounced meem) is a piece of content – usually an image, video or text – that is typically humorous or sarcastic in nature. Popular memes spread rapidly online, with different variations circulating, trending and being recreated.
Read on for insight into the different types of memes you might come across in your daily scrolling, as well as inspiration and tips on how to make your own memes to share.
A brief history of memes.
Surprisingly, memes didn’t start with the internet. In fact, the term “meme” was first introduced in 1976 in Richard Dawkins’ work The Selfish Gene. While it didn’t mean the exact same thing as it does now, it was close, with Dawkins’ conception of a meme being “a unit of cultural transmission”.
Memes eventually made their way to the internet in 1993 in an issue of Wired, where a meme was described as an "infectious idea... much as viruses leap from body to body.” But they didn’t really take off to become the phenomenon they are today until around 2012.
2012 is when the world was greeted by Grumpy Cat, a feline from Arizona whose real name was Tardar Sauce. An iconic meme example, her scowl became an internet sensation. Pictures of Grumpy Cat were usually accompanied with sarcastic, unimpressed text – perfectly matching her signature expression.
Success Kid, however, was an earlier meme, popping up in 2007. It shows a child on a beach, holding up his fist with a proud, almost smug, expression on his face. It’s known as success kid as the wording on the meme is usually related to conquering something, such as: “when you wear a white shirt and don’t drop food down it!”
Take a look at these classic meme templates.
How to make a meme.
Whether you’re a business owner or just love a good meme, you can easily make a meme to share on your social media accounts.
To help you get started, take a look at our top 3 meme tips:
- Think about something relevant. The beauty of a meme is that hundreds, if not thousands, of people relate to it.
- Act quickly. If you plan on amending a viral meme, be sure to be swift. Kourtney Kardashian’s “Travis I’m Pregnant” image quickly took off on both personal and business accounts. But if you don’t post quickly, your meme can easily feel stale.
- Post it! If you don’t share your meme, it’s never going to get seen – let alone go viral.
The most famous modern memes were born with an image paired with a witty caption. You can easily create a picture meme by following these steps:
- First find an image you want to use. It could be a trending image you want to customize or a photo you’ve snapped yourself.
- Once you’ve got the image, you’ll need to add some text. Think about something others might relate to or something that could be funny.
- Share your meme! Post it on your socials with some hashtags and you could have just set the wheels in motion for a viral meme.
Idea for a picture meme: Someone looking downcast out of a window with the caption: “when you realize it’s Monday tomorrow”.
Text memes are just that – there’s no image, just text. These are fun, witty, relatable and very quick to make. Commonly, people’s tweets get turned into text memes. You can easily make your own text meme.
- Come up with a relatable subject.
- Choose a background color or pattern to display your text.
- Add your text.
- Share on social media.
You could also tweet something, take a screenshot of the tweet and post it to other social media pages such as Instagram and Facebook.
Idea for a text meme: Anyone else run up the stairs at night like they’re being chased despite the doors being locked, or is it just us?
A video meme can bring even more life to your social media pages. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to make a video meme.
- Take a video. Remember, we always want something relatable and funny.
- Add some music and text. We need to give context to the meme.
- Share it! Videos work great on Instagram reels, Facebook stories and TikTok.
Idea for a video meme: Closing a laptop and spinning on your desk chair with the caption “when you finally set your out of office”.
One does not simply make a meme.
Memes are quite the versatile media, and we meme it when we say they can be used for anything! Below are some ideas and areas where you can break into the world of memes.
For a special occasion.
Whether you want to make a sarcastic joke, mock the growing number of candles on their cake or simply send a cute and funny message, it’s easy to create a meme to share with your friends and family for their birthday or anniversary. They might appreciate the personalised touch of a birthday meme more than a birthday card.
Memes to share on social media.
The most popular places to share memes are on social media. Once you’ve made your memes, be sure to share them with the world. You never know, you could create the next Grumpy Cat!
Professional memes for your business.
Are memes professional? They can be! In fact, memes can be a great marketing strategy and boost traffic to your social accounts and website. It’s a good idea to jump on current meme trends as soon as you can – making sure they fit with your brand values.
Find a meme template for any occasion.
Looking for some meme-spiration?
Below are some iconic memes for you to check out:
- Evil Kermit is a popular meme which shows Kermit the Frog talking to another Kermit the Frog who is wearing a black hooded cloak. The idea of this meme is to depict someone talking to themselves and is usually paired with a “me to me” quote. For example: Me: I need to save money. Me to me: Book the holiday.
- Distracted Boyfriend was born from a stock photo and shows a man walking with his girlfriend, only to be peering back at another woman with an impressed look on his face. It’s often used to showcase disloyalty – but in a lighthearted way.
- Math Lady or Confused Lady is an actress looking visibly confused and deep in thought. It’s sometimes shown as one image or a series of four images, each with complex math equations over the top. It’s a popular meme for when something just doesn’t add up.
- Homer Simpson Back into a Bush is a gif meme born from an episode of the Simpsons. It shows Homer literally backing into a bush until he disappears. This is a great meme to use when you find yourself in sticky situations you’d rather not be in.
- This Is Fine shows a cartoon dog enjoying a drink at a table, except the room is on fire. The dog has a speech bubble saying, “this is fine”. This meme is usually used when everything is falling apart, but you’re pretending it’s not.
More meme ideas and inspiration this way.
Make your own meme and share them with the world.
Useful things to know.
What was the first internet meme?
The first internet meme is thought to be "baby cha-cha.” It’s a 3D rendered animation of a dancing baby which went viral in 1996. You can still find baby cha-cha online today.
Why is it called a meme?
The term meme comes from the Greek word mimema, meaning “imitated”. While some might think it’s pronounced me-me, it is actually pronounced meem.
What is a gif vs. meme?
Gifs and memes are very similar. The only difference is that gifs are animated and move, while memes are usually static. Recently though, videos, gifs and images have all been used to make memes.