Optimizing Twitter Memes: 5 Success Factors

by Brian Carter January 19th, 2009 

Whats a meme? Its a viral idea. I love Daniel Dennetts characterization: A meme is an information package with attitude. Check out this visual review of internet memes.

What works in social media to spread memes? Im relatively new to viral marketing- my achievements in this area are small compared to gurus like Matthew Inman, Lyndon Antcliff and Dan Zarrella. Ive made more mistakes than anything, but Ive learned from them. You can benefit from and avoid these mistakes, discussed below.

Im reviewing three recent social media campaigns Ive been involved in spreading via Twitter, and what has and hasnt work about them. In the future Ill going to write another post about the fourth campaign, Human Rights Day.

Success Factors I See Operating:

1. Spontaneous collaborative inspiration
2. Twitter meme seeding
3. Audience resonance
4. Retweeting
5. Publicly visible metrics

    Before I get into the details, I want to say, Im not going to talk about a lot of the aspects of viral marketing that are covered better elsewhere, so please check out some of my favorite resources:

    1. Did You See What She Just Tweeted???
    New memes are created quickly on Twitter

    A discussion I started on Twitter about mom bloggers led to the creation of the acronym MILT (Mom Id Like to Tweet). A bunch of people loved the idea. Within an hour we were talking about creating MILT t-shirts and running a MILT contest (The idea was that if you were in the top 5 MILTs in voting on Dec 31st, youd win a free MILT t-shirt).

    We jumped on the Shorty Awards bandwagon to make the contest possible- it turned out that you could create your own categories, and the Shorty guys said theyd consider adding some of the user-generated categories when they review the nominations on January 1st.

    The reason this worked is that Twitter can give you a really quick indication of how well your idea resonates with how many people. Within minutes of the creation of the MILT acronym, we had numerous @replies and retweets.

    Lesson: throw your half-baked ideas onto Twitter or brainstorm them there publicly " youll get valuable contributions and feedback immediately.

    2. Hey, Listen- Were Starting This Thing
    Twitter meme seeding requires public and private recruiting

    Viral spread is momentum, and momentum cant occur until you overcome inertia. The memes virality itself turns the originator into a vector (agent of contagion) and forces them to spread it. If you have a truly viral meme, it should sustain itself. But for others to spread it, they have to hear about it first. Some amount of promotion is required to get the ball rolling. With the MILT meme, designer @CreativeWisdom and nominated some MILTs and DMd some of our influential Twitter friends about it.

    MILT meme graph

    This graph shows the initial promotion, plus sporadic reproduction since then. I wish I had a way to measure virality or figure out what the threshold is- its hard to evaluate at this point how viral MILT is, but considering it did not completely die after the first promotional efforts, it has demonstrated some virality. The Shorty Awards category has continued to fuel MILT tweeting.

    Tweetsgiving seeding was similar- I was contacted by Carrie Kerpen of www.TheKBuzz.com. She was helping Epic Change by recruiting influential twitterers- and I contacted about seven other Twinfluentials including Jessica Smith, Sarah Evans and Chris Brogan. Several people contacted Chris, and he was one of the first people to tweet about Tweetsgiving. That was a big win for the effort, since hes one of the five Twitterers with the greatest reach. Over the next 48 hours a number of other influentials became aware of the campaign and tweeted about it. More details about that campaign are below.

    Lesson: Tell your network publicly and privately about your meme. Front-load your communication efforts to jumpstart its spread. Recruit people in your network who can recruit other influentials in their networks.

    3. I Love/Hate/Dont Care About That Thing
    Audience Resonance is Critical

    After Pubcon 2008, I learned from a pink pony that the Sphinn community was tired of funny personal blog posts if they didnt include some useful tips as well. I was the unlucky one to galvanize that community sentiment.

    Tweetsgiving was very successful not just because of its timing and theming with the Thanksgiving holiday) but also because there are a lot of generous people on Twitter. The goal was to raise $10,000 in 48 hours to build a schoolhouse for children in Tanzania. They had $1500 in donations within a couple hours. In the end, they exceeded their goal by 11%.

    We cant assume this kind of generosity will continue on Twitter, because too many such efforts eventually might wear the givers out. And that means that luck, or serendipity, is definitely a factor in social media campaign success. In fact, some linkbait-producing social media programs are year-long efforts that push one linkbait post per month, planning on possibly only two or three of them getting a big response. These program designs acknowledge the unpredictability of viral efforts.

    The MILT meme did not work the way I expected:

    • Some stay at home moms, who are offended by MILF, assumed MILT was also offensive. Only a portion of SAHMs are fans of the MILT concept.
    • These moms dont want to promote each other as much as I expected. I envisioned them saying I tweet with these moms- these are moms Id like to tweet with- Ill vote for them. That has happened, but less so and from fewer moms than I expected. I was told privately that a number of mom bloggers are tired of these popularity contests. Again, what works now may not work indefinitely.
    • I was also told that guys might be more likely to nominate MILTs. Even my target vectors were questionable for this meme.

    Lessons: It pays to see what your audience responds to, but you cant bank on them responding the same way in the future. Try to predict accurately how your target vectors will respond to the meme. Panel them privately ahead of time- dont assume.

    4. Look What So and So Just Said!!!
    Retweeting is how Twitter memes spread

    Dan Zarrella just wrote a great post about retweeting based on loads of data. I wrote one not long ago about what seems to make people more likely to retweet you.

    The way it goes is:

    • Someone Tweets
    • Someone Likes That Tweet
    • They Retweet That Tweet

    The positive effects of that third step are social proof, validation, and increased authority for the original twitterer.

    Lesson: Ensure that your tweets, or the format for your meme tweets and retweets themselves contain viral properties.

    5. Wow, These Numbers Show Were Having a Real Effect Here!!!
    Visible metrics accelerate participation and meme spread

    Some factors in the MILT memes initial spread are:

    • Visible metrics of the Shorty Awards,
    • Competitive nature of contest
    • Reward of the MILT t-shirt for winners, etc.

    You could argue that a truly strong meme wouldnt need that assistance, and I might agree- but Im not going to worry about that discussion for now.

    In my 5 steps of optimization, one of the critical factors in achieving goals is being able to measure your progress with a key metric. Part of this is simply the need to quantify progress and direction so we can steer our own ships, but there is also an emotional component. We get excited when we see were reaching our goals. In the case of the MILT contest, anyone who wanted to be in the top 5 has bought in, and made winning their goal. Some want to win outright, others just want the T-shirt.

    Tweetsgiving used a donation-meter from ChipIn.com to show progress toward their goal. They did well even though the $1500 donated in the first few hours didnt show up for about an hour. The social momentum on Twitter sustained it despite the delay. Stacey Monk of Epic Change and Avi Kaplan blogged about why they thought their campaign succeed- one factor was the Top Turkey designation, which might have been ego, or might have been just knowing you were donating the maximum amount- so Tweetsgiving not only had a way for people to see overall progress, but also a way to distinguish themselves. A quick buy into visibility for a good cause.

    Lesson: Show the quantified effects of contributors efforts and they will contribute more.

    Summary

    I hate wrapping up a blog post as if some mean teacher is going to grade me down for lack of a good conclusion, but I know Ive only brought a bit of light to a complicated field. So in conclusion, I wish you Happy Holidays, a Joyous New Year, and Viral Serendipity.

    And please tweet to your friends about this blog post
    . LOL :-)

    No, seriously. Do it.

    Brian Carter

    CEO of FanReach, Brian Carter has been an Internet Marketer, speaker, and social media trainer since 1999. Brian has been quoted and profiled by Information Week, US News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur Magazine. He is the author of the book How To Get More Facebook fans. He is both an adwords consultant and a facebook consultant. Check out his his free Facebook Marketing 101 course, and the full FanReach Facebook Marketing and Advertising course.

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    11 Responses to “Optimizing Twitter Memes: 5 Success Factors”

    1. Brian,
      As usual, you show that you truly "get it".
      This is right on target. Much better than a lot of the "guides" the big ad/PR agencies are pumping out.
      Way to go!
      -Josh

    2. Utah SEO says:

      Good tips from a top 5 Twitter Grader tweeter.

    3. Evyta SEO says:

      It's right. good, I just hear about memes. Sounds I have to learn it more. Utah is right, good tips from a top 5 twitter grader tweeter

    4. Funny that MILT came off as offensive, I liked it.

    5. I hadn't even discovered Memes prior to reading this. It's really really useful, thanks. We are just going on a social media marketing campaign, so this should hopefully keep us ahead of the game!

    6. ppc leeds says:

      Great post, I am still trying to master the art of using Twitter and this was helpful.

    7. Shane says:

      Twitter is definately kicking off now.

    8. Swingers says:

      I must say this has got to be the most in depth post I've read to date on a real…specific…twitter strategy. Ironic considering the rest of the post regarding blog tip content after Pubcon. Great party at RAIN this year.

      Damn spot on post however, and if ya ask me…its one that I hope was tweeted and retweeted.

      The analytics aspect is the most important…social measurement gauges are good, necessary and our friend.

    9. Twitter has become one of WebmasterRadio.FM's biggest traffic drivers in the past two or three months. With a specific WebmasterRadio.FM twitter account and those of the show-hosts and our staff, getting a message out to thousands quickly is easy.

      The growth of the Twitter community is amazing. If you have a popular brand or business and an interesting way of expressing your ideas, getting re-tweeted is almost guaranteed.

      Come to think of it. Jeff's a popular guy and you folks have an interesting way of expressing your ideas… Think I'll tweet about this article. back in a sec…

    10. Swingers says:

      The real question is how long will this free ride last without the monetization of Twitter? Without knowing that, its kind of like get it while the gettin' is good! Guys like Webmaster Radio seem to know how to use it, but the question still stands…how long will the free ride last?

    11. Twitter is definately kicking off now.