Three Social Media Principles at Play For Hitting the Meme Jackpot

6 Comments 19 October 2012

As most people know by now, the Binders Full of Women meme took off during Tuesday’s presidential debate after candidate Romney famously stated “Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified? I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.” He was referring to his track record finding women for cabinet-level positions while Governor of Massachusetts. I have to admit, this sounded more to me like an inelegantly worded statement to support his point than anything else. Then something happened: my Facebook feed blazed up with the phrase “Binders Full of Women.” During the debate, a woman named Veronica created the Tumblr site Binders Full of Women, and someone created a Facebook Page of the same name, and it took off like crazy.

The number of “Binders” supporters and fans grew by the minute, and by the end of the debate, the Tumblr blog had 800+ images, the Facebook Page over 100,000 fans, and search traffic for “Binders full of women” had skyrocketed 425%. Wow. Really BIG wow. I mean, every organization I work with wants their idea to go viral.

Can organizations prepare to launch an internet meme? The answer is YES. There are three social media principles integral to hitting the “viral meme jackpot.”

1. Active listening to your target audience – as a regular practice. A big principle at play behind the growth of Binders Full of Women is that the ideal fan is already talking about this issue and ready to be activated. In this case, Obama supporters, likely majority female, have been grumbling and complaining about Romney’s stance towards women this entire election season. Obama has led amongst women voters until recently, according to Gallup polls. Obama supporters were ready to jump on perceived anti-women remarks, and the pump was primed by long-felt sentiment.

So…be in the conversations about the issues you are working on ahead of time. Begin listening now to what your target audience is saying online; not just about you, but about the entire issue. Know what types of events will incite and energize fans, and actively listen for opportunities to jump at those openings.

2. Knowing where your audience loves to play online. Binders full of women? Perfect for image-rich channels like Tumblr and Pinterest. Perfect for product review sites, too! If you know where they love to spend time online, then you can prepare ahead of time in two ways: by creating your own vibrant social media spaces there, and by actively engaging on those social media channels in other groups, boards, etc.

3. Having a potential plan ready. My colleague Amy Sample Ward wrote a wonderful article, “You Can Has Memesez,” with solid pointers for nonprofits considering using a meme. One of her points is to plan for it to spread. What do you want fans and people who grab onto the meme to do? What kinds of actions make sense? Think about what resources are in place (are you video-savvy? Have an amazing graphic designer on board?) and using them to what end. Just as behind every Facebook Page, every awesome YouTube channel and every rocking Pinterest board there is a considered strategy, behind every potential viral meme, someone has planned for its possibility.

Some nonprofits are already testing internet memes, primarily riffing off of current memes. Last year, Mashable published a post featuring five nonprofit organizations that launched their own iteration of a popular meme. Catholic Charities of Fort Worth (CCFW) leveraged the “Hey Girl” meme by using photos of the men of (CCFW) in place of Ryan Gosling for Facebook ads. And of course, if you haven’t seen Sesame Street’s Share It Maybe take-off on Carly Rae Jepson’s Share It Maybe video, I’ve included it below for your viewing pleasure 🙂


Additional resource: How to Create An Awesome Meme, by Amy Sample Ward and Allyson Kapin



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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