Anyone who has used the internet or owns a smartphone will have encountered a meme at some point. But why are they so popular, and how are they bringing the world together through shared jokes and commentary on daily life.

The rise and rise of the meme

Even though technology was not yet at the level it is now, memes have been making people laugh since the early days of the Internet. Even though smartphones did not exist, memes were still posted and shared through email or early discussion boards. Sharing of memes was actively encouraged between people, and it was easy to do so.

For the first time, comedy was interactive, and jokes and fun could be shared and spread widely among people. Previously most comedy would be through print, television, radio and in person, but this was different. The Internet allowed everyone to get involved.

Add to this the fast pace of  technology and the rise of social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, billions of people can now see and share the best memes of the day in seconds, and new posts can go viral in a matter of minutes.

So. Much. Content. How can we possibly keep up?

So with billions of people all posting, sharing and adapting, how on earth could anyone keep up with the latest viral meme everyone is talking about? Or you want your own meme to go viral – how does this happen?

Well the best memes are always simple, funny and usually reflective of some sort of popular culture reference. It can be related to world events, famous (and infamous) people, or perhaps a popular TV show (hands up if you have seen a Game of Thrones meme recently!). It may even be a personal scenario that is just so typical it will make other viewers feel connected to the experience and want to laugh about it with their friends. A popular format is to upload screenshots of text based conversations.

Then there are sites such as Memedroid, where you can upload memes for sharing and also see the latest viral posts, set favourites for use later when you are emphasizing a point to a friend on WhatsApp. Nobody wants to be the only one not in on the joke.

Is there science to why we respond to memes so well?

It’s no secret that memes bring people together. What is better than sharing a joke with a friend, but is there more to it? After all humans are social creatures at heart.

Academics certainly think it is worth studying. After all there could be big money for brands in it. Companies are using meme as a form of viral marketing, an inexpensive form of reaching an audience compared with more typical marketing activity.

And a brand that shares memes and show they have relevancy and an understanding of popular trends will improve their brand image immensely.

Some researchers have been modelling the growth of memes, looking at how they grow and evolve and compete for attention against the millions of pieces of other content online.  The simple fact is, people love shared experiences and they love a shared laugh. And with how simple and quick it is to share, tag, adapt and send a meme, it was perhaps inevitable that the viral phenomenon would happen.

The best memes are simple and relevant

Some memes go viral world wide in days, and then are gone. Others grow slowly, being adapted to each situation the user is reflecting – such as the distracted boyfriend meme that has been everywhere for the last year or so. Either way, keep it simple. Content has milliseconds to catch someone’s attention in the noise of daily life. And share it, upload it to meme boards, send it to friends and add links to it on social media. Most importantly keep laughing – the world can always do with more humour, whether it is satirical, nonsensical or a weird animal photo – keep the memes coming!