They are now a staple of facebook and other sites: The meme. It's a visual shorthand to communicate with Americans who lack either the time or the attention span to read anything of any substance. We tried a few at the truth-2-Power facebook page, and the results were a bit shocking.
A meme is 300% more likely to attract reads, shares, and likes than a news or op-ed article. Six times more likely to go viral. We tossed out this handful:
Within minutes we had dozens of shares, and good viral numbers. Traffic for the facebook page ticked up another 10% to nearly five times where it had been before our meme campaign.
This one drew in not only fans, but a huge response of "trolls," far Right people who patrol the progressive Internet and drop often poorly spelled slams of the content.
If we had posted that news article where we extracted the quote alone, it might have had a few hundred reads, and nearly no shares. It will land a few thousand, with 23% of them from "viral" sharing of the meme. It has also driven up "likes" of our facebook page another 8-9% in the last day.
The combination of a salient quote and the image are something to which decades of advertising has conditioned us.
You might not think that a guru of the second century had much to say that was politically relevant to today, but put Wimpy Willard next to it and the brain does the rest.
We have had some fun with the meme, but they tend not to have the kind of lift that the more quote driven do. This one, of Arizona's Jan Brewer, did okay with people who already like what we have to say, but didn't score well virally:
Earlier in the year, we tried our hand at it during the primaries, but the other thing that we've discovered is that memes are to today's audience what op-ed pieces by the handful of newspapers used to put out at opinion pages. You have to have a steady stream of them to gain traction and momentum. People thought that this was funny, but it never did much to tell people that we offered more insight to progressive politics:
This piece, timed into the Paul Ryan announcement, shares a quote that we found Mitt Romney had made back in 2008 about President Obama. The dig certainly fits Paul Ryan to a T, begging the question which we ask:
That one is being seen by thousands of people daily, with 66% of the chatter about it being viral sharing.
Readership of our political blog also jumped another 7%, up nearly 20% from the start of the meme campaign. Why? Fewer people read the articles at length. That's not to say that we have not had spikes. The Ryan meme above sent readership soaring on the day it was released, because the viral love spread into the articles near the meme on that day.
Our sound-bite culture is now going into the visual-bite as well. What really bites, though, is that more and more Americans using the web are really only becoming superficially aware of what goes on around them.
We posted a few memes with links back to the stories where the quote came from. The link traffic to the full article is very low.
Our experiments are anecdotal at best, but if what we see holds true for someone with the time to research, what it says is that our article about why negative political ads work is fundamentally true. The attacks on education, and the dumbing down of mass media are having a marked effect on America in a broad way that is also dragging down the political freedoms that we enjoy in an informed Democracy.
Memes are visual junk food. They are high gloss, empty intellectual-calorie sweets, info-gorging by a public that becomes mentally obese and obtuse as they skim along the surface of so much information on the saturated Internet.
Like everything else, we roll with what works. We would rather have 55,000 eyeballs with the hopes of getting 1000 more to read in-depth than 1,500 eyeballs and 500 loyal readers.
Still, democracy thrives with an informed electorate. Is this really informing anyone, or are we just tossing cupcakes into the crowd of fans?
My shiny two.