The Lasting Effect Of Memes & Social Media Timing

They say timing is everything.

This couldn’t be more true than when it comes to Social Media. One wrong move could spell a PR nightmare. It feels like we are walking on egg shells sometimes. Just look at what happened with poor Beyoncé. She made a fantastic performance at the Superbowl and then this:

Beyonce SEO Results Face

Why this became a meme can be chalked up to “a failure to understand how the Internet works by her PR team”.

It’s important to understand the impact that these Social Media nightmares have on reputations in the long term search results. What effect does a successful meme or social campaign actually have for a brand? Does “joining in” a meme in the right time have any real, long term lasting effect for a brand?

The Value Of A Well Timed Meme

I think a prime example we can use for this is the recent trend of “Harlem Shaking” that has been spreading around the Internet. It is pretty much over by now, perhaps thankfully before we all gave ourselves concussions.

All we can do is wait for the next big meme to bubble up. Then, jumping on board a trend like this takes quick action and precise execution.

Well, Not Really…

You pretty much just have to get it done.

And truthfully, all the value comes from that immediate moment that you take it live.

You will get:

  • People talking about your brand
  • Added affinity and a more human connection to your audience for relationship building
  • Maybe (maybe) get a link or 2 out of it.

That’s not to say that there isn’t value in being “the first” to recreate the latest trend. But I can’t comfortably attribute long term success to the participation in an online meme.

I will prove it…

Celebrity PR Nightmares

What happens when they become the center of a social media disaster, or they themselves become an Internet meme?

Let’s explore a few recent “newsworthy” stories.

Beyoncé Looking Fierce

How has the recent “Beyoncé muscle” meme affected her? With the spike in overall interest from the Superbowl, I narrowed it down to show the trend which clearly had to do with the meme.

beyonce meme trend


But when you look at the search results from today, there really has been no impact on her brand:

beyonce search results 2/26/2013

Obviously on more direct queries, these images will be front and center, but nothing really for her brand.

Manti Te’o and His Girl Troubles

Surely all the social media buzz and parodies about his “girlfriend” must have created some sort tarnish on his name queries, right?

Manti Te'o search results

One article on deadspin and one bad image about his alleged lady problems. Other than that, nothing really, and this is quite recent.


Plagued by two horrendous hashtag attempts, one being the utter failure that was #mcDstories and the other very awkward, but timely (since ‘tis the season) #shamrocking.

Have a look at how Shamrock Shakes trends consistently ever year.

shamrock shake year over year


And still, nothing affecting their results in the slightest: shamrock shake search results

So in conclusion, participate in all the memes you want, they will not help you rank long term…

False… Memes Do Help You Rank!

You might be thinking, Aaron, you just proved to me that they are useless in long term ranking. And on their own merits, this is true. In fact, it seems that these memes don’t help or hurt individuals at all for more general queries long term.

However, as a brand continuously participates in memes and other online trends, they demonstrate sides that make their audience feel a deeper connection to them. It sends the human message that “we can be fun and normal and not all business, so pay attention to us”. This is why Oreo practically won the Superbowl, despite what the scoreboard said.

People want to relate to a brand. Being top of the search engine doesn’t replace being top of mind. The Internet is a tool to drive people to your brand and memes are a creative outlet to help deepen this relationship. These quick and immediate wins are what keep your audience coming back for more.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social


About The Author: is the Director of SEO for Kahena, a Digital Marketing agency focused on sustainable SEO, vertical search optimization, and online advertising. At KDM, he leads strategy for all accounts and is experienced in SEO ranging from local, digital marketing, to national and global search marketing. Aaron also specializes in social media strategy development and its convergence with SEO, content creation, image and video optimization. Follow him on Twitter @AaronFriedman.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Chris Simmance

    You have to love a good Meme and when it goes viral (just like the Beyoncé one) it can either overshadow a message or really work for it. I personally think that even the smaller business that use social media can make good use of a viral Meme to boost awareness of their product/service. It doesn’t even have to be that relevant as long as it is tagged properly and engages the user. Just look at Innocent Drinks on FB. They don’t just post about Smoothies! They post funny images that get re-shares.

  • sultan
  • Takeshi Young

    There are lots of ways you can use memes to build links:

    Mainly, though, I would say memes are great for getting social engagement on sites like Facebook. People just love sharing and consuming memes on social sites.

  • Stuart Draper

    We used a Beyonce meme on our blog post about the new “enhanced” stuff Adwords is doing: You’re right, those memes didn’t rank on the term Beyonce, but that wasn’t the plan. They will help us rank as a part of a long term, content strategy.

  • aaronfriedman

    Stuart, I hope I didn’t give off the impression that the goal would be to rank for the term Beyonce. The example about the memes was to demonstrate how despite all the memes that are out there, her reputation on that was not tarnished at all.

    Obviously the point is long term, as I said above. The “fun” you have with memes is what will help impact your content strategy.

  • aaronfriedman

    I totally agree with you that memes are great for getting social engagement on sites.

  • aaronfriedman

    Exactly the point!

  • Ameer Aftab

    I would strongly disagree with the examples, even though I do agree with the article overall. Social Media is all about reputation & perception management, and driving sales by extension. And taking a hit like Beoynce and #McDStories will definitely impact your brand negatively in the long run.

    The search trends and PTA on their FB page might paint a pretty picture, but in reality, whenever someone sees something from McDonalds on Social, or about McDonalds in general, #McDStories fiasco would come to mind and people who followed that trend would be reminded of all the horror stories in that hashtag.

    Similarly, although Beyonce is an amazing artist and looks fantastic, that meme is now top-of-mind whenever I think of Beyonce.

    So yes, SERPs don’t tell the full story. Its the brand that will suffer, whether the numbers show it or not.

  • Hemogoblin

    Some of that is probably due to Google massaging the results. Compare a page on a ecomm site with Coleman products on it, to the actual Coleman home page. The only reason is ranked #1 instead of the camping section of is Google massaged the results. Google overrides a lot of results when it comes to major brands because those same brands pay the bills.

  • Andrew Johnson

    Thanks Aaron. I haven’t been a big fan of businesses jumping on a meme bandwagon, but I can see how a social interaction with the meme could possibly be a microconversion, and could lead to a real conversion at some point. The more I interact with a brand, even with lighthearted social posts, the more likely I am to buy from them.

  • aaronfriedman

    I agree that outside of search results there could be lasting tarnish. But the SERPS are immaculately clear of them. I guess a bigger study that could have been done was overall search shift from general terms to the more specific negative queries. If we could show an overall increase in that, then you would in fact be correct.

    Might make for another article in the long term :)

  • aaronfriedman

    EXACTLY! :)

  • aaronfriedman

    This conversation is probably a little different than what we are discussing here. You are taking this much more into a “does Google favor brands” direction. Not going to go there with this post. But thanks for reading :)

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