Social media companies can, of course, utilize memes as a way of promoting their client brands. But did you realize that memes can also convey instructions about how social media companies should approach their everyday work? And would you have guessed that 74-year-old country music superstar Dolly Parton would be the originator of one such meme?
On Friday, the singer inspired a new social media phenomenon that came to be known as the #dollypartonchallenge. It involves users posting four different images of themselves, each labeled with a corresponding social media platform. Ms. Parton started the trend by showing herself looking smartly dressed for LinkedIn, casually approachable for Facebook, artsy for Instagram, and sexy for Tinder.
With more than 100,000 people using the hashtag on Twitter alone, the meme soon took on a life of its own. That’s what memes do, after all. They also tend to attract commercial interest, so it wasn’t long before social media companies were adopting the meme to show a series of variations on their clients’ brand identity.
Sharing in the spread of a meme can be a pretty easy way for an online business to get new shares from their existing followers. But on a closer look, this particular meme might seem like a strange one to adopt for marketing purposes. That is to say, the idea behind the challenge is to expose the illusion behind your online presence. If you had to put the entire thing into words, you might say, “This is how I’m lying to you on each of my social platforms.”
But there’s an even deeper truth behind it, and this is where the lesson lies for social media companies. In making the challenge go viral, the denizens of each social media site are essentially admitting that everybody participates in this mutual deception. Certain amounts of filtering and puffery are not only accepted but expected. And the challenge for social media companies is tell a good story that fits the platform, not to convince people that that story is 100 percent true.
As Emma Grey Ellis wrote in a Wired article examining the very same meme, “Social media platforms have developed their own visual styles that are so distinct and familiar users are now completely fluent in them.”
If you social media companies want to effectively promote their clients on each distinct platform, they need to first be able to communicate in precisely the language that users will understand.