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Original posted June 4th, 2010.
If you’re in PR, marketing, social marketing or just leveraging social media tools to promote your pet project, most likely you’ve heard and used the word “meme”. In an industry where the word viral elicits giggles from agents entrusted with the task of creating that elusive viral video for their clients, meme acts as a secret code.
It stands out, foreign and original amid the abbreviations dominating normal social media chatter: CRM, ERP, SEO, SMO, IMC, B2B. I can’t deny when feeling “left out” as a business major, I too drop ROI. Meme seems to unite marketers, PR pros and social media gurus in its slightly technical definition and ambiguous origins.
Which is somewhat how Dr. Richard Dawkins intended it to be when he created the word in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. He originated the word from the French “meme”, meaning “the same” and having a connection to memory. The word is pronounced, as Dawkins intended it, to rhyme with “gene”. In this he captured how an idea can procreate itself through a population, even mutating with each new copy.
Given this definition, anything can be a meme. The Bronze Age was a meme explosion as axmen, jewelers and hunters discovered how to work with this material and passed the knowledge on. Clothing trends, such as the invaritable Sperries donned by all but four members of my roommates frat, are memes. The spoof Twitter account, @BPGlobalPR, is considered a meme. Oil spill in itself was a meme, a wide spread idea.
It is easy to understand then why marketers and PR folks have latched onto the word and the idea. The power of a meme is one agents are eager to yield for their own campaigns and clients’. That power reaches far beyond funny videos and Mommy bloggers. In truth, everything is capable of becoming a meme, from the Green movement to Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign.
We are very much capable of permanently changing the world with a single idea. Richard Dawkins and his meme, which became a meme, is the perfect example. I am sure he was unaware of how his word would evolve.