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How Memes Can Help Your Nonprofit Blog

Lori Halley 19 March 2009 4 comments

When the venerable Fieldstone Alliance surprised its readers this week with 25 Random Things that Make the Nonprofit Sector Great, picking up on a popular fad that’s been making the rounds of Facebook, it was a strong hint to take a closer look at that odd phenomenon of online culture, the meme.

What’s a meme?

An internet meme (pronounced meem), at its most basic, is any idea or scrap of content that spreads voluntarily from person to person across the Web.

cartoon avatarAlmost anything can be a meme — you never know what will “catch on” online. It might be a YouTube video that “goes viral,” or a catchphrase from a cult film that catches on with the general public, or a writing prompt (often in question-and-answer form) doing the rounds of the blogs, or even a visual fashion statement like the manga avatars craze that swept the Web last summer.



True, memes are usually “just for fun” — a brief diversion from the more serious business of our daily lives. And there’s no question that personal blogs and social-networking sites are the natural home of the meme. We simply don’t tend to think of memes in connection with the blog of a “serious” nonprofit organization or business, do we?

In fact, however, the occasional well-chosen meme might play a useful role in your nonprofit’s online communication. After all, some fairly significant online movements  — like Blog Action Day, as I’ve noted — are essentially just organized memes that took off.

Consider the benefits:

Memes can help to put a personal face on your organization.

When the Wild Apricot blog was still very new, for example, Soha El-Borno (aka "Creative Apricot") was invited by Michele Martin of The Bamboo Project Blog to take part in the 8 Random Facts About Me meme. Soha’s response had little to do with nonprofit technology, but the post did work. It helped to give a sense of the writer behind the blog — and a level of personal connection is key to establishing a relationship with your readers and potential supporters.

(Just a word of caution here, however:  Memes are like candy. The occasional meme in a personal tone may be a treat for your readers, but too much of a good thing will turn them off. Keep your mission in mind. Consider what each blog post says about your organization to someone who might see only that one page.)

Memes can be a tool for crowdsourcing or brainstorming.

Jeremiah Owyang’s Media Snacker meme and the Tips for Nonprofits meme from Able Reach are two fine examples of idea-based memes, designed to collect ideas and provoke conversation. Yes, these bloggers could have simply written a blog post to pose a question, and asked for responses in the form of comments — but see  how effective it can be to “tag” a few other bloggers to respond on their own blogs, to expand the reach of the original question?  Beth Kanter did just that with Four Lessons Learned: Social Media and Nonprofits Meme, then rounded up the stand-out responses for her NPTech Tag Summary at NetSquared.

Memes can bring attention and visitors to your blog.

When a meme calls for “tagging” other bloggers to participate — as many of the “writing prompt” style of memes tend to do — each post becomes part of a web of links connecting a great many posts around a single topic. Links between the participating blogs encourage the readers to explore a wider variety of meme responses and, not coincidentally, to discover new blogs in the process!

Memes can help you to find writing ideas for your blog.

No matter how passionate you are about your organization’s mission, and using your blog to connect people with its message, there are times when every blogger will experience an “idea drought” —- a day when you simply can’t think what to write. A meme may be all you need to get past the occasional writer’s block. Keep an eye out for interesting memes as you visit other blogs, or check sites like The Daily Meme for memes that might act as a writing prompt.

It may not even be necessary to participate “officially” in a meme to benefit from the spark to imagination. All sorts of article-starter ideas can come from simply checking out what people are talking about online — take a look at Google Trends and Tweetmeme to find out what topics are trending right now.

Memes can help your supporters to promote your nonprofit and cause.

I’m sure that you've got many other examples of cause-related memes (and I hope you’ll share them in the comments, below) but here are a few that come quickly to my mind:  

  • Connie Reece created the Frozen Pea Fund from the modest beginnings of an internet meme, inspired by Connie's friend Susan Reynolds who used a bag of frozen peas as a makeshift ice-pack after cancer surgery: “I tucked it in my bra, took a picture, and was ready to tell the story later that night,” Susan explained on her blog. “That bag of peas added a touch of lightness to what could have been a sad and serious tale.” Before long, pea-themed photographs began to pop up on Twitter and a meme was born
  • Last month, an Internet Blackout protest was launched against New Zealand's controversial Section 92A copyright legislation, with black banners appearing on blogs and blacked-out avatars on social-networking sites.
  • And just last week, a host of bright clown noses turned up across across Twitter, Bebo, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, as well as hundreds of blogs and websites, in support of Red Nose Day, a major fundraising event for the UK charity Comic Relief.

What about your own organization?  If you’ve taken part in a meme of any kind, what made you decide that this was right for your blog? What worked for you — and what might you do differently, next time?

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 19 March 2009 at 4:17 PM


  • mweintraub said:

    Monday, 23 March 2009 at 7:16 AM

    Rebecca, thanks for the great post about how we can use memes to build awareness and build community. then, of course, there's the "meme of the meme"! http://pandemiclabs.com/pandemicblog/2009/03/fleeting-fad-or-here-to-stay-the-meme-of-the-meme/

  • Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Friday, 08 January 2010 at 6:27 PM

    Many women (and, apparently, some men) flooded Facebook with unusual status updates over the past two

  • Rachel Inbar said:

    Sunday, 14 March 2010 at 10:54 PM

    We've developed a new tool that allows bloggers to sign up for a subscription to have memes emailed to them daily or weekly. Each email includes a few memes that might be of interest - and, indeed, as you've written, memes are helpful in terms of keeping blog content fresh and interesting.

  • Rachel Inbar said:

    Sunday, 14 March 2010 at 10:55 PM

    The name's in the link, but not in the comment :-)

    It's http://www.sleeQo.com.

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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