Twitter’s Popularity: Reverse Engineering Memes

Twitter popularity meme

Memes are cultural units, such as ideas, values or patterns of behavior that are passed from one person to another. While the majority of memes are short-lived (examples include fads, viral videos, or even most news stories), other memes manage to snowball, living on indefinitely and frequently acting as precursors to cultural shifts or new trends. A couple recent examples of memes are rick rolling, Obama’s Hope Campaign and the puppy cam.

Product marketers can learn a lot about how messaging spreads simply by reverse engineering popular memes.

As a marketer, it’s rare to come across the opportunity to work on a project or campaign where the underlying memes are powerful enough to result in a cultural shift. However, startup marketers are in a unique position. Because we aim to solve specific pain points, our memes tend to elicit excitement in a way that the latest deodorant, for instance, does not. So how can we use this technique of reverse engineering to advance our own products and messaging?

Let’s take a look at the rise of Twitter, a fascinating phenomenon that has gone from an obscure side project to being the featured technology in the latest Presidential race and helped change the face of modern news.

The idea of limiting messages to 140 characters and then publishing publicly is a total departure from conventional communications. Nevertheless, Twitter’s penetration into our daily lives is truly extraordinary. How did this happen? How did such a strange startup with a funny name become a challenger to the New York Times?

It all starts with building traction. Successful memes are able to build a foundation for buzz, create a snowball effect and spread virally across connected networks.

The following attributes are those I believe central to Twitter’s success as a meme:

Real-Time. Twitter is a phenomenon occurring right now, not something theoretical or off in the future and focuses on real-time communications.
Tangibility. Anyone can use Twitter; it is a tangible product available to any person with web access
Accessibility. Twitter is free and simple to use.
Uniqueness. Twitter is just different. This uniqueness helps promote people’s talking about it
Hierarchy of Need. For many people Twitter is a tool that appeals to the highest of the Maslow’s hierarchy: Self-Actualization
Enablement. Twitter is a platform that enables other things; it is not simply an end solution – via Twitter’s API it is a platform on which other services and products can be built.


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