When you’re building and growing a community, two of the biggest challenges are attracting members and building continuous engagement.

When I first launched CS in Focus, Canada’s largest Customer Success community, I didn’t have a community manager. Our public Slack team had relatively low engagement despite the high number of members. One of the key lessons I learned from this was not to launch an open forum until all the pieces are in place to make sure it thrives from day one.

For that reason, when I began building the Catalyst community, I didn’t start right away with a community forum. I started with memes.

So far, this strategy has yielded impressive results. Since September 2020 alone, monthly LinkedIn impressions have increased nearly 2000%, monthly reactions have increased by over 563%, and our total follower number has increased by over 200%. And while it’s difficult to put an exact number on it, a number of prospects have brought up our memes on demo calls as something they love about our brand.

As I’ll explain in this article, memes are a quick, easy, and highly effective way to build a sense of community and stand out from the crowd. Of course, memes are not for every company and brand. But if you can pull them off, they’re an incredible way to nurture a true sense of community among your audience.

The Evolution of Memes

Richard Dawkins first coined the word “meme” in his 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene to describe a behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. In a 2018 talk, Dawkins explained, “Memes can be good ideas, good tunes, good poems… anything that spreads by imitation. Memes are particularly good at getting themselves copied from brain to brain or blog to blog.”

Dawkins’ original definition of “meme” still applies. Internet memes are so good at spreading because they’re designed by humans to highlight shared experiences. For example, here are three recent memes from Reddit’s r/Memes:

memes community strategy
Shared experience: Watching Ninja Turtles
memes for community strategy
Shared experience: Reading (and being appalled by) anonymous comment sections
memes community strategy
Shared experience: Being a member of r/Memes and returning to Reddit to even though the jokes are so often the same

Why Is Shared Experience So Important?

Shared experience highlights how similar we are. There is a significant amount of evidence that shows we like people that we feel similar to. In fact, evidence shows that the less information we have about someone, the stronger the chance that any similarities will make us like them.

It’s important to remember that “similar” can include many different things. Similarities that bond people may include:

    • Location
    • Industry
    • Hobbies
    • Job title
    • Work or personal challenges
    • Pop culture preferences

And so much more! For example, you presumably know your colleagues at work, and you most likely have a fair bit in common with many of them. You work at the same company, you work in the same industry, you might live in the same city or share some interests outside of work.

Now, consider someone you don’t know as well — like a member of the CMX Community. All you know about them is that they are a community builder. But that shared experience could be enough to form an initial bond and make you like them.

A meme from the CMX Community. (Thanks, Blake!)

Why Do Community Members Need To Like Each Other?

You can bring people together, but you can’t expect them to just start building relationships and growing the community. They also need to like each other.

Communities are predicated on people bonding over shared experiences. This builds relationships that are mutually beneficial and leads to the growth and success of the community as a whole.

There are plenty of ways to get community members to identify these shared experiences. Creating opportunities to identify similarities should be core to your engagement strategy. You can accomplish this in a variety of ways:

    • Hosting office hours or virtual hangouts on certain topics
    • Getting members to introduce themselves in a channel and share something unique or personal
    • Introducing people 1:1 whom you know have a lot in common.

Whether you’re debating which pizza place in NYC is the best or discussing the challenges of parenting during COVID-19, the end result is the same. More bonding leads to stronger relationships, which leads to the growth and success of the community.

How To Use Memes To Build Your Community

By easily highlighting similarities and shared experiences, you can use memes in a variety of ways to benefit your community.

Attract Members

Memes quickly communicate shared experiences, so sharing memes publicly is a very quick way to attract new members. Here are some examples of memes CMX could use to attract community managers:

memes community strategy
Shared experience: Leadership expecting community building to immediate create significant revenue.
Why Memes Should Be Part of Your Community Strategy by CMX
Shared experience: Describing your role to people who don’t know about professional community building

Engage Members

Memes can be a great conversation starter that identifies a shared experience. For example, a common challenge at tech startups is shipping features before they’re ready, which causes problems for customer-facing teams. A user recently posted this meme in a startup community to start a conversation about effective ways to launch new features:

memes community strategy
Shared experience: Dealing with the backlash of prematurely releasing a feature

The Most Compelling Aspect of Memes

The final point I want to make is simple, but critical:

Memes are effective because they’re funny.

Yes, you could post about a shared experience. For example, I could post something like: “We all know that features get pushed out before they’re ready, causing problems for customer-facing teams. How do you tackle that at your company?” That might get some engagement. But compared to the meme above, which do you think will perform better?

People like things that make them laugh (shocking, I know). If you can leverage the power of shared experiences and joy through creating memes that attract or engage your community members, you will see positive results.

Want to get started creating your own memes? I use Imgflip to create memes and Kapwing for GIFs.

Ben Winn

Ben Winn is an award-winning customer success and community thought leader, speaker, and writer. He currently manages community and events at Catalyst Software, hosts the NPS I Love You podcast, and i...

See Author Posts