It might be a surprise to some that three of Vox Media’s entities make money. It has invested oodles of cash on things like beautiful design experiences, video studios, and the best reporters it can find. But to Bankoff, that’s all part of the monetization strategy. “The whole Internet content industry and the whole Internet advertising industry has been racing to the bottom,” Bankoff says. “At Vox Media we want to race to the top.”
So why did we call the Detroit Lions “scumbags” in this above photo from Thanksgiving 2013?
Earlier in the week, a Green Bay Packers offensive lineman called the Lions out on a radio show, saying the entire defensive line was “a bunch of scumbags” and so was the coaching staff. This prompted some rage among Lions fans and even some players, who admitted it motivated them for this holiday game (a 40-10 Lions win).
So I decided to have a little fun afterward. Hence, the photo above, which generated 508 shares and more than 24,000 views on a Facebook page — Freep Sports — with just more than 2,500 ‘likes.’
So why was it successful? A number of factors, starting with the timing — right after the game, when people were getting on their computers and phones to celebrate with other fans. Also, the type of media — photos draw more eyeballs and, therefore, more shares on Facebook than boring links. The last big factor was the humor — “Scumbags 40, Packers 10” has that “drop-the-mic” feel to it and, if there’s one thing sports fans love to do, it’s brag about their team, especially at the expense of another.
Internet memes — the “inside jokes of the web” — aren’t a new concept; they’ve been around for years among close Internet circles and, only recently, have picked up steam on social in the form of “lolcats” and double rainbows and dancing babies and, one of my personal favorites for obvious reasons, Bad Luck Brian. Your Facebook and Twitter timelines are now flooded with funny pictures and videos your friends share. You now see dozens of Facebook pages and hundreds, if not thousands, of websites dedicated to them. They may not provide much individual value, but memes are the quickest form of amusement in a fast-paced information age. And they aren’t going away anytime soon.
Which leads me to the main point of writing this post: Newspapers need to step up their social game. And memes are a great way to do it.
How newspapers can use memes
The meme above is of Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander after beating the Oakland Athletics in the American League Division Series. It was the second consecutive year in which he shut down the A’s in the deciding game, prompting a play on words from the famous “Most Interesting Man in the World” Dos Equis commercials.
It really doesn’t take much to generate a meme you can use on your Facebook page. A good eye for photography, maybe some basic Photoshop and a sense of humor and/or imagination is all you need.
In sports, this can be incredibly easy to do. The subject matter is usually nowhere near as sensitive as it is in politics or investigative news. There are plenty of inside jokes and funny moments in the sports world; USA Today has a website virtually dedicated to it. There are Facebook pages such as NFL Memes which thrive on them (one frequent target is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo). One of ESPN’s most popular segments is the weekly “Not Top 10” it airs every Friday on SportsCenter, which is always a hodgepodge of bad plays and humorous moments in games.
The biggest hurdle for those of us who work in newspapers, however, is how to effectively apply the “meme” concept with our respective audiences. For example, the web audience for Detroit Free Press sports is different than that of, say, ESPN or the NFL Memes page. It may not be as tech-savvy, or as tuned in to what memes are. An inside joke isn’t funny if you don’t “get it.” Furthermore, our readers tend to look to newspapers for information more than entertainment. So we have to keep it as simple and as harmless as possible, while also keeping it amusing and possibly even informative. Here’s a good example:
This is a teaser photo I put together last December for the Freep Sports Facebook page, which looked ahead to the bowl games for our two major Michigan college football teams. Is it laugh-out-loud funny? No. But it does its job by teasing the teams’ games, complete with matchups, game times, dates and locations. This photo, which took maybe 10 minutes to put together in Photoshop, generated 267 shares. We also do this for all Detroit sports postseason games.
And, of course, there’s also the celebratory photo you can share immediately after a big win, like this one after Michigan State won the Rose Bowl. Again, timing’s everything:
Other ideas for using memes
I’m a sports web editor, so all my examples are sports-centric. So how can you apply this on the news side?
Again, the idea is to keep memes light-hearted, which can be tricky to do with more serious news stories. So why not relate to people during their everyday lives rather than focus on the location they live in? Here’s an example, from the CityRail Memes Facebook page, a concept that could apply to your locality if there’s a major road under construction:
And another example, courtesy of the “Success Kid” meme:
Chances are, you can relate to both memes in some way, no matter where you live. Hence, the humor! These would be great to mix in with the normal workflow of stories, photos and videos you would normally post from staff-generated content.
To create your own memes such as the one above, Meme Generator is a great option.
And that about covers it. Feel free to share some of your ideas, tips and experiences with memes on social media!
For more meme inspiration:
The most successful “hyper-local” efforts — sites like West Seattle Blog and Howard Owens’ Batavian — seem to be those that emerge organically from within the community they serve, and are driven by the passion of local residents — and in many cases those of a single individual. Virtually every project that has been constructed by a major media entity, from AOL’s Patch to the ill-fated New York Times project known as The Local, has failed miserably.
I made this argument three years ago, when Patch first began to spread. Maybe it was a valiant effort by Tim Armstrong and AOL to try and solve the hyper-local news conundrum, but you *cannot* put community news entities under one corporate umbrella. They have to reflect the communities themselves; that’s the only way you can effectively engage and build trust in your community. This is a great read from Mathew Ingram on the matter.
I can finally say “this isn’t my first rodeo.”
Last year, I attended my first Online News Association conference in San Francisco. I had been meaning to do it at least three years earlier, but always had a lame excuse for not going. You know, not enough money, taking my first job, not getting around to scheduling vacation time. But I was committed this time — and it ended up being one of my best decisions of 2012. ONA is an amazing conference. I met so many journalists, took in so much new information, collected a bunch of free stuff and even belted my ass off at a downtown karaoke bar which we saw Vince Vaughn outside of.
I decided before ONA12 even ended that I was attending ONA13. It took 13 long months, but here we are; I’m flying into Atlanta this afternoon and, this year, I’m part of the Unconference team (read here if you want to know more about it).
That brings me to the point of this post: This isn’t my first rodeo. If ONA13 is yours, then here are some tips to help you get through the jam-packed weekend of journalistic goodness:
1. Meet everybody you can.
This is not the opportunity to stay close-knit to your group, avoid conversations in hallways, stick to a strict schedule and stay quiet during general sessions. The best part about conferences is networking. Talk! Get to know fellow journalists, no matter what part of the field they work in. Open every conversation if you have to. Share beers with attendees. Collect business cards. Find your favorite panelists on Twitter and connect with them. Ask questions during sessions and workshops. If a group of friends you just made asks you to come grab food with them, just do it!
One important part of doing this, besides growing new friendships, is you’re building business connections that could come extremely handy down the road, whether it’s your next job or an opportunity to brainstorm and collaborate on an awesome project. Conversation is your friend at ONA. Use it.
2. Don’t worry about missing a session; take it in stride.
The biggest problem I came across at ONA12 is there was too much happening. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an incredible problem to have; it just meant that by choosing a particular 2:30 p.m. session, I was going to miss another awesome session going on that same time.
No worries. For one thing, ONA creates hashtags for every session so people can tweet during them, which means you can follow along even if you’re not there. Furthermore, video from most (if not all) sessions will be posted on the ONA website after the conference. You won’t miss a thing, even if you aren’t there.
That brings me to the second part of this point: Don’t feel pressured to stay on schedule. Yes, there’s a ton going on at all times. But if, for example, you had to choose between having a great conversation with attendees you just met and attending a session you’re marginally interested in, you know which one I would choose. Make this experience valuable to what you want out of it! Don’t always follow the herd.
3. Use social media like crazy. (And bring chargers.)
This is especially important considering we’re talking about an online journalism conference. You’re going to be on your phone a lot, whether it’s for Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook or plain-old messaging other people making plans. If you’re bringing a laptop and/or a tablet as well, plan on using that a lot, too.
Using social media to chronicle everything is basically ONA tradition. There are hashtags for all sessions so people can tweet about them. There also are Tumblr blogs, Facebook groups and Google+ circles set up for people to share ideas and collaborate. This is your chance to analyze what you learn and apply it to what you do at your profession.
So if you’re going to do all this (and you freaking better), you’re also going to want to bring your charger(s) everywhere you go. An overnight charge won’t do the trick here. From what I remember, ONA12 did a pretty good job of making sure there were charging stations, plus wall outlets in just about every conference room. Use them.
4. Be prepared. For everything.
Yes, I just said to take everything in stride and don’t worry about following a strict schedule. That’s still true. At the same time, have a plan going into the conference and some of the key sessions that pique your interest. What do you want to learn out of them? What do you want to take back with you to your day job?
Make a list of some key questions you have and, if they aren’t answered at your sessions, be the one to ask them. Stick around after sessions to introduce yourself and talk to panelists a little bit more. Keep a notepad (or a digital device) handy in case any questions, goals or ideas come up in your brain. If you’re anything like me, that will happen dozens of times.
5. HAVE FUN.
There will be networking mixers just about every night. A karaoke night Friday. A whiskey-tasting Saturday in the Midway. All kinds of impromptu events happening throughout the long weekend, many of which will involve booze.
If there’s one thing ONA does well, it’s make sure you get your money’s worth and have the best possible time you can have. Take advantage of it. Have fun! This is the best conference I’ve ever attended, and it gets better the more you take it in. Sleep’s overrated at this thing. Live it up.
And that’s all I’ve got (for now). Make sure you’re following #ONA13 on Twitter, follow our Gannett Tumblr blog from ONA13 and, if you aren’t already, follow and connect with me on Twitter! You can bet I’ll be tweeting a storm this whole week.
See you in Atlanta!