All Hail the Meme, The New King of Political Communication

During this year’s US election, what is the most common form of political communication?

Is TV, print, or online advertisements? No.

Is TV, print, or online journalism? No.

The most common form of political messaging is found on social networking. It’s called a meme.

A meme is an image and with a bit of text that conveys a very precise emotion or idea (aka a meme). Up until this election, they usually looked like this:

Since then, memes have become aggressive products of political communication like this (notice the use of visual language and text to produce a precise emotion):

Millions of memes have been made. Thousands more are being made every day.

Once made, they undergo a brutal process of natural selection with the best ending up on sites like Reddit (like the subreddit, The_Donald), where subreddit members critique and vote up the best of them.

Successful memes abound on social networks, often going viral to reach tens of millions of viewers in days as they are rapidly shared with an ever expanding network of friends.

Collectively, memes generate tens of millions of impressions an hour. Several orders of magnitude (100x) more than any other form of political communication.

Unlike TV, Print, and most forms of online communication, memes are built for consumption on smartphones and visual modes of social networking. They are also built for speedy consumption, providing a quick emotional hit in comparison to a long winded article with an uncertain payoff.

Nothing other form of political communications compare.

Memes are one of ways online conflict, in this case political conflict, is being fought. These online wars are occurring everywhere, all the time, at every level. They are deciding the future.

That’s why I’m writing a new book called as a natural follow on to my previous book: Brave New War.

The War Online

How Conflicts are Fought and Won on Social Networks

I haven’t decided on a publisher or an agent for it yet. So, if you are interested in publishing it, ping me at Needless to say, I have so many amazingly cool ideas to share and it is becoming so central to our future, I have little doubt it’s going to be a hit.

More soon.

John Robb

PS: This is an example of what Neal Stephenson called a mediaglyph — an icon used for communicating complex ideas with people who never learned how to read. That future didn’t happen. Reading is common, but having time to read isn’t. Memes emerged as a way to communicate a complex emotion or idea to people who a) in a tight format (a smart phone), b) who don’t have time to read something longer, and c) crave an emotional hit of humor, anger, etc.

PPS: According to the SEC, Gary Johnson spent $30,000 on meme development. It’s smart to try this out.