Adventures in meme-jacking

Updated again on April 3 with links to Karine Joly’s and Brian Fanning’s roundups, and sample comments from the university’s news site.

Updated April 2 with Storify archive of random tweets, posts, etc. in reaction to our April Fools’ Day shenanigans.

Pulling pranks on April Fools’ Day can be a risky venture for higher ed organizations. I speak from experience. A couple of years ago, we tried to be clever by turning our university homepage into a giant QR code. The joke fell flat. We were a little too clever, I guess.

But sometimes, the stars align, the Internet gods smile upon you, and your joke works. That was the case for us yesterday.

Doge_Wired

Our decision to doge-ify our website for April Fools’ Day 2014 turned out to be a winner. In my opinion, it’s also a great example of successful meme-jacking.

Meme-jacking, as this Ragan.com post defines it, is “the practice of hijacking popular memes for the benefit of marketing your brand or product.” It’s related to the idea of “newsjacking,” a concept PR authority David Meerman Scott describes in his book by that name. The idea in both cases is to position your brand to ride the wave of popularity of a news story or meme before it crests and crashes. That’s what we tried to do with the Missouri S&T website yesterday.

Doge — the Shiba Inu dog you saw all over our home page on April 1 — is a pretty popular Internet meme. But going into our 24-hour web redesign, we had concerns about whether Doge had become passe. Or, as one Twitter commentator put it, had we boarded the dead joke train?

Judging from the responses, however, Doge is still — to put it in Doge-speak — many relevant and such popular. We saw a lot of discussion of our brand and sharing of our web URL on Twitter and Facebook. We garnered some decent media coverage, too. Ashley Jost from the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune contacted me first thing Tuesday morning and wrote a nice blog post about our site. We also got mentioned on WIRED (who declared us winners of April Fools’ Day), Buzzfeed, Gawker, the Guardian, and our hometown newspaper, the Rolla Daily News. Even MuckRack journos were applauding our efforts, and higher ed bloggers Brian Fanning and Karine Joly included our site in their respective roundups.

But Twitter and Reddit were where much of the conversation was taking place. Reddit’s Dogecoin subreddit (don’t ask me to explain) was hopping with chatter. And countless thousands were talking about us on Twitter. According to SumAll, the Twitter reach for our @MissouriSandT account approached 340,000 on April 1. It’s not Lady Gaga, but it’s pretty good for us.

https://twitter.com/gr33nazn/status/450991809909366785

And my personal favorite:

(More examples to come in a this Storify we’ll be posting soon.)

What about results?

So, the obvious question is: Did it work? And the obvious follow-up: Was it worth it?

I would have to answer yes to both questions.

We also saw a nearly 16-fold increase in traffic to our website over the typical weekday traffic. (The same trend held for our prospective students’ website but I don’t know if any of those visits turned into actual applications.) Nearly one-third of those visitors were coming from social networks (Facebook, Reddit, Twiter and Tumblr were the top four, in order), and a little more than 10 percent were coming from referrals, mainly from media sites. I haven’t dug into all the data yet, but it’s clear that social media helped fuel the interest in our website.

Our moment of Internet fame also elevated our visibility slightly, if even for a moment, as a few of the comments from our news story about the joke point out.

And some of us who never even heard of MST before have now because it’s making it’s way around the Internet.

i found your site through tumblr. gods bless the interwebs. much entertain.

This is beyond awesome! I knew about your university, but now I know that you “get it”…

Proceed with caution

I won’t say that meme-jacking will always work. Like anything, it could fall flat, especially if you try to force it. In our case, we let the Internet do the heavy lifting. We just put it out there, tweeted and posted a few times, and let the Doge run free.

I also wouldn’t consider investing a lot of time and energy into jacking with every meme that comes down the pike. Consider the broader environment. April Fools’ Day lends itself to this type of tomfoolery. Not every occasion does. It also pays to be sensitive to the broader conversations occurring in social media. Today, for instance, I am writing this in the wake of a major earthquake in Chile, and other unsettling world events. There’s a time to be a prankster, and a time to keep silent. Know when to move forward and when to refrain.

But the Ragan story referenced earlier has some good guidelines on creating your own meme-jacking project. If only we’d known about these tips before April 1.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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