Memes Are Memetic

Recently, I gave a lecture at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) National Congress in Toronto, where thousands of nonprofit executives and fundraisers gather every year to get professional development and inspiration.

As the topic of my lecture was “Memes and Marketing Causes,” I feared that the attendance would be slim at best. After all, memes are still a rather obscure subject.

As we approached starting time however, the room filled to capacity, which made me think perhaps a number of these people had gone to the wrong lecture by mistake.

My gracious host got up to the podium, and to my dismay, started by saying, “Well everyone, you’re in for a treat this afternoon….” No pressure or anything. After her intro, I stood up at the mic and asked the audience, “how many of you have heard of ‘memes’?” Everyone in the room raised their hand. Quite a pleasant surprise.

I then asked, “can you tell me what a meme is?” A number of hands went up, and one fellow answered, “a self-repeating idea, like a trend or something that goes viral.” Not a bad answer at all.

What then occurred to me, is that the very concept of memes – had gone memetic. In other words, like any idea that is naturally and irresistibly repeatable, the notion of memes had become “catchy” and spread through smaller social groups and actually a large part of the populace.

What ensued was a very interactive discussion, where the audience asked questions that were essentially about how to create a memetic cycle of ideas for their own causes and organizations. In the confines of a blog post I can’t explain all of the detail, but suffice it to say, a sense of possibility emerged, a hope that indeed, we can all find something memetic and catchy that will spread our cause or idea to a larger audience.

As a friend of mine once put it, “we can all live our meme.”