How to Make Memes (& Why People Love Them)


The right photo + the right words = viral appeal, copycats and more.

By Meaghan Flanigan

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you see a meme?

Hilarious? Insightful? Rude? Accurate? Dumb?

They’re all that – and they’re everywhere, from Twitter and Instagram to Facebook and Pinterest. How did a thing as simple as a photo and caption that makes a joke or offers an insight become some popular?

Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, first coined the word meme. It described how ideas spread through culture. It once took days, weeks, or years for ideas to disseminate; now they hit the Internet, and spread like wildfire.

I first noticed memes as a college freshman in 2012. They’ve since become an ingrained element of our cultural conversation.

To start this NFL season, friends and I gathered to watch the Carolina Panthers play their first regular-season game, going up against the Denver Broncos, the team they lost to in last year’s Super Bowl.

It takes no time at all to go viral

At one point, a camera zoomed in on quarterback Cam Newton as he casually flossed his teeth while sitting on the sidelines of this important game. We all started laughing out of confusion, and the image provoked a friend to say, “That’s definitely going to be a meme tomorrow, you guys just wait.”

Not even 24 hours later, here’s the first meme (out of hundreds) you’d find searching Cam Newton flossing on Google:


Creating a meme isn’t difficult, either, which is why they proliferate so quickly. By visiting a site such as, you can customize words placed on any picture it has on the site.

Most are based on current media trends, especially celebrities, athletes, and presidential candidates, as well as animals and children.

The site allows you to upload and personalize your pictures with your words and privacy controls, in case you want to share the meme only with friends, and not the entire world.

The Internet has made everybody a potential comedian or spreader of ideas, and memes are an easy tool to deliver that joke or thought. So, now that you know, how to make a meme, what shall yours be: Hilarious? Insightful? Rude? Accurate? Dumb?

Must-Have Meme Ingredients

HUMOR | Even if your aim is stinging political punch-landing, without humor, a meme is just a gripe attached to a photo.

LARCENY | Maybe that’s too strong a word. A meme maker must be unafraid to hop on the back of a trend and milk it for all it’s worth.

AFTER-PARTY | Once you’ve hit Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr with your creation, bask in the beauty of instant fame.

meaghan-iconMeaghan Flanigan recently graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mass Media Communications and a minor in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in May 2016. She began working in inside sales in July. She loves to write, run, drink lots of coffee, and is forever planning her next adventure!



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