The Harlem Shake - when not to leap on board an internet meme
Viral video trends often follow a similar lifespan to 1840s folk rhyme Solomon Grundy: Born on a Monday, trending by Tuesday, global by Wednesday, overexposed by Thursday, imitated to death by Friday and dead and buried by the weekend.
The Harlem Shake certainly hasn’t breathed its last, although it is by now vastly overexposed and towards the end of last week (and even into the start of this week), the number of new Harlem Shake versions keeps rising. As RF’s Gabriele Genola noted on Monday, 40,000 people a day are doing the Harlem Shake. That’s a lot of shaking.
As with any popular meme, it’s no surprise to see other brands and organisations leaping on the bandwagon and producing their own Harlem Shake, but it’s here that brands need to be careful when attempting to crash a popular trend. Unless you get in early enough or are adding something a little different, your version has a hell of a job to do to cut through the general noise.
For example, at the time of writing, there are currently 79,913 results for Harlem Shake on YouTube, and growing. Over the ten days between February 14 through to February 24, a quick analysis of the conversation using social media monitoring tool Sysomos showed 203,934 mentions of Harlem Shake, of which 201,910 were on Twitter. That’s a lot of conversation.
For a brand or agency it’s quite easy to be sucked into a seemingly quick win to produce your own version, but the longer a meme goes on, you’re faced with a rule of diminishing returns. Yes, it might be fun, but is the cost and time taking worth the effort and investment in not just producing the video but also promoting it in social channels so it stands out from the noise.
While versions of popular virals need to be produced reasonably quickly, it’s worth asking a few questions. What’s the aim for your brand? Are you looking to raise awareness, gain new followers, give something back to the community or make an impact in other ways? Are you just producing this video for the sake of it? A badly made version or one that attracts a low level of views can be pounced on as evidence of a brand fail.
One brand who got it right, both in terms of timing and audience, was Manchester City Football Club. Their version of the Shake has attracted over three and a half million YouTube views, while their initial Tweet about the video has 3,713 retweets and a reach of 3.6m.
The video was posted on Wednesday, meaning it had a head start on many subsequent UK versions, while the club understood the appeal of the meme to their existing community, who were likely to spread the word, while they then followed it up with subsequent content around the making of.
This was a well-planned idea that the club had the resources to turn around quickly. Not every brand has the resources of the audience to achieve the same level of cohesion as Manchester City.
A Harlem Shake or parody of other popular memes may seem like a quick win for a brand but unless you’ve put in some forward planning and, most importantly, know what, why and how you’re trying to capitalise on it, your booty shaking could get lost in the general noise and lowered into the social media coffin quicker than Mr Grundy.