Dominic Basulto has an interesting piece in The Washington Post arguing that for politicians in the internet era, a viral meme is the new soundbite. He points to Friday's breakout hit, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who's getting favorable internet treatment with "Cory Booker Stories" memes that present him accomplishing impossible deeds, this after Booker actually saved his neighbor from a fire Thursday night. Basulto writes:
As the recent breakout success of the “Texts From Hillary” Tumblr — complete with Hillary's hilarious wink-wink, knowing response — highlighted to the Washington elite this week, the meme is the new currency of choice on the Web, the easiest and cheapest way to break through the clutter that litters the path to achieving Internet superstardom. The Hillary meme generated over 83,000 Facebook shares and 45,000 Tumblr followers , according to “Texts From Hillary” Tumblr creators Adam Smith and Stacy Lambe. Oh, and don’t forget the torrent of media attention.
We think Basulto's most important lesson for politicians in search of a Soundbite 2.0, though, is this: "You don’t create the zeitgeist, the zeitgeist creates you. If you’re a politician, this means you can’t create a viral meme..."
We can imagine the desperately painful world in which meme-hunting politicians start peppering their language with "ROFLs" and "LOLs" hoping the internet-at-large will take their bait. Even President Obama, whose staff often tries to promote viral hashtags to get folks advocating his policies, tends to lose control, as political opponents re-appropriate them to make snide jokes. As our personal favorite recent trendlet, Ridiculously Photogenic Running Guy, proves, the best memes are serendipitous, and totally, utterly unplanned.