There’s a certain frisson when a meme takes over Twitter.
If the platform, which is already changing drastically under the control of Elon Musk, disappears, then we’ll lose a beautiful monstrosity with the power to make text-based memes intolerable in less than a day.
At least we’ll have our memories, though. Thanks to Nathan Allebach, you can now look back on (almost) every Twitter meme since 2019: the good, the bad, and the annoying.
The 31-year-old creative director and walkable-community enthusiast helped pioneer Fun Brand Twitter when he ran the Steak-umm account from 2017 to 2021.
On Nov. 13 this year, he shared a massive 105-page Google Doc listing joke formats and text memes that was once a resource for other social media managers hoping to keep up with Twitter’s joke format du jour. Now, it’s a cultural artifact for all of us.
“At first, I only included memes that could be appropriate for brands to use, but eventually started adding as many trending formats as I could keep up with,” he told BuzzFeed News.
BuzzFeed News spoke with Allebach via email about his complex relationship with Twitter and how its “meme economy” works.
How did you decide to make the Meme Doc and why did you decide to share it?
Nathan Allebach: Between my own experiences and getting to know other social media managers over the years, I realized how much working in online culture can drain people. It's a small world. People share resources and offer support to each other all the time. I started the meme template doc in 2019, originally just to casually track trends, but once it got big enough I thought it'd be useful to share in a private Facebook group of social media managers.
I work for my family's marketing agency and grew up with the emergence of online culture, so I got into the trend of brand personification on the heels of Wendy's going viral for roasting people in 2017.
What's the process of deciding whether something is fit for the Meme Doc?
N.A.: There was never a method to the madness. I would just copy memes into the doc whenever I saw them. Shoutout to all the brilliant people who create these meme formats and rarely ever get the credit they deserve! It's easy to piggyback off existing content, but original content creators are the backbone of the meme economy.
Tell me about some favorites! And which memes were especially annoying or boring to you?
N.A.: Oh man. 30–50 feral hogs is all-time for me. It was just so beautifully absurd. Then there were formats that broke into real-life sayings. Like any time my wife or I say, "I want a little (x)" the other will say, "as a treat." Those are powerful.
On the flip side, some of them overstay their welcome, like the red-flag emoji meme. To be fair though, the lifespan of memes has shrunken to like 24 hours at this point, so I get it. Basic ones, like quote-tweeting something with "I didn't have this on my 2022 bingo card," can be mildly annoying, but we all do it sometimes. I try not to be as much of a hater these days. Just gotta let people enjoy things!
What do you think is the most fun kind of Twitter meme? Is there a format that's exceptionally usable for brands?
N.A.: Memes that capture the zeitgeist and bring the whole platform together for brief moments of bliss are so special. Like that ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal or the fly landing on Mike Pence's head during the vice presidential debate. As far as brand usage, relatable formats that can be easily and inoffensively memed are more precious than gold. They may be low-hanging fruit, but they're what the people want.
What's your relationship like with Twitter? How do you use it, and do you actually enjoy it?
N.A.: I began posting into the Twitter void in 2009, then started using it to keep up with news around 2014. Like most people bound to the hellsite, we have a love-hate relationship. It elevated my career, led to real-life relationships, and gave me some sense of meaning. At the same time, it's broken my brain, been a relentless source of random people harassing me, and has probably done more damage to public discourse than any platform.
What do you think is going to happen to Twitter?
N.A.: Until there's a viable alternative, I think we're stuck with the bird app! We all know it struggles to monetize because users are hostile to advertisers and don't want to subscribe after having it for free, but it's so internationally powerful with such a valuable audience, I can't imagine it tanking, despite [Musk’s] best efforts. Profitably replicating and scaling a competitor would be a tall order. But who knows! If it goes down, we're all going down with it.