The future of memes and short-from videos is AR: Meta’s Paras Sharma

Memes are a part of our daily life as much as social media platforms are – Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook (Meta). Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced a while ago that the platform was going to move towards in a more video-focused, video-first way, understandably to capture the TikTok users and make them start using Reels.

Now, a plan like this matters for India all the more since TikTok is banned here. The TikTok ban left a large gaping hole for creators and Instagram managed to move right in with Reels. The focus has been aligned since with the app adding more and more features to make these short videos stand out. For starters, you can make 90-second long Reels now.

Instagram has also ever-so-slightly tweaked the UI to make all posts on the timeline show up as a single, full-screen post – like it is on TikTok.

But in all this, Meta and Instagram tell us that memes are important to them. How does static content feature in a video-first plan? We spoke to Paras Sharma, Director, Content and community partnerships, Facebook India (Meta), to learn more and here are some edited excerpts from our chat:

Business Today (BT): Do tell us about this year’s MemeCon

Paras Sharma (PS): The global MemeCon is one of the events that we have been doing for the last couple of years. And it all originated from understanding the importance and significance of memes in popular culture. Memes are not a new thing. Memes are, as you know, a form of expression on the internet. It has evolved as the internet evolved. It forms a significant part of the content on Instagram (IG). And because it shapes culture, that’s what memes reflect. So, IG being the destination of where the culture gets shaped, it, therefore, was imperative for us to bring this community together.

The event was all about sharing what’s happening in the world of memes with the large memers community across the globe. The event was about sharing with them about what are the ways and things that they can do to enhance the creativity format that they can use and how they can monetise it.

Also, very interestingly, we had one of the memers from India, OyeAnkit, his content and profile were featured in the Global MemeCon. The interesting part was that in our Meta Office in Mumbai, over 120 odd creators across different profiles and sizes of the following, turned up. They got the opportunity to come together, meet with each other, find ways to collab with each other and, listen to the Global MemeCon.

We also had Aman Gupta, the co-founder and CMO of Boat, who you may know from Shark Tank, and the memes, being a part of the MemeCon and sharing some thoughts about his success and how his being a subject of memes to becoming a creator of memes now, and about how he is using memes as a marketing tool for his brand.

BT: Memes are very pop culture. They are very relevant and right now, given that Instagram is gradually moving towards a ‘video-first’ approach, how do you see that working for you? It is not just only about GIFS anymore. Considering GIFs are still more video-friendly than memes, how are you going to reconcile the former compared to memes?

PS: Every media or form of media comes with its own language of expression. It evolves as that particular media platform evolves and as the consumers’ engagement with it evolves. In the earlier avatar of the internet, memes originated as still images with a text on top and text on the bottom. And now as the internet evolved to different forms of creative expression, so have memes, from static text to GIFs.

Further still, the memes have evolved into videos on their own. It’s not us pushing the video narrative for memes. But what is culturally relevant and what is pushing culture today itself is the video format and the memers are taking over that. It’s not only the video format, for example, but there are also audio memes now. We have memers who are creating memes in an audio format.

When we talk about video on IG, which is Reels, it’s not only about video. There are features that we have enabled to give more creative tools to members to express the context, whether it’s a remix, a collab or the opportunity to use any video on Instagram and remix that and create something new. That’s what the memers are doing organically because that’s the new language of the meme, which has evolved as the internet has evolved.

BT: You just mentioned that there are some features that are available on Instagram right now, that are actually helping these meme creators create the audio-first or video-first memes. Could you tell us a bit about those features?

PS: One is, of course, the Reels as a format itself, which is 90-second video format, which, therefore, provides the video entry point into creating memes. Then, within Reels, there is a Remix feature, where you can now work with an already existing video Reel and remix and create a different one.

There’s also a collab feature where two people can come together and create something. There is the audio option where you can use audio clips and bytes, or song audio clips and bytes from the library and create a meme around it. Then you can pick any video available on Instagram and build on top of it, which is what, OyeAnkit did so successfully.

And then we have the dynamic lyrics, they come on top of the video and you can create on that. So, there are a host of features.

BT: Some brands are also using memes to get their word out there or sell their products. What is the thought behind creating such memes since, it may or may not stick, and even if it sticks, its shelf life is extremely limited and is going to get replaced by a whole bunch of more memes sooner or later. What is your say on that?

PS: The best way for some categories of brands such as e-commerce, food delivery services and fashion and lifestyle is not about them creating a meme only, it’s about them capturing a moment of time where a particular meme has been created and riding on that to amplify things.

That is what is leading to that success. Because if it is manufactured by a brand, the possibility of it becoming contextual is less than if it comes from culture itself and the brands pick on that and then ride on that. Whether it is an example of KGF or Shark Tank, it all originated from a cultural moment and context.

I’ll give you an example of movie marketing, say Hero Panti 2. There is a memer from Narayanpur in MP, who created a meme from one of the dialogues by Tiger Shroff in Hero Panti 1. It became so big that the movie marketing team came on board to use it to market it further. It’s not originated from them. That’s the best way that the smart brands are using it because then the shelf life is far longer because it’s already come out from the grassroot level, somebody picked that cultural context and brands and ride on it.

BT: Between the previous picture-and-text-based meme format and the current evolved one, which do you think, has lasted the longest, and what is going to be the next format that we are going to see for memes?

PS: I wish I knew that. It is very difficult to predict the future. But if you were to look at how it has unfolded this far, we can pick some signals from there. The signals are, what’s the current currency of expression that we’re seeing around is what people are using, what gets added and what people pick on.

There were still images and text-worthy currency at a point in time, and the internet GIFs were and still continue to be that currency. But right now, short-form video is the new currency. That’s the way people like to consume content. This definitely is going to be staying here for a while.

However, what happens on top of short-form video, that’s evolving and continues to evolve. As I mentioned, some of the features that we enable on Reels are creative tools that can be used on short-form video as the underlying platform. What’s going to be next, is definitely AR (augmented reality), which is already playing a role and it will play an immense role as we move forward and then we’ll move towards a new expression of memes going forward.

BT: Is AR the way memes are going to integrate into the metaverse?

PS: This is a very forward-looking thought and yes, the possibilities of what the metaverse will bring are boundless. We are building it along with others. AR definitely is one of the features, which is already being used currently and will continue to bring more people into it and more creative expressions. AR is also a big way in which people discover trends, and by that virtue memes as well. AR will also have a role in meme discovery and creation.

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