African meme accounts are becoming big on Instagram, but this comes at a price

by | Aug 8, 2019

Africans love to laugh, and thanks to the myriad of accounts dedicated to comedy on Instagram, it has become one of the top destinations for humorous content.

Local humour accounts on Instagram have grown in fame — and scale — over the past few years. In Africa, apart from being a celebrity, humour has become one of the fastest ways to reach the one million followers mark on Instagram. Comedy Instagrammers like @maraji, @josh2funny, @lasisielenu, and @markangelcomedy have all acquired at least one million followers within five years or less.

Many African humour accounts, like those listed above, create original content, often videos heavily edited with amateurish transitions, captions, and cloning effects. However, there is another rapidly growing category of humour accounts that are equally grabbing the spotlight on Instagram. They are called meme accounts.

Meme accounts are characteristically known for their simple, funny, and relatable content — memes — which often goes viral. As Dictionary.com defines it, they are “a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc. that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way.” Or as Urban Dictionary simply puts it, memes are “the cure of depression.”

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Unlike regular humour accounts, meme accounts on Instagram rarely create original content. They rely heavily on Twitter, posting mostly screenshots of funny tweets that have gone viral or that show ‘viral-worthiness.’

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A post shared by 👨🏽‍🔬Dr. S 🇳🇬 (@iamdrsavage) on Aug 8, 2019 at 3:17am PDT

However, meme accounts on Instagram are not new. Globally, they have become a force of sorts with millions of followers including A-list celebrities. They are in fact so influential on the platform that in April they unionised to fight for more recognition for their work which, they argue, “generates the engagement that helps keep Instagram growing.” And so influential that just four months after, Instagram, in an attempt to pacify them, opened up the role of strategic-partnerships manager specifically to focus on meme accounts.

To the uninitiated, running a meme account on Instagram may seem like a piece of cake; after all, the majority of content posted there is curated from other users and social media platforms. But as Agboola Sodiq, a Nigerian-based ‘memer’ attests, that is not the case.

When Agboola, who runs @iamdrsavage on Instagram, started out in 2017, he would scour the Internet, from Reddit to Twitter, in search of memes every morning. “I noticed a little gap I could fill by creating an online personality known specifically for its premium memes and puns in Nigeria,” he said. But the results weren’t very encouraging.

The early days were very hard. “Sometimes you post and won’t get 10 likes, it made it very hard to stay consistent as it felt like nobody valued your effort or your content wasn’t good enough.” However, his love for memes kept him going.

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Two years, 3,000 posts, and a few paid promotions, down the line, @iamdrsavage has built a following of over 78.5k — a testament to how popular indigenous memes and meme accounts have become. “These days meme pages are on [sic] high demand online,” Agboola says. “I am sure that you might be following at least two meme page [sic] on Instagram.”

Beyond its proliferation locally, memes created by these local memers have begun to find fame internationally. A recent social media trend saw old movie clips and photos of Nollywood actors Osita Iheme and Chinedu Ikedieze (popularly called Aki and Paw-Paw) turned into viral memes. Famous accounts from Genius to Footy Humour to Fenty Beauty shared the meme on social media.

But with great power, they say, comes great responsibility. As the demand for meme accounts rises, so does the pressure on the curators.

Femi Bakre the founder of KRAKSTV, one of the earliest local meme accounts which now has over 1.7 million followers, admits that at some points he felt like quitting. “…there were times when the workload and pressure were overwhelming,” he said in an interview with Punch, “but the support I got from family and friends coupled with the genuine love I had for our followers, kept me going.”

For Agboola, who posts between five to seven times a day, it comes down to proper planning to manage the mounting pressure. “I have a content calendar and I try my best to follow it,” he says. “Every Sunday, I sit down and come up with content for the week. First I post them on Twitter. For Instagram and Facebook, I need to create a different graphic image to adapt to how content is shared on those platforms. Daily I moderate and reply to comments on my posts.”

Due to the volume of content and consistency required, managing meme accounts costs time and money. Passionate memers like Agboola brave the cost for some time, since all that is fundamentally required to start are an Internet connection, a smartphone, and a few social media marketing tools. But as the accounts grow, they begin to find ways to monetise their content.

Agboola describes his meme account as a hobby turned business. “I love memes and the account is just a way to monetise what I love to do,” he says. “I also have some pages around other niches that are all monetised using sponsored ads and other marketing strategies.”

Advertisement is known to be the primary means of monetisation across the Internet. But over the years, it proved to be an unsustainable source of revenue, forcing publishers to seek novel ways to make money — meme accounts inclusive.

Despite having over a million Instagram followers, KRAKSTV has diversified beyond creating content to offering services to SMEs and large enterprises. “We provide digital media consultancy, public relations services for brands, content creation, and amplification services for brand promotions,” Femi said. “We operate a 24-hour video and sound recording studio for all kinds of production,” he added.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B0255XVn6cc/

Another major concern social media-dependent publishers like memers have is the unpredictability of the platforms. Instagram, for example, recently announced that it will stop showing likes on users’ timeline — a change which has rattled the influencer marketing industry.  Techpoint also reported a mass purge on Twitter in early August which left hundreds, if not thousands, of African accounts suspended. Add these to other challenges peculiar to Africa, ranging from Internet shutdowns to social media tax, and it is obvious that the terrain is anything but smooth.

Seemingly foreseeing these kinds of challenges, KRAKSTV has evolved into a media conglomerate called KRAKS Media. Beyond curating memes on Instagram they now create original content on YouTube, Twitter, and their own social media platform KRAKS which, as at 2018, had about 14,000 users.

Although the changes to Instagram have not yet taken effect in African countries, Agboola suspects it will cause a “big drop” in user engagement. However, he is prepared to weather the storm. “Every couple of months digital platforms make updates that cause marketers around the world to rethink their platform use strategies,” he says. “As a social media strategist, I understand the importance of adapting to changes.”

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I write about media, technology and internet culture.


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