Social Media Lessons From An Inauguration Meme

If you haven’t seen the seemingly grumpy Bernie meme since it exploded on the internet last week, well then frankly, you must have been under a rock. But, if somehow you’ve missed it, you can catch up on the hilarious phenomenon here.

social media listening for small business


Okay, now that we all know what the Bernie meme is, let’s talk about what drove it’s popularity, how that can impact a business and the social media marketing lessons we can take from this.

The Mood Is Real

Whether you like Bernie or not, it’s hard to resist a good chuckle at his appearance at the inauguration. Looking like someone who was planning to just swing by and got stuck there. Whatever “vibe” or “mood” you pick up from this photo, you can feel it and we can ALL relate. It was also a spontaneous thing that wasn’t forced or driven by anything other than a collective, human need to laugh and have a distraction.

Social Media Marketing Lesson: Be relatable, genuine and approachable, but don’t try to force it.

Easy To Photoshop

Another reason this image exploded so quickly and easily is the fact he just so happened to be sitting on a white background which made it very simple to edit the photo and place him in other images. Not only that, one lovely soul created a website that enabled anyone to place Bernie on any Google street view photograph. (UPDATE: The website’s popularity exploded and the creator could no longer maintain the cost.)

Social Media Marketing Lesson: Make sure your content is easy to share.

Influencer Marketing At Its Finest

Do you really think this meme would have been as popular if it were someone we didn’t know? It’s possible, but not probable. The fact that Bernie is a prominent figure definitely added fuel to the fire. He is a “celebrity” of sorts who was caught acting and looking like a normal, every day person. As soon as his image started appearing literally everywhere, it wasn’t just the image people were questioning, but the clothes he was wearing, too. All products made by some business. In this case, the mittens became the star. The hashtag #BerniesMittens even started trending.

The woman who made Bernie’s mittens said she had 1,000s of requests to purchase a pair from her but she’s a school teacher and does not make or sell these mittens full time. Could be a missed opportunity for her, but if you’re a brand whose product ends up trending on social media due to an influencer who wore them, you better be ready to increase production.

Social Media Marketing Lesson: Smart influencer marketing can increase brand awareness and drive sales.

When Social Media Users Won’t Go Quietly

BUT, don’t underestimate the power of social media users who jump on a trend. While the internet can be quick to cancel someone, if they like something, they can just as quick to drive positive conversations about a person, product or brand. The demand for Bernie’s gloves would not go away. Even after the maker directed people to other Etsy shops to support small makers and creators, people still reached out to her. She could have just provided the link, stopped engaging and left it at that. Instead, she listened to everyone on social media clamouring for her gloves and decided to create a different type of opportunity. She knew she didn’t have the capacity to create her own store, but she could make some mittens for a charitable cause. (And added an exclusive media partner to the mix - smart for MSBNC. Their ratings will increase due to the high demand for these gloves.)

social media post listening and engagement

Social Media Marketing Lesson: LISTEN to your audience and find the best opportunity to engage with them.

Adding A Charitable Aspect

According to 5WPR’s 2020 Consumer Culture Report, 71% of Millennials will pay more for a product if they know some of the proceeds go to charity, meaning brands have the opportunity to create a positive corporate identity and increase sales if done correctly. Bernie could have easily ignored all of this as some weird internet sensation and let it pass, or even get upset with his image being photoshopped on everything from Bachelorette photos to Forest Gump benches. Instead, he took the opportunity to create a sweatshirt of his meme likeness and donate all proceeds to charity, which sold out right away.

Social Media Marketing Lesson: Integrate and support charities that align with your company values, but only if it’s genuine. Social media followers will sniff you out and cancel you right away if it isn’t real. Yes, it’s that important to Millennials and Gen Z.

Catching The Wave

Even though Bernie himself and the mitten maker were the direct beneficiaries of all the attention, businesses can strategically leverage social media trends to increase awareness and sales for their products. For instance, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum (yes, that’s a thing) has created a bobblehead you can preorder now. Had you ever heard of this museum prior to this? They smartly latched on to a trending meme that made sense for them and their brand, so now you know they exist. You’re welcome.

Social Media Marketing Lesson: Stay on top of social media trends and jump on the bandwagon IF it makes sense for your brand, but don’t act desperate.

To wrap this all up, the Bernie mittens meme did organically go viral on its own but it’s the steps influencers and businesses took after the images started floating around that really prolonged the positive sentiment and impact. They took the time to listen to the conversations on social media and identify ways to engage in a way that’s genuine and authentic. Some very valuable lessons to take away from the Bernie mitten frenzy.


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