Want to make the Best memes?
Start a niche account.
By Rebecca Deczynski
Published on January 16, 2018 on Snapchat Discover.
When Andy Warhol (allegedly) declared in 1968 that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” he couldn’t have known that he had essentially predicted the rise of meme culture. Though they were once viral by definition, memes of internet past are now merely nostalgic at best (hi, dancing hot dog) and cringeworthy at worst (hi, fainting goats). Niche memes, however, are different.
Niche memes—hyper-specific, aesthetically pleasing moodboards—have become the latest and greatest way to keep an online diary that feels simultaneously intimate and relatable, without leaning on ephemeral references and internet inside jokes. They’re the digital scrapbooks of 2018.
The formula for creating a niche meme is simple but flexible: toss in a bunch of photos that correspond to a theme, thought, or feeling, add some text overlays, and present your creation to the world (with plenty of hashtags if you want it to get traction). The topics these memes cover vary widely, from personal goals, dream aesthetics, and starter packs based on IRL people, to movie-themed mood boards, playlists, and what-if scenarios (e.g. “if X were a teen in 2018”).
Unlike many images that go viral today, most niche memes take on a positive tone, stressing things that bring their creators joy, rather than drawing an audience through negative yet relatable experiences. “I started to see more niche meme accounts that allowed people to relax, express themselves, or just vent about things that are on their minds,” says Benen, the creator of @capriciousmemes on Instagram. “I started mine because I thought it would give me something to focus on and something that I could use as an outlet to let out my emotions. Overall, [it] has helped me improve my self-confidence, and it [has] played at least a small role in my getting better.”
For others, niche memes are a way of putting together dream outfits, aesthetics, and vibes—essentially, moodboarding. “What got me into niche memes was a group chat that I have with a lot of my friends from school,” says Coco of @trademarkedvibes. “A lot of the pictures we send are collages that resemble what I now make. Finding different things that complement each other is an extremely satisfying process.”
Similar to blogging sites like Tumblr, the niche meme’s most recent digital predecessor, communities have developed among like-minded accounts. “My insecurities have hindered me from being myself in real life, and this meme account is the first place where I am 100 percent me,” says @catharticmemefairy. “It’s become a safe space for me, and having a lot of people in my real life involved would sort of defeat the purpose.”
Like most people who run niche accounts, @catharticmemefairy keeps her name private, and has chosen to only tell one friend about her secret account. While bloggers on Tumblr (and way back, even on MySpace) may seek internet fame, the driving force behind niche meme accounts is self-expression, rather than self-promotion. “Two friends I trust know about my account, but other than that I keep it private,” says Cherry of @sadangsteen. “I consider my account to be an online journal for my ideas, thoughts, and feelings.”
That said, once an anonymous account racks up followers, it can be hard to keep it a secret. “As my account has gotten more popular, some of my friends have discovered my account, and I’m fine with it,” says @bumblebeegf. “I haven’t had any issues with people from my school being rude or judgmental, unless you count the comments my best friend posts to annoy me.”
Although niche meme makers may dwell in an online community that, to an outsider’s eye, appears surprisingly connected (accounts frequently collaborate and share each other’s work), there have been some arguments about what might be actually defined as a niche meme.
“More and more, niche meme accounts are switching over to moodboards and collages rather than the traditional format of meme, and some older niche meme accounts have been getting quite upset by the change in the community,” says Benen, of @capriciousmemes. “I see the argument as unnecessary—it only serves to make the community more toxic and therefore eliminates the original purpose of niche memes.”
Despite disagreements, the niche meme community has successfully fostered an accepting atmosphere in which creators bond with one another and let their passions and interests flow freely without judgment. “The community of people was the first place that I ever felt really included,” says @catharticmemefairy. “I’ve always been a little awkward, and have struggled to find people that share my particular mix of interests. Niche memes allowed me to find a place where who I am is the norm, and I no longer feel like an outcast.”