If you have a pulse and you’re on the internet, chances are you’ve seen a meme or two floating around on social media. It could be something simple to understand like the “Distracted Boyfriend” meme or something incredibly niche and weird like the “Plums in the Ice Box.” I do this for a living and I’m not even sure what’s so funny about that one.

Why are memes popular on social media? They give people a common topic or trend to make jokes about creating a community feel as the meme is expanded and shared. But what about brands, are they invited to the party? It’s a question every social media manager grapples with at some point, and the answer is more complicated than you think. Because while you think it would be easy for a brand to take advantage of a meme for marketing purposes, it’s actually quite hard and backfires easily. Here’s a handy dandy flow chart to help make the decision for you:

How Old Is the Meme?

Relevancy is crucial for deciding on a meme. If it’s hot right now and being shared everywhere, the chances of it being shared are infinitely higher. Time-relevant content is always going to be more of a success than something tired that everyone has already seen before. Do you have a very funny joke to make with a meme that’s a couple of years old? Or a month old? Or a few weeks? Sorry, you’re out of luck.

Why do you want to use it?

If your single goal to using a meme for your brand is to seem “hip,” full stop. Brands that try to force memes in order to appeal to a younger audience, famously fall flat on their face and end up the subject of ridicule by that very audience. Your main goal for using a meme should be to contribute genuinely funny and quality content. Appealing to the ‘youths’ is just an added bonus.

Are you prepared for it to go poorly?

Even if you do all of the above correctly, there’s still a serious chance of backfire. Social media users don’t typically take well to brands trying to turn their jokes into clicks and brand recognition. It can come off feeling like an old person desperately trying to be cool and hip and just looking sad. If you aren’t prepared for backlash and ridicule, turn back now. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed to happen, but it’s a chance you have to be willing to take in order to achieve the glory of a well-executed meme.

Good luck and happy memeing! For more social media tips check out these lessons learned from the UMBC Twitter account and my favorite tools for creating quality social media.

Social Media Starter Kit