If you're on TikTok or YouTube, chances are you've seen a meme that was created by Cowbelly, a meme creation studio. Cowbelly has grown their YouTube channel to over 2.5 million subscribers and their TikTok account to over 13 million followers. Jack at Kapwing recently chatted with Graham, the founder and CEO of Cowbelly, about how he built his meme creation studio, then turned it into a brand.
Read on for highlights from their conversation, and check out the full video below:
Jack, Kapwing: Could you tell us a little bit more about Cowbelly and what you guys do over there?
Graham: Sure. Cowbelly is a meme creation studio where, four or 500 creators in a Discord server make content all day. We publish to a pretty big audience on YouTube and TikTok, and we also work with brands to make content – organic meme content for their social media, or to be used for advertising, or to run a campaign.
Jack: I feel like you were kind of ahead of the curve, in terms of the understanding that memes can be a branding tool or a marketing tool that people should take more seriously. How has the industry changed from when you first started to what you're doing now?
Graham: Yeah, so I think memes are still a big buzzword, like Web3 and crypto and creator economy. People kind of like to throw them out on Twitter. And I don't think people exactly know what memes really encapsulate. To answer your question directly, though, about how memes have changed. TikTok was a huge revolution for meme content on the internet. Just think about, basically every piece of content on TikTok is a meme. It's either an existing remix of a sound. It uses another video that it stitches together into something else. Everything functions in the aspect of another piece of content, and that, at a very basic level, is what memes are. Memes are just culture. Memes are just ideas that we transfer between one another. So yeah, TikTok really revolutionized how memes work in that sense.
Jack: The power of memes, I mean, it can't be understated.
You are really good at community building, and I think that's a big part of what makes Cowbelly special is that people just really love it and they love the community. Like you said memes, they bring people together. What are some tips that you have for others who are looking to build online communities?
Graham: It's really simple. Just read every message that goes through your Discord server, make it a priority to just pay attention to everything that people are saying and be involved with those conversations. And really let the fact wash over you that people are actively participating in your community. They care about what you have to say. They care about your message, they care about your values. And you should reciprocate that. You should be all over every conversation that is happening in your server.
Jack: I know you guys on Cowbelly use the Community Tab [on YouTube] a lot, and you are very successful using it. Can you talk a little bit more about that experience for you?
Graham: So I started using the community tab probably right when we launched the channel. This is my experience, so this is anecdotal, but community posts reach scales with your video reach. So if your video has reached someone and maybe it's a short, you have the potential to get a community post into that person's home feed. Community posts are extremely sticky. If someone interacts with your community post one time in their feed, community posts will stay there for almost forever. We have slowly scaled from about 100,000 likes per post to around 200 to 250,000 likes per post. And it has been extremely steady growth. So the stickiness of community posts is really good. So to that point, consistency is super important. Consistency is important with anything, but especially with this.
We started out by reposting content. I would go on Reddit, I would find the top post, I would repost them. And then I did that for probably like ten months. Then one day I found someone in the Cowbelly Discord who was also a Redditor, and it just clicked a bunch of things into place all at one time when he just mentioned that he was a Redditor. I was like, how did I not think of this before?
I found a lot of the top contributors on r/memes, r/dankmemes. They usually have 1 million Karma. They're people who are top performers on Reddit. These people are very, very good at iterating on creative ideas and just finding interesting niche ideas. And so I recruited probably eight or ten of them. And we started a program called the Community Tab program, and we paid them per post that went on the Community tab. There was just so much information and interesting things that we discovered. That ended up leading to our Kapwing partnership because one of them was like, "hey, we all use Kapwing. We would love to get a partnership with them." And I was like, heck, yeah. Let's figure it out.
An overarching lesson I would give is always invest in people. Always invest in original content. Always invest in starting at the foundational level of something, because as you go through that process, you learn so many useful things that branch out, like a tree, into these interesting opportunities. And it mutates and forms into these new ways that you can interact with your business and other people.
Always invest in people. Always invest in original content. Always invest in starting at the foundational level of something.
That, at its core, is what memes are. Memes have to mutate. They have to change their DNA fundamentally to stay relevant. They have to evolve into a new form. When you see a meme trend, you see the initial meme, and then you see an edit of that meme. And then you see another edit of that edit. And that's how memes stay alive. So that's kind of the DNA of our community. And that's how we look at our processes and how to operate.
Check out more of Jack's interview with Graham in this video:
If you want to learn more about Cowbelly or get involved with what they do, find them on Discord. Or to check out the content that they've created as a result of their online community, find Cowbelly on YouTube, TikTok, or Snapchat.