"It needs to be easily remembered and passed on... It needs to retain coherence. It can't mutate too quickly. At the same time, it can't be entirely stable." Sounds complicated, but consider the "Where's the beef?" phenomenon, Halavais suggests. "If it only applied to hamburgers," he says, "you'd be in bad shape."
Honan himself subscribes to the "you can't force a meme" mantra, especially if you're looking to make money. "When your end goal is to have a book deal, that's pretty tough," he says. "If your end goal is to do something you like and have fun with it then you're a lot more likely to do something that'll be successful." Since domain names are so cheap these days, he recommends just going to for it if you have an idea you think might catch on. It could go nowhere, or it could be the next Post Secret. If you don't try, he chides, you'll never know.
Hwang, on the other hand, suggests going for sustainable web growth and regular content as a more reliable model for profit. "Web comics are a great for that," he says, though they take a big commitment. "Being Internet famous isn't something that just happens," he says. "It's about the roll-up-your sleeves work of a developing a community."
As for Halavais, he suggests a different route for those with dollar signs in their eyes. "My advice is to try and find the things that are catching and ride on their coattails," he says, "rather than design from the outset... A lot of companies have been trying to create their own memes, and that's a very hit or miss prospect."
Promote, But Don't Overdo It
If you're lucky enough to have authored popular meme already, Honan says don't be afraid to self-promote. Then again, you may not have to, reasons Halavais, "I don't think you have to try at [the point where you're already Web famous]. People are looking for you."
But be careful though, says Hwang. Selling out for cold, hard cash might blow up in your face. Numa Numa Kid, for example, now has professional representation. Hwang recalls trying to track him down for an appearance at ROFLcon. "We were never even able to talk to him because his representation was like, 'We don't even discuss this until there's a couple thousand dollars on the table.' " Needless to say, the professional approach hasn't worked well for him.
Tay Zonday's disappearing career is another great example of this, says Hwang. After his video Chocolate Rain went viral, Zonday did a commercial for Dr. Pepper. "Money-wise, I hear he did quite well," says Hwang, "but he no longer has the resonance that he used to with the online community. Instead, he's become much more like a traditional celebrity, and people are less interested in that." As a real celeb, Hwang explains, "You're no longer accessible. It rubs the Internet the wrong way."
Still, for better for worse, the new generation of meme makers is doing their best to make an online buck -- and largely succeeding. Will this boom of book deals and profit go on forever?