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There were a lot of big companies and their ad agencies patting each other on the back about how they “get” social media marketing at Federated Media Conversational Marketing Summit last week.

The show was extremely well-run, but totally in safe mode, and the main take-a-way was that agencies and CMOs don’t know how to measure social media’s impact, and they’re not sure what it means to brands. In other words, there were a lot of Web 2.0 “specialists” pimping for consulting gigs and a lot of corporate CMOs who dearly hope they’re on the right path as they dip their toes into the social media pool.

Frankly, the most interesting people I met were two guys under 25 whose weirdass sites, YTMND and 4chan get more pageviews in a week than many corporate sites get in a decade. Gawker calls them “the most important fad factories that most people haven’t heard of.” They’re also frightening to advertisers and major payment processing services including PayPal and Authorizenet – despite the fact that 18-34 year-old males with sizeable disposable income are among both sites’ members and frequent contributors.

These no holds barred communities may be marketers’ nightmares, but they’re also the future. So instead of worrying about metrics, CMOs and their consistently clueless ad agencies should turn their attention to the future of the Internet and figure out where their brands fit in.

4Chan, started in 2003 by an engaging young man who goes by the name Moot, is an image-based bulletin board based on the Japanese site Futaba. 4Chan content ranges from the silly: Rick Rolling to the horrifying: NFL bomb threats to Project Chanology, which organizes worldwide protests against Scientology.

4chan is the 57th highest-trafficked US site according to, with 265,000,000 impressions and 3,300,000 uniques per month (over 1.5MM in the US).

Among the memes that started there and quickly migrated to ad-rich sites are LOL Cats, Rick Rolling, and Chocolate Rain.

The pornographic content hosted on 4chan violated the terms of services of various payment receiving services, including PayPal, Authorizenet and Visa, and so they refused to allow 4chan to use their services. Having become so popular without any form of paid promotion is a testament to the viral marketing potential 4chan users represent. In fact, says Moot, 4chan is helping change the face of the Internet as you know it.

Since its creation in 2003, 4chan has grown to become the world’s largest English-language imageboard, where users post in a variety of interest-themed imageboards, including, but not limited to Video Games, Anime, Lifestyle and Technology. The site has a very dedicated, returning audience.

Then there’s YTMND, the creation of artist Max Goldberg, whose “about” page describes it as “a site created for the purpose of furthering the creativity of its users. It stems from an idea that, using sound, and image, and some text, the users can convey a point, funny, political, or otherwise, to the general media.” gets millions of unique visitors a month, more than 100,000 of whom have contributed YTMNDs. Supported entirely by Google ads, Goldberg does all the system administration but mainly tries to stay out of the way.

“The site sort of runs itself,” he says, explaining that he makes enough money to pay his rent and a little more and that he doesn’t care that much about money. What he does care about are Fads, or in-jokes, aka memes such as Tom Cruise Kills Oprah.
They start with some time to kill, plus a single image, overlayed with a few words of text, a looping soundtrack and a goofy teenager’s sense of humor. As the Wall St Journal noted “The same adolescent humor also leads to themes many would consider homophobic, racist, or just plain vulgar.” And that’s what keeps advertisers at bay, despite the site’s millions of users and viral velocity.

They’ve received and ignored cease and desist letters from everyone including The Church of Scientology, Sega and Scholastic.

As Clay Shirky noted in Wired article about what he calls “meganiches,” “His success illustrates an unexpected dimension of the meganiche’s power: What begins as an isolated sarcastic gesture can become the world’s biggest inside joke.” More often, someone who does care about money takes a meme off YTMND and turns it into a lucrative ad-supported site.