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So You Want My Job? Instagram’s Ricky Sans on why memes are like punk rock

So You Want My Job: Instagram's Ricky Sans explains what a meme manager is

Welcome to So You Want My Job? where, each week, we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. And, along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully, our interviewees can help inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.

This week we speak to Ricky Sans, the strategic partner manager for memes at Instagram. But before we jump in, a quick reminder that you can subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter, Working it Out, which maps the trends in the wider jobs market.

What did you want to be when growing up, and does your job resemble that in any way?

I didn’t really have a specific career in mind, but I’ve always had an intense passion to be as 100% me as humanly possible. I was open to where the journey would take me.

I always had difficulty navigating a structured and formatted life, especially in school. I didn’t want to do anything prescriptive. Sometimes this led me astray, but overall I’ve followed my heart to focus my career on creativity, innovation and pushing culture forward, which is why I’m at Instagram.

By taking a more philosophical approach to who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, my career has taken many different shapes over the years and my job now embodies this perspective fully.

I love the fact that the job I have literally couldn’t have existed 10 years ago.

So how did you get your job?

The actual process of getting it was pretty standard and deserves a big kudos to Instagram’s hiring process, which is so thorough and thoughtful for candidates.

The weirdest thing that happened was on my end. Whenever there was a phone interview, I had to drive and park outside a coffee shop that had good internet and cell phone signals because the connection where I live was painfully slow.

I was so nervous and wanted everything to be perfect that I didn’t even have the AC on in my car, so as not to add any noise that would be distracting. The first interview was in the summer and in Los Angeles, so I was sweating so much that by the time the call was over it looked like I jumped in the shower with my clothes on.

Thinking about it now, I should have found a better solution, but the first call seemed to go well so I didn’t want to jinx it and kept the ritual throughout the rest of the process.

OK, so what is it you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?

I feel bad that a taxi driver is about to hear me talk about myself for the whole trip, but here we go...

My job is to work closely with Instagram’s meme community, communicating with them regularly and building meaningful relationships. Essentially, I help meme accounts and creators to grow, evolve and find success on Instagram. It’s also really important to make sure we’re representing and celebrating a diverse range of meme creators. I get to work with the most innovative artists who are pushing culture and creativity forward. A lot of my time is also spent finding new creators and helping them to use Instagram in the best way possible so they can scale and be successful.

I’m really proud of the meme community this year because, during such a challenging and tough time, memes gave us laughter, brought awareness to global issues, elevated young voices and helped us cope all around with the hardships of 2020.

Do your parents understand what you do?

It’s 50/50. I’m fortunate to have been in this industry for quite a while, so they’ve definitely had time to get a feel for the world I exist in. But getting my aunt to understand what I do now is a work in progress. A lot of our early conversations involved me trying to explain what a meme is, then explaining what Instagram is, then unpacking what the internet is… Ultimately, it leads to existential conversations that are so far removed from what I actually do that I forget how the conversation started. More recently, I think she definitely gets the basics because I get bombarded with New Yorker-style political cartoon screenshots that she texts me every day.

What do you love most about your job?

Memes are one of the most creative ways people can express themselves. In fact, more than 1m posts mentioning “meme” are shared to Instagram each day.

It’s great to be working so closely with creators who have an innate understanding of society and can create fresh content that people instantly relate to. And memes are constantly changing as they reflect what’s happening in the world at any given moment – I find that really exciting.

Maybe in 20 years, there will be a Netflix documentary about how meme culture started ’way back when’ – in the same way that we look back and examine the roots of skateboarding culture, punk rock and hip hop.

It’s definitely a cultural and artistic movement based on humour, expression and communication, and I’m just so thankful to have a part in it.

How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job?

I wouldn’t worry so much about what your actual job is and what type of roles would lead to this role. Be passionate about people, culture and technology, and then dive into studying how communication has evolved from the beginning of time when we were painting scenes from our lives on cave walls all the way to now where we are sharing and creating memes about what is happening every day.

A meme has to evolve and change constantly because it is an interactive experience that needs the creator to iterate and map their own experiences and emotions into it. So it’s key to have a curiosity about what is constantly driving human behaviour and human interaction… Whether you have been a lawyer your whole life or a lumberjack, it’s the intention and passion that will help you with this job.

What advice would you offer others entering this industry, especially at this weird time?

Every day Instagram is bringing people together and allowing them to express themselves in new ways. People need that positivity more than ever at the moment, so I’d say having a positive mindset and willingness to discover new things is key to working in this industry at the moment.

Be open-minded and willing to pivot in your preconceived goals and ideas of what you think you should be and how you should be doing it. Tech and culture are constantly changing… if you enter this industry with an inflexible mindset, you will have more turbulence getting to where you want to go. Bring in new ideas and perspectives, and be aware of who you are as a unique individual with valuable insights you can contribute.

What personal trait makes you most suited to your role?

I think my ambition to not ever be set in my ways or to feel like I’m doing anything that’s already been done. I admire anyone trying something that has never been done before, so I have a lot of empathy for that journey and want to do whatever I can to help unrealized ideas and visions become mainstream. Then once it becomes mainstream, I greatly enjoy starting the process all over again and looking for those who will challenge the mainstream next.

What should anyone wanting your job be reading or listening to?

Two great books that really helped me understand how to balance creativity, inspiration and commerce are Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration and Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.

Last month, we heard from Rania Robinson, chief executive and partner of ad agency Quiet Storm.

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