Five (Serious) Tips for Using Humor to Connect, Engage, and Influence

by · March 28, 201223 comments

If social media is really like a dinner party, it seems like we’re missing something … humor.

Humor is one of the most effective-and under-appreciated tactics in communications. This applies to every day business discussions, professional presentations, and yes, social media. Look at Pinterest. Some of the most popular pins are funny or offbeat. Twitter and Facebook is even better. Who can’t resist a clever or funny tweet, or conversation starter?

Good humor works because it connects with people at an emotional level. We live in a very serious world. Humor provides us a mental break. For companies, it’s a great way to come across more engaging and naturally-more human.

Sense of HumorBut humor has to be handled right. Just being funny online is not enough, and there are risks. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you engage with humor.

  1. Use humor creatively, particularly when it comes to explaining complex subjects. And don’t be afraid to be a little edgy. Look at this infographic which is focused on helping users improve their Facebook Edgerank score. Rather than just a dry listing of tips, “Conquer the Facebook” uses clever humor with news stream posts by “legendary Facebook conquerors” like Julius Caesar (Ex: #5 Ask for Likes- Genghis Kahn states: “Ask for likes if you’re a Mongol with a funny decapitation story.”  Clever and funny.
  2. Keep it short and simple. This is not standup comedy with a story leading up to a punchline;  it’s nice to get a laugh, but often it’s good enough just to get a smile. Humor online usually needs to be direct, pithy, swift. Cool quotations can work. This morning my first tweet was: “‘Do not take life too seriously, you’ll never get out of it alive.’ Elbert Hubbard (Relax…it’s Friday)” If your company is about empowering other people, you could try something like this: “You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there” Yogi Berra (Yogi Berra quotations are often goofy but they still get a smile.)
  3. Make sure it’s consistent with your brand. It might be funny to poke fun at a stupid comment by a politician, but how does that help your brand? (In fact it might hurt it.) But be ready to pounce when the opportunity arrives.  When Twitter.com suggested that my wife follow a certain brand,  @glutenfreewoman quipped. “Twitter suggested I follow WheatThins. Uh, no thanks”  (Wheat, of course, has gluten-and the tweet delighted some of her gluten followers … It’s akin to pitching hamburgers to a vegetarian. Twitter might want to fine-tune its advertising placements).
  4. Pick your targets carefully: It’s okay to poke fun at yourself, the weather, and other innocuous subjects. And big institutions can sometimes be targeted (carefully). Stay away from political or religious issues, and don’t target any race, gender or groups like senior citizens.
  5. Use humor selectively. Humor can also backfire is abused, particularly with sarcasm. Who can forget incidents like the FedEx PR fiasco, where an Ketchum PR manager tweeted the following on the flight into Memphis to visit FedEx, a major customer: “True confusion but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say-I would die if I had to live here.”  FedEx officials weren’t amused and slammed the agency with a stinging letter than went public.

Yes, there are risks in using humor, so think first or risk a backlash. With videos, commercials and bigger productions, consider testing it with different types of people or internal groups. What may seem hilarious to you might offend others.

Recent example: the protests and petitions that ensued in reaction to Huggies’ “Have Dad Put Huggies To The Test,” campaign. The commercials depicted dads as inattentive caregivers, sparking outrage among many fathers who saw this as a throwback to the MadMen era. On the other hand, this Old Spice commercial (“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”) was pretty funny and got over 40 million YouTube hits.

So humor is a bit of a crapshoot, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. What are your thoughts on using humor in social media? Got some good examples? Share and drop links in the comments!

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About Mark Ivey

Mark Ivey

Mark Ivey is a social media consultant with the ION Group and a published author with a broad corporate background in editorial, marketing, social media and executive communications. He’s served as a Bureau Chief at BusinessWeek magazine, national media spokesman for Intel, and recently, as Editor in Chief for Hewlett Packard, where he pioneered a new program to drive its enterprise blogs and other social media activities. Besides family, friends and good wine, his passion is social media-training, strategizing, and exploring new digital paths for his clients. Find him on Twitter at @markivey.

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