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5 Ways to Use Humor to Drive Engagement on Social Media

Humor can be one of the most effective forms of communication. Nothing grabs an audience’s attention quicker than landing a good joke. It also serves as a great way to establish personality and relatability.

With the internet and social media, the impact of humor has been amplified. Amusing messages, silly images and funny videos spread like wildfire across the digital landscape.

It only takes a few hours for something to go viral and be seen by millions of eyes.

It’s no wonder that so many brands attempt to use humor on social networks these days. It seems like such a surefire way to connect to consumers.

However, it isn’t quite as easy as it may first appear. There are a lot of tricks and traps to keep in mind.

1. Less is more.

Humor can be a “lightning in a bottle” situation: a moment that is singular in its ability to surprise and delight, and any attempts to recapture its magic are futile. Sometimes it is better to just step back and let it stand by itself.

That isn’t to say that repetition can’t work in certain cases. Many brands have centered their identities on popular recurring jokes, situations and characters. Some anecdotes can have mileage beyond a single instance.

Caution must be taken in these cases, though. The same joke told over and over can wear thin, and may even turn people against a brand.

On a similar note, keep the comedy itself simple. Social media usually isn’t a great place for long, rambling jokes that take forever to get to the point. Websites, especially those with a strict character limit like Twitter, rely on brevity.

2. Keep up with trends.

Always pay attention to current, trending discussions. Most brands want to appear up to date and aware of what is going on in the world. This has always been a major way to form a connection with new generations of consumers.

News and recent events are usually a goldmine for humor. A well-timed joke can boost a brand into the spotlight for a day. A major sports game, for instance, can be rife with opportunity.

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Meanwhile, there are times when being topical has its pitfalls. It’s best to avoid highly controversial subjects that can lead to arguments, complaints and outrage.

Serious situations require a high degree of sensitivity, so joking about them could be seen as poor taste. An infamous example of poor judgment is this tweet made by Kenneth Cole in response to the riots in Cairo:

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The company later had to remove the tweet and issue multiple apologies to appease those offended by it.

3. Be inclusive.

Inclusivity is something that all brands should strive for. It’s a given that most companies want to appeal to the widest base possible. The more people you reach out to, the more loyal customers you can find.

Great care should be taken to avoid alienating any social groups. A hurtful joke against a certain group can damage a brand’s reputation and relationship with its customers.

One of the goals of using humor should be establishing empathy. Humor has the power to transcend social barriers. Some of the most effective jokes are relatable on a universal level.

Many people wrongly view this as a limitation. Humor is subjective, after all, and not every joke will appeal to everybody. However, while this has an element of truth, it is not an excuse to exclude or unfairly target anybody.

4. Maintain brand image.

It is important for a brand to establish and maintain consistency. This is what helps a brand’s image stick. Humor can become the defining point of a personality.

Charmin stands out as a brand that uses humor to build its image. On Twitter, the company has fully embraced the inherent comedy that comes with selling bathroom products.

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Its sense of humor always remains playful and cheeky, but is never too crude. Charmin has also let its followers join in on the fun. The account often creates hashtags for others to use, such as #TweetsFromTheSeat and #EnjoyTheGo.

Many brands get recognized for responding to messages, criticism and complaints with a good sense of humor. For instance, the Twitter account for Sonic the Hedgehog, the Sega video game franchise, has won over countless fans this way.

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The account openly acknowledges the many problems and in jokes that fans have held against the series over the years.

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A self-deprecating sense of humor is a humanizing quality that brands can benefit from, especially those looking to capture a younger audience.

Yet humor doesn’t always work for everybody. Some brands succeed by being seen as traditional, reserved and steadfast. Finding your tone requires careful experimentation.

5. Use caution.

There are always risks involved in humor. Context and tone should always be kept in mind. A joke can come across as more mean-spirited than intended. Choosing the right words is vital.

For instance, sarcasm is a commonly used mode of humor. It is also one that can backfire easily. Some people have trouble recognizing sarcasm, especially in text form. This can lead to people taking the joke as a serious statement.

When in doubt, keep your audience in mind. Who do you want to appeal to? How would they respond? What can be taken in the wrong way?

These are the questions that will help you gauge whether or not the humor is appropriate for your brand.

Written by Neal Hallenbeck

Neal Hallenbeck is a graduate of Adrian College. He is a freelance writer, media critic and computer game designer.

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