Humor in Social Media Marketing: How a Good Chuckle Can Increase Engagement
Laughter is the ultimate marketing tool. Its value has long been understood, as evidenced by early print ads, radio messages, and television commercials. Today, comedy’s greatest potential can be achieved on social media. From captioned memes to TikTok videos, humor in social media marketing brightens our days when we desperately crave distraction. In doing so, it inspires an impressive level of customer loyalty.
While anybody with a social media account is well aware of the prevalence of digital humor, consuming comedic content is far easier than creating it. Many people underestimate the skill required to make specific types of followers chuckle — and to use this response to drive customers through the sales funnel.
However, if your business manages to conquer this key marketing challenge, you’ll unlock a world of potential. Strategic humor could be all that stands in the way of building an engaged customer base.
In this guide, we explain why the combination of comedy and social media is so effective. You’ll also come away with a greater appreciation of the effort involved in crafting a chuckle-worthy social media campaign.
Pros and Cons of Using Humor in Your Social Media Marketing Campaigns
Humor can be a useful tool in a variety of social media efforts, but it’s not ideal in every situation. Some cases call for a more nuanced approach, in which other emotions are evoked. On occasion, the mere attempt to make a joke could be regarded as insensitive. In other situations, the idea of humor might be appealing but actually implementing it could prove surprisingly difficult.
Given the extensive effort that goes into comedic social media posts, it’s important to determine in advance whether this approach is actually capable of producing a decent return on investment. Keep the following pros and cons in mind as you seek the best solution for your brand:
The Benefits of Exercising Your Brand’s Funny Bone
Social media platforms that incorporate humor often see impressive social media engagement. With proper nurturing, this could translate to better metrics, including email list signups and website traffic. Here are the top benefits of using humorous social media content to connect with your audience:
Relate to your readers.
Relatability is crucial for success in today’s digital marketing sphere — especially for coveted consumers such as Millennials and members of Gen Z. Competence and quality are no longer good enough. Unfortunately, a company that produces exceptional products can still struggle to secure sales if consumers cannot identify or connect to the company’s core brand message.
Brands turn to several tactics for amping up the relatability factor, but few strategies are as effective as comedy. Jokes that shed light on common experiences make consumers feel connected to one another, and, more importantly, to the brand in question. Tongue-in-cheek observations about everyday concepts resonate best, as evidenced by the nearly universal appeal of Ellen DeGeneres.
Make your brand memorable.
Take a moment to consider the most memorable marketing campaigns you’ve encountered. What, exactly, made them stand out? In all likelihood, at least one of these marketing messages made you laugh.
Good humor is inherently memorable. Hence, our ability to recall a myriad of funny TV or movie quotes when we struggle to remember essential facts and figures.
A truly funny ad doesn’t just make consumers chuckle — it leaves an indelible impression, thereby linking your brand to positive emotions. Years after an effective marketing campaign, consumers will look back at the punchline and smile. In this way, humor can be the gift that keeps on giving, capable of promoting customer engagement long after it’s initially used.
Humorous content is more shareable.
While humor works well for a variety of marketing platforms, it’s especially suited to social media, where every like, retweet, and share counts. If comedy convinces followers to hit that share button, it will reach the broadest audience possible with little effort on your part.
Results from the Buffer State of Social Media 2019 Report suggest that funny content produces the best engagement. It’s even more effective when blended with inspirational elements, which followers find especially compelling. No matter the specific approach, carefully crafted humor can go well beyond your initial social media goals to produce an impressive ROI.
The Potential Downsides of Humor
Comedic content can provide a wide range of benefits, but it also involves an inherent element of risk. While the following downsides can easily be avoided, they’re still worth considering before you move forward with a humor-based approach.
Causing Unintended Offense
Given the subjective nature of humor, it can be easy for seemingly inoffensive material to upset followers. If your humor has any bite whatsoever, you can expect at least a few people to take issue with it. This could prove a huge PR issue, to the point that a single joke in poor taste could destroy years of hard work in developing a strong reputation.
Differences in Humor Style
Even if the content is inoffensive, attempts at humor won’t necessarily resonate with all users. The funniest comedians occasionally bomb, but their failure to produce laughs only results in momentary awkwardness. However, when such failures involve public social media pages, they can do a lot more damage.
Therein lies the greatest risk of comedic content: jokes that fall flat could convince followers that your brand is not nearly as relevant or relatable as it purports to be. If you struggle to determine your core audience or what makes a ‘typical’ consumer tick, humor may be too risky a proposition for the time being.
Unfortunately, the subjective nature of comedy makes it difficult to determine what, exactly, will resonate with a specific audience. Tell the wrong joke to the wrong group of followers and your brand could be in for a world of trouble. Depending on the audience, your efforts could cause eye-rolling, or worse, outrage. Both should be avoided at all costs.
Sometimes, it’s best to avoid the sheer effort of coming up with funny material for a specific audience, especially if a pay-off is not guaranteed.
Other Approaches May Be More Effective
Humor isn’t the only type of social media content capable of generating a positive response. Some brands benefit more from posting inspiring or informative messages. For example, a pharmaceutical business looking to build an air of authority may want to steer clear of humor and instead focus on data-heavy content that demonstrates the company’s trustworthy nature.
Even brands that occasionally benefit from humor may not want to use it in all situations. When addressing serious social issues, for example, businesses should shift their tone to demonstrate empathy. It’s possible to achieve this objective while infusing a humorous edge, but certainly not easy.
A goal-oriented approach is always important in social media marketing — and sometimes, the goal should not be to make followers laugh, but rather, to uplift, inspire, or inform. If humor is used at the wrong time or under a problematic set of circumstances, it can make companies seem tone-deaf or outright mean-spirited.
How Using Humor in Social Media Increases Customer Engagement
Humor’s primary benefit lies in its ability to engage customers. Comedic content serves the important purpose of telling a story, which, in turn, makes customers feel connected. The better you understand the mechanisms through which this is accomplished, the easier you’ll find it to get followers laughing — and to convince them to continue engaging with your brand.
Humor’s Impact on the Brain
We’ve long understood the power of humor, but extensive research reveals that it has an even greater impact on the brain than previously suspected. The process of interpreting a joke begins with the frontal lobe, which acts as a gatekeeper. From there, an electrical wave washes over the cerebral cortex, eventually sparking a physical response — laughter.
A hearty laugh triggers the brain’s reward center, producing a cocktail of feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. As the miracle ingredients of the commercial world, these chemicals hold the power to build deep-seated connections and drive significant purchases.
The brain quickly comes to crave anything capable of producing large volumes of dopamine. Hence, our constant attempts to enjoy humor. As soon as we deem a particular comedic source capable of delivering a strong dose of dopamine, we feel compelled to return. With social media, this means not only following funny accounts, but also voicing approval via likes, retweets, comments, and other forms of digital interaction.
Building an Emotional Connection
The neurotransmitters associated with humor can regulate our mood, dull the perception of pain, and create a stronger feeling of emotional connection. This emotional impact, in particular, is vital to the long-term success of humor-oriented social media efforts. Brands that manage to reach followers on an emotional level enjoy not only the immediate benefit of engaged followers but also, long-term loyalty that can prove valuable in years or even decades to come.
Countless examples point to the extent to which a hilarious campaign can continue to produce an emotional response years later. The right messages could prove outright transformative for a brand perception that’s otherwise stale or unfavorable.
Hence, the success of Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ campaign, which deservedly earned the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial. Starring the hilarious Isaiah Mustafa, this campaign took Old Spice from outdated to relevant in an instant, all while building an emotional connection centered around a positive image of modern masculinity.
While the original Old Spice ad aired on television, the company capitalized on its initial burst of popularity to promote a vast social media campaign intended to ramp up engagement via video content. Within just one week of the campaign’s launch, the brand’s YouTube channel and Facebook pages broke a variety of traffic records. This, in turn, drove a considerable sales boost that continues to benefit Old Spice to this day.
The power of relatability can be seen in the marketing success of Taco Bell, which regularly infuses its social media content with humor. The brand’s accounts are known for their quirky, yet personal feel, to the point that many followers regularly express their desire to make friends with the company’s social media managers. When a brand’s Twitter feed feels like an old friend, it’s clearly on the right track. From funny tweets at celebrities to taco-based Snapchat filters, Taco Bell clearly knows what it takes to get consumers laughing — and reaching for their wallets.
The Power of Recurring Themes
Many top campaigns rely on a mascot, silly situation, or some other type of theme to form a sense of cohesion between posts. This approach can make even a small-scale campaign feel important. If the humor lands well, future content building on the initial theme will produce impressive engagement among followers. These fans will come to look forward to thematic content — and the rush of dopamine they unknowingly receive each time your posts make them laugh.
Once again, Old Spice serves as an excellent example. In the early 2010s, Isaiah Mustafa starred in dozens of viral ads — each funnier than the one before. Every update was original enough to feel fresh but linked enough through the concept and character to build a cohesive campaign. Developing dozens of separate ads would have required far more time and creative effort, thereby limiting the campaign’s return on investment.
While recurring humor can produce an impressive following, strategic timing is crucial to ensure that future content doesn’t fall flat. It’s important to monitor metrics carefully, comparing between posts to determine whether likes, comments, or other markers of engagement suffer over time.
Types of Humor to Avoid in Your Social Media Marketing Strategy
The wrong jokes can quickly destroy your otherwise carefully cultivated social media presence. Certain types of humor should be sidestepped whenever possible. Others require a careful weighing of risks and benefits.
As you search for the perfect punchline for your next social media campaign, be sure to avoid the issues seen in these problematic types of marketing messages:
It should go without saying, but anything that is clearly intended to cause offense should be avoided. The problem, of course, is that even the best of us can fail to realize when jokes we think of as tame are actually hurtful. Hence, the need for due diligence when determining whether content goes beyond edgy to actively distressing your followers.
These examples shine a light on the extent to which offensive material can damage an otherwise favored brand’s reputation:
- The Houston Rockets landed in hot water with a 2015 tweet that read “Shhhh. Just close your eyes. It will be all over soon.” This post included emojis depicting a horse and a gun in reference to the Dallas Mavericks. Digital communications manager Chad Shanks was fired soon after. In his apology, he explained, “I attempted an admittedly edgy jab at the Mavericks’ expense and it did not go over well with everyone.”
- In 2014, IHOP attempted to infuse its Twitter page with an edgy vibe. Tweets referencing Missy Elliot lyrics received plenty of praise, but the account took it a step too far with the captions “flat but has a GREAT personality” and “the butterface we all know and love.” Upset followers complained of casual misogyny, prompting the brand to quickly change its tune.
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program missed the mark with a 2014 attempt at comedy that referenced Kristen Wiig’s character being kicked out of first class in the film Bridesmaids. Followers were understandably let down by the insensitive caption “Help me, I’m poor,” given FAFSA’s mission of assisting low-income students in their efforts to attend and excel at college.
- Snapchat faced a huge outcry following a tone-deaf 2018 marketing campaign. The heavily criticized ad asked followers if they would rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown. Framed in a humorous light, the ad was far from funny to outraged Rihanna fans, who were understandably upset in light of Chris Brown’s assault conviction.
Jokes work best when they feel fresh. While familiar content may occasionally produce a laugh or two, it’s more likely to result in ambivalence, or worse, annoyance.
Recurring themes may be highlighted above as a helpful tactic, but only up to a point. If the specific application of a given theme feels overdone, followers will get bored and look elsewhere for entertainment.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to come up with truly original humor, especially given the sheer bulk of comedic content published online these days. Due diligence is essential. As soon as you come up with a funny idea, conduct an exhaustive search to determine whether similar content shows up in other campaigns.
Minor similarities may be acceptable if they don’t involve competing brands. However, your content will ideally at least offer a fresh take on familiar ideas. As you examine existing content, don’t forget to consider the possibility of repetition within your brand’s social media presence.
It’s important to seek inspiration from a wide array of sources, but you’ll want to steer clear of a controversial practice often referred to as “aggregation,” in which brands rip off content from small-scale users.
The Atlantic referenced this practice in a 2019 article, highlighting skincare brand Drunk Elephant as among the most guilty of social media plagiarism. Several of Drunk Elephant’s most relatable Instagram posts are not original, but rather, produced by ordinary Twitter users who have no intention of promoting the brand.
Overly Narrow Targeting
Comedic content may require targeting to ensure it appeals to your brand’s core audience, but it’s possible to take this approach too far. Marketing efforts that get too specific risk alienating followers. This could limit opportunities for engagement from an audience that is too small to make a significant difference in traffic, conversions, or other key metrics.
Niche humor should hold broad enough appeal to be understood by the majority of your followers. In their eagerness to appeal to specific audiences, however, many top companies shut out their most loyal fans.
For example, Arby’s surprised followers in 2016 with a slew of nerd culture tweets that resonated with anime and video game enthusiasts — but confused the brand’s many other followers. A tweet referencing a ship from the anime favorite One Piece was especially perplexing, although it sparked considerable enthusiasm from a specific subset of fans. Ultimately, such campaigns would be better suited for video game developers or other businesses with niche audiences who can actually understand and appreciate this specific type of content.
The sweet spot of targeting can be difficult to hit. Too broad of a market, and your humor may feel generic or unrelatable. However, if you go too far in your efforts to target, you could make a significant subset of followers feel left out. Analyze your core consumer base carefully to achieve the marketing equivalent of Goldilocks’ ‘just right.’
How to Determine What Type of Comedy Your Social Media Needs
You’re well aware of what shouldn’t be posted on social media, to the point that finding acceptable material can be an exercise in frustration. Equipped with a long list of what not to post, you might be short on inspiration for acceptable content. Thankfully, a variety of strategies allow you to discover the type of comedy best suited to your audience, as highlighted below:
Outline Your Objectives
Social media humor should be purpose-driven. Given the sheer effort of determining what, exactly, your audience finds funny, it’s important to know what you intend to accomplish with a particular campaign — and how humor will help you achieve those objectives. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to be funny for the sake of it.
When every social media update comes accompanied by a significant degree of risk, it’s crucial that you weigh the benefits whenever you attempt to make followers laugh. If funny content doesn’t help you make progress towards your chief marketing objectives, it might not be worth the potential risk.
Examples of common goals for social media campaigns include:
- Increasing sign-ups for key services that your business provides.
- Adding new followers to your company’s email list.
- Encouraging followers to complete and submit interest forms on your website.
- Driving traffic, and hopefully, sales for your eCommerce website.
- Encouraging followers to sign up for virtual or in-person marketing events.
Once you’ve highlighted the long-term objectives for your humor-based marketing campaign, develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to keep you on track. These will let you know if you’re making sufficient progress — or if it might be worth your while to tweak your strategy.
If you’re hoping to accomplish one of the objectives outlined above through increased engagement, consider the following KPIs as signs of improvement:
- Number of followers
- Likes, retweets, or shares
- Comments — especially positive responses that spark conversation
- Reactions to Instagram or Facebook Stories
- Direct messages from followers
- Organic brand mentions — not in response to a particular post
Identify Your Brand’s Voice
All comedic content should feel in step with your brand’s typical voice and culture. If you generally maintain a laid-back vibe, humor should be casual. Conversely, a higher-end, intellectually-oriented brand might require a dryer, more satirical sense of humor. Use buyer personas to highlight how a typical customer might respond to various types of comedy.
Target Humor Based on the Platform
As you implement a humor-based strategy for improving engagement, consider not only the content itself, but also, where it’s posted. Quips that work well on Facebook or YouTube could prove disastrous on LinkedIn, where users expect to encounter dry humor — if they see jokes at all.
Instead of blindly posting the same content on every platform available, consider where it will be best received and how the material could be adapted to fit different types of social media websites. To that end, consider limiting your social media presence to a handful of platforms that fit your core audience.
While it’s tempting to highlight content in as many locations as possible, this will ultimately dilute the message — especially if said content is poorly suited to a particular social media site. It would be foolish, for example, to try to adapt content meant for TikTok to LinkedIn. These sites, while both valuable for certain types of marketing campaigns, simply don’t hold enough in common to appeal to the same audience.
Consider the Role of Timing
Comedy is all about timing. This is obvious in standup but just as true of social media. An otherwise hilarious post can seem out of step if shared during a time of difficulty. For example, in the wake of the coronavirus, jokes making light of illness might not be appreciated.
Timing isn’t just a matter of avoiding offensive banter. It also determines whether posts are relevant enough to actually get people laughing. While some subject matter is always funny, certain topics only spark laughter within a short timeframe. If you miss this brief window of opportunity, you’ll struggle to develop the cutting-edge, trend-oriented perception you desire.
Unfortunately, the fast-paced nature of the Internet mandates that funny posts follow relevant topics within a few hours, or at most, a few days. If you prefer a trend-oriented approach to humor, you’ll need to keep on top of the social media zeitgeist to determine which topics are picking up steam at any given moment — and which are on the way out. If you’re not prepared to invest the considerable time necessary for this effort, consider outsourcing your social media or skipping time-sensitive humor altogether.
Comedy, like any content marketing effort, can be evergreen. Some concepts hold a mass appeal over time. Animated gifs, for example, are always funny, even if preferred types of gifs vary slightly over time.
Several classic memes also continue to produce an impressive response, despite floating around the internet for years. The distracted boyfriend, for example, will always keep followers laughing and can be adapted to suit a wide variety of purposes. Save this and other enduring options for scheduled posts or updates when no relevant trends are available.
Research Hashtags And Trends
Often, the most offensive posts occur not because somebody intended to cause harm, but rather, because some social media managers lack the self-awareness needed to determine when content goes too far. Such was the case with a shockingly cavalier tweet from the DiGiorno account during the height of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal. In response to the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed, the frozen pizza brand tweeted “You had pizza.”
Another surprising example of hashtag negligence: in 2017, British brand Warburtons accidentally led fans straight to photos from the furry community by encouraging followers to use the hashtag #CrumpetCreations. Humor may not have been the original intent, but it was certainly the unanticipated result of this ill-fated campaign.
DiGiorno and Warburtons’ mistakes reveal the need for thorough research prior to getting involved in hashtag campaigns. While hashtags can be helpful, they’re also notoriously easy to misinterpret. When in doubt, study existing content thoroughly to determine whether a seemingly innocent hashtag could lead to problematic content.
Take Funny Concepts for a Test Run
If you’re exploring a new concept for an important marketing initiative, consider taking it for a test run. This will help you determine whether the intended content is as funny as your creative team thinks it is. If you’re unsure of a specific aspect of your upcoming campaign, use A/B testing to determine whether modifications are required.
Twitter recommends A/B testing for determining the appropriate brand voice or examining different types of creative content. Likewise, Steve Olenski of the Forbes CMO Network highlights the value of A/B tests among small audiences, which can catch the potential for accidentally causing offense before your tweet or Facebook update is released on a large scale.
If you’re determined to amp up your digital strategy but not quite sure how to increase social engagement, the use of humor in social media marketing might do the trick. Followers who perceive your brand as funny are more likely to engage with your social media content, and ultimately, become loyal customers. Put in the effort to determine what, exactly, your target audience finds funny. This could pay dividends down the road. A few laughs may make all the difference between a stale social media presence and a rockstar campaign.
If you don’t have anyone on your team who is well-suited to create humorous social media marketing content, then it may be time to call in the experts. When you hire a humor writer who specializes in writing chuckle-worthy content, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that come with using humor in marketing. A humor writer understands the nuances of using comedy in your content marketing. They can help you avoid saying the wrong thing and focus on creating funny content that appeals to a wide audience.
Need help finding a humor writer? WriterAccess is home to some of the funniest freelancers on the planet. Reach out to us today to find a humorous writer that fits your brand.
Stephanie G.‘s writing experience covers a vast array of topics and industries. Specialties include legal, entertainment, lifestyle, marketing, and automotive writing. A regular contributor for SheKnows Entertainment, Stephanie covers trending news, creates entertaining recaps, and interviews today’s hottest reality stars. Like most Minnesotans, Stephanie takes pride in her hometown. She regularly creates content about her home state; her articles for Twin Cities NewsCastic and other local sites have generated hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets.