The Role of Humor in Social Media

Ben Padley
Ben Padley Global Digital Engagement Director, Barclaycard

Posted on April 5th 2013

The Role of Humor in Social Media

social media engagementThe power of humour can be a formidable asset in the world of social media marketing, but it is not an appropriate tool for every brand and must be wielded with discretion. Although there are exceptions to every rule, here are a few key elements a marketing director should keep in mind when considering employing some comic relief within a brand's social media content.

The first question that should be asked is whether comedy has a place within a particular brand's communications at all. Does it fit within the current tone of voice being employed for content on social channels? Does it relate to the image of the brand? For example, it might be a bit of a shock to fans accustomed to a sombre, factual tone if they were suddenly regaled with witty banter.

The next question to ask is what kind of humorous approach and which topics would resonate the best with a brand's target audience and the character of each social platform. Some brands and their followers might be more amenable to displays of wit and wordplay, others might be more interested in dark humour or geeky in-jokes, and then there are those who love cat videos.

Overall, the focus and tone of humorous content should complement the brand's overarching social media strategy. The goal is to choose topics that are close to the hearts of fans and related to products or services a brand offers, and then present them in a manner that would be appreciated the most by each audience.

Everyone, from a stand-up comedian to a chief marketing officer, knows that in comedy, timing is everything. This is especially true in the fast-moving, viral world of social media where jokes catch fire and grow cold in minutes. If a brand is looking to capitalise on a funny bit of news, for example, it must act fast to get noticed by the ever-shortening attention span of today's online audience. Jokes about things that happened several months ago are not usually nearly as noticeable as ones that deal with something happening today.

Just as importantly, brands should be careful not to jump on the bandwagon of a hot meme, only to be caught with it red handed after it dies and becomes unpopular or, even worse, uncool. Actually, keeping up with fads and trends is a vital, and difficult, task that extends to every aspect of social media planning.

As with anything that is highly subjective, comedy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Ill-conceived attempts at being funny could be disastrous in social media. On the milder side of the spectrum, flat attempts at wit could result in unwanted attention in the form of ridicule and distain, portraying the brand as out of touch or amateur. On the more severe side, misguided stabs at comedy could cause serious offense, making a brand seem ignorant or even cruel. Unfortunately, there are thousands of people out there waiting to pounce on missteps made by brands in the social sphere; so little mistakes have the potential to be amplified enormously.

Generally, disarming people with laughter is an excellent way to form affinity and start conversations, activities that are highly important in social media. However, brands must carefully consider their approach to humorous content to make sure they employ it in the manner most appropriate for their objectives.

(image: social media and humor / shutterstock)

Ben Padley

Ben Padley

Global Digital Engagement Director, Barclaycard

With over 15 years of experience in Sales and Marketing, Ben has worked extensively in local and global marketing roles across different areas of Telecommunications and Financial Services, supporting the agenda of the Chief Marketing Officer. Previously, he was the Global Vice President at Sony Ericsson (now Sony Mobile) and Marketing Director for their UK and Ireland business. Most recently, Ben was Barclaycard’s first Global Digital Director.  

As an experienced VP of Marketing, Ben has led commercial success through all forms of marketing and product marketing, traditional and digital including social media and CRM. Whilst at Sony Ericsson, Ben led the team that developed the brand's global Facebook page from 250,000 to more than 6 million fans in under two years, creating what was at the time recognised as the most engaged Facebook brand page in the world.

You can follow Ben on Twitter @benpadley and read his blog at All opinions expressed in articles are Ben's own.



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Posted on April 9th 2013 at 7:55AM

hi Ben

another great post (why quiet for so long).

I remember from my early days in advertising, the classic case study on humour was Alka Seltzer: sales shot up when the campaign moved from talking about it like a medicine. 

At Verbal Identity, we're always looking at ways to make copy more engaging. I think your point about relevancy is crucial.