Social Media "Worst Practices": Making People Laugh

Hollis Tibbetts Director for Software Strategy, Mergers & Acquisitions Group, Dell, Inc.

Posted on August 8th 2012

Social Media "Worst Practices": Making People Laugh

Laughter is one of the most wonderful gifts bestowed upon us by our Creator.  But humor in Social Media is a tricky thing.  My sense of humor is admittedly a bit nerdy and peculiar - and to many people, decidedly un-funny.  Yet I persist in trying to make people laugh - or at least crack a smile.  So if you want to try to be funny in social media - go for it (carefully) - the world needs more laughter.

Well - let me be a bit more specific.

The world needs more laughter - but don't let it be at your (or your company's) expense!  

It's possible that you might just make a few strangers, friends, co-workers and colleagues snicker...but on the other hand, you might embarrass yourself in front of someone influential.  Or (doomsday scenario) - you write something truly memorable and it goes semi-viral on you.

Social Media Best Practice #7:  

Never make people laugh - unless that is the INTENDED outcome.

If you are making people laugh in an unintended fashion, odds are it's because you've unintentionally communicated something - and people are laughing AT you...not WITH you.

And 95% of the time, when people are laughing at you in this scenario, it is because you've done something very simple, and very preventable - you've massacred a sentence.

My First Massacre

One of my favorite sentences ever is "Flying around the room, I saw two birds."

A high school English teacher (Mr. Dick Mitchell - Amherst Central H.S. - if you are still with us, you were a great teacher) once wrote that sentence on the board. After a brief pause, everybody laughed - raucously.

It was clear what the sentence was SUPPOSED to mean - as well as what the sentence ACTUALLY meant.

I always think about that sentence when I write, and try to make sure I don't say anything that makes people giggle - thereby damaging the credibility of the company (not to mention my own reputation).

Witnessing a Massacre - first hand

The first thing I do every morning is read the news.  I'm not sure why - it's rarely good.  

But in this case, Google News brings up a headline about Governor Christie Outting Mitt Romney.  Of all the people in the Universe, Mr. Romney is the last person I'd expect to be in this situation.

Governor Christie 'Outs' Mitt Romney?  Really?  As in "evict him from some self-imposed closet"?

I opened up the article, prepared for the shock - only to find out that it was simply a bad sentence.  The editor (or author) wrote "Christie off to Colorado, will help out Romney" - rather than "will help assist Romney" or simply "will help Romney".  Governor Christie Outs Mitt Romney?

Word to the Wise - Massacres are Preventable

To paraphrase what a "shop" teacher in Jr. High School once told us, "read once".  

I always leverage the skills of at least one other person to act as an informal "editor" - to read the text and point out obvious inconsistencies, errors or structural problems - and potential embarrassments.

As an allegedly professional Software Marketing / Strategy professional, I take extreme care when I publish things on the company website, blog, or other such places that bear the company name.

Granted, in my non-professional work - my personal "Software Marketing and Strategy" blog, I'm sure you'll find boo-boos - but that site doesn't say "" on it (Dell is my employer).  As my social media topics move further from "personal social media" and closer to "Professional/Employer-related" topics, the more careful I get.  

And the most effective way to be careful - have other people READ YOUR STUFF before you hit the publish button.  I've had the opportunity to work with some truly amazing writers.  Not one of them would hit the publish button before having an "uninvolved" person read the piece first.  

"A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client" - or so goes the old saying.  The same holds true for a writer who is his or her own editor/reviewer.



Hollis Tibbetts

Director for Software Strategy, Mergers & Acquisitions Group, Dell, Inc.

Hollis has established himself as a successful software marketing and technology expert. His various strategy, marketing and technology blogs are read over 50,000 times a month. He has over 20 years experience in creating, executing and managing innovative and effective marketing programs for startup, midsize and large technology companies in Silicon Valley and Austin TX. He has substantial expertise and a highly successful track record in positioning and launching companies and products and achieving solid, sustained growth. Hollis has developed substantial expertise in middleware, SaaS, Cloud, data management and distributed application technologies, with over 2 decades of experience in marketing, technical, product management and product marketing roles at leading companies in such as Pervasive, Aruna (acquired by Progress Software), Sybase (now SAP), webMethods (now Software AG), M7 Corporation (acquired by BEA/Oracle), OnDisplay (acquired by Vignette) and KIVA Software (acquired by Netscape). He has established himself as an industry expert, having authored a large number of technology white papers, as well as published media articles and book contributions. Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers (, writes extensively on Sys-con Media ( and maintains a blog focused on creating great software: Software Marketing 2011 ( He is also active on Twitter as @SoftwareHollis Additional information is available at
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Posted on August 9th 2012 at 3:08PM

Fantastic article!

Posted on August 9th 2012 at 4:28PM

Great article and so true, Hollis!  

I always use the example sentence, 'I didn't say you were stupid.'  Written, it looks fine and means just what it says.  But now, say the sentence to yourself several times, each time emphasizing a different word.  As in, "didn't say you were stupid" and "I didn't say you were stupid" and so forth.  Each time you put emphasis on a different word, the sentence has a totally different meaning.

I always think about that when posting!  The spoken word is full of body language and emphasis, but we can't do that with the written word.

Erika Kerekes
Posted on August 9th 2012 at 5:22PM

Have you read the fantastic book Eats, Shoots & Leaves? You will never push send before doing a punctuation check again. 

I think humor is vitally important for businesses using social media. Businesses, large and small, need to learn to take themselves less seriously. Social media users are there mostly because they want to be entertained. Being funny, quirky, offbeat, whatever, is one of the best ways to get people's attention via social media. It's hard - takes personality and the willingness to use it. But well worth the effort if done gracefully.

Kent Ong
Posted on September 3rd 2012 at 6:38AM

Hi Erika, you are definitely correct. I do blog some humor posts and my audience loves it. Sometimes it converts to be my customers.

Posted on September 6th 2012 at 3:30PM

Can memes with social media do the jobs for laughing? I say yes :)