Is Your Brand in on the Joke? Or Is the Joke on You?

13 Aug

One of the best ways to show your brand’s social media accounts are managed by an actual person is to show a sense of humor.

That doesn’t mean posting a lot of jokes.

It means lightening up and having a laugh — sometimes at your own expense.

People interacting with other people

We all know brands that are conservative when it comes to social media. They’re all business, and they only post photos, articles, and information that convey a professional tone. If they’re a bigger organization, then they probably run everything through multiple rounds of approval for fear that the least bit of levity may chip away at the brand’s credibility.

On the contrary, a lighter touch on social media can actually strengthen credibility. Consumers like brands that have a sense of humor. (Not just literally, in the Facebook sense.) Not only will they be stronger advocates of a brand that makes them smile, but they’ll be more willing to defend them in times of criticism, or to pass along their great content. (Hooray, word of mouth!)

Showing you understand that Facebook and Twitter are places where people interact with other people starts with speaking/writing with a lighter tone, and showing you have a sense of humor.

Yes, even when your brand is responding to criticism, or when it’s being mocked.

A couple examples of this …

The “feud” that wasn’t

Last month, Taco Bell and Old Spice got into what some were actually calling a feud on Twitter. What it really was was two brands trading random, silly barbs at each other:

Was Old Spice serious with its first tweet? Seriously? No. Of course not. Thankfully, Taco Bell realized this. But rather than just ignoring it, the food chain decided a gauntlet had been thrown down. Taco Bell was up to the challenge, and, ahem, it fought fire with fire.

The whole thing was a quick blip on the social media radar, but in this instance, both brands showed a lighter side that made people laugh and got them talking (note all the retweets).

People are still talking about this interaction more than a month later (or at least I am), showing that a little bit of humor goes a long way.

Gold medal for rebuttal

Then there’s the case of McKayla Maroney, a member of the so-called Fab — oops, I mean Fierce Five U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Maroney may have won the Gold medal with her team, but she “only” won the Silver medal last week on the vault. (That’s still awesome!) And when she took the podium to claim her medal, photographers caught her wearing a bit of a scowl.

One of the photos quickly went viral, was turned into a meme showing McKayla not impressed by everything from the Mars Curiosity rover landing to sex with Austin Powers, and spawned an entire Tumblr website: McKayla Is Not Impressed.

How did the young gymnast respond? By maintaining that same disenchanted image? No. She showed in simple but impressive fashion that she had a sense of humor about the whole thing.

On Saturday, Maroney tweeted this:

By doing so, she showed she was in on the joke, and maybe even enjoyed it. (A change from a couple days earlier, when she said it was only “kinda funny.”)

That was a quick and effective way to, if not stop the meme in its tracks, then to at least lessen the impact it was having on her personal brand. After all, the weeks after the Olympics are an important time for the athletes as they try to cash in on their medals. An unhappy brat will be less attractive to marketers than one who has a sense of humor and can poke fun at herself.

If you ask me, this tweet and photo won Maroney a Gold medal for rebuttal (not yet an official Olympic sport, but maybe it will be soon enough).

The bottom line

If only other brands showed as much humor when they receive criticism or mockery.

Yes, some things are serious and shouldn’t be treated with humor, but I suspect even Shell could have used a lighter touch with the way it responded to the fake website created by Greenpeace last month to make fun of Shell’s initiatives in the Arctic. So could NBC with all that people were saying about its “failed” coverage of the Olympics.

When that much money is at stake, humor tends to go out the window, unfortunately. And you always want to treat customer comments with respect. Never make fun of a customer’s feedback.

But the brands that can lighten up and show some humor at appropriate times are the ones that win on social media. And that’s one way for small businesses to stand apart.

Show you get the joke, that you’re not offended by it (assuming it’s not offensive), and respond in kind.

Heck, even Newark Mayor Cory Booker know how to be funny on Twitter — and he’s a government official!

True, the stronger the brand, the more flexibility you can have in using humor. If you don’t have a strong brand identity that on social media is more casual, then you may need to tread lightly with your humor.

But think of it this way: It’s just one more reason to lighten up more often, so that when everyone else is having a laugh, you can laugh with customers, not be laughed at.

Have you seen any good examples of a brand showing a sense of humor? Share them in the comments section below.

One Response to “Is Your Brand in on the Joke? Or Is the Joke on You?”


  1. I Love Social Media. Here Are 50 Reasons Why | Martin's Musings - February 13, 2015

    […] When a brand displays a sense of humor and is more concerned with building that brand than selling a […]

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