Could social media humour work for your brand?

We all like to be entertained.

The success of brands like Aldi, Yorkshire Tea and Innocent shows humour is a powerful currency on social media.

But does it work for all brands? Would it work for charities, councils and financial and legal firms?

And can it go beyond likes and shares and have a positive impact on your bottom line?

These were some of the questions we explored in our latest masterclass for The Media Team Academy.

We were joined by James Parker from the social creative agency Coolr, Adam Hunt from social media and digital marketing agency White Label Comedy, and Jonathan Pollinger, one of the expert tutors who deliver our social media training.

And they began by exploring some of the benefits of injecting humour into your social media activity.

“It is about getting your audience onside and engaged,” Jonathan said: “And that leads to awareness. With humour, you can go viral.

“You have to get the audience onside to do that, which means the content has to be relatable.

“I think small businesses are not really in this space, and there are plenty of brands not doing it. So, using humour can be a good way to stand out from the crowd, giving you a competitive edge.

“There’s also a chance your post will get picked up by traditional media if it is done particularly well.”

In short, humour captures attention, encourages sharing, can humanise brands and helps build relationships and connections.

It can also make organisations appear relevant.

And all this can help grow your brand.


Is it right for every brand?

But would humour work for every brand?

It is a question we are often asked during our social media training.

“Absolutely not,” James said: “It should be a discussion every brand has. There are brands that are more aesthetically focused, and they should lean more into that, particularly on Instagram.

“And if you are coming from certain charity or political aspects, there are places you don’t belong in the humourscape.”

It is worth highlighting that humour doesn’t mean cracking jokes or being edgy like Paddy Power or Ryanair. It can also be about offering something light-hearted that makes people smile.

Adam added: “My take is that there are not many brands who could not pull off humour or should not try it at all.

“But it is not about being funny all the time. And it is not even about cracking jokes. It is about being entertaining and relating to the audience in an engaging way.

“Even with charities, you wouldn’t want to write a post where the person being helped is the butt of the joke, but you can write posts where the struggles we all feel are awful are the butt of the joke.

“There are always ways to be entertaining and humorous.”

James says the motivation for using humour on social media has to be clear.

He said: “When a client comes to us and says they want to add more humour into their social media, the question I always come back to is ‘why?’. Because if they say they want to do it to drive sales, the answer is ‘no’.

“You need to build the audience and win their respect first.”


How to bring the comedy (and the importance of relatability)

So, how do you bring humour to your social media activity?

Is it time to dig out your favourite punchlines? Do you need to find a comedy writer to come up with some jokes?

Adam: “When we first launched the company five years ago, we had funny people and small brands, and our approach was to throw the proverbial at the wall.

“We would identify topics, people would write jokes, and we would pick the ones we like and put them out.

“That worked for a while, but it was hit and miss. And we didn’t really understand what was working and why.

“After a while, we realised the posts that got the best reaction were the ones that reflected the audience’s beliefs back at them.

“So, rather than trying to be funny about a topic, if the audience is frustrated about something that tends to happen to them, jokes about that would get a way bigger response.

“And that evolved to a process we use for writing jokes where we start with deep research and pull together what we call a relatability index.”

A relatability index does not sound like the natural starting point for social media. What is it?

“It is a huge dossier of relatable statements,” Adam explained. “The idea is that if someone in your audience saw one of those statements even without a joke layered on, it would get a ‘that’s so true’, ‘that’s so me’ response.”

To expand on this, Adam showed one of the first jokes the company created with this approach. It was for a confidence coach.

The company pulled a quote from one of her clients during the onboarding process that mentioned how frustrating it is being ignored in meetings and men repeating ideas as their own.

“What came out the other end is a post that said: “Feeling inspired today, remembering some of the amazing men I have worked with and the incredible ideas they’ve repeated back to me.”

“When I share it now, men can see the humour in it. But with women, their eyes light up. They laugh before they have finished reading it because that is their truth.”  


Conversion comedy framework

But humour and jokes on their own are not enough. There needs to be an aim or strategy.

“Jokes on their own are not going to sell anything,” Adam said. “You need other content that moves people through the sales process.”

His company uses something it calls a conversion comedy framework that puts posts into three categories.

The process starts with entertaining posts.

“These are posts based on the audience’s pain, fears and desires,” he said.

“We’re not writing jokes that say buy our thing. We are telling jokes about that pain everyone has. And we are associating ourselves with the solution without pitching it.”

It is followed by ‘belief-shift’ posts.

Adam said: “Here, we are working out why they are not buying and come up with creative ways to shift that.

“There will always be a reason. And if you ask enough people, one will stand out. And we need to shift them out of the way so people take the action you want.

And the final part of the process is the ‘offer posts.’

“You need to make an offer,” Adam said. “You need to tell them to take action, buy something, sign up for something or join your mailing list.

“The three post objectives work together.”

Adam says this approach works particularly well for smaller businesses, including online ones that don’t have a huge store presence. But bigger businesses may not need to reach the offer stage.

“If you take Burger King, for example, you don’t need to tell people to go to Burger King because they are walking past it every day,” he said.

“You just need to ensure it is front of mind so they are thinking about it and will go in.”


Humour during a cost-of-living crisis?

There are many occasions where humour may not be the right approach.

There’s a lot of awfulness in the news. So, you need to tread carefully.

But for the past couple of years in the UK there has been a long-running issue impacting just about everyone – the cost-of-living crisis.

Do brands need to adjust the humour they use when their customers are feeling the pinch?

James said: “A lot of our clients are food and drinks based, and we have had multiple conversations around the cost-of-living crisis and changing the tone of voice.

“We dialled back on some of the humour posts. Anything related to price we wanted to park because it is not the right time.

“You never want to offend, so you should always have four people checking your posts.

“But your content doesn’t need to address this issue – there are other places to find humour.

“You can also be supportive and funny – don’t punch down.”

Adam believes it is vital brands remember they don’t need to post about everything.

Adam added: “Not every topic needs to be dealt with through comedy, and not every brand needs to talk about every topic.

“There is no need to go there unless you feel it is a topic you feel obliged to speak on.”


Content calendar

Do you need to create a content calendar to inject the humour into your social media?

James is not a fan, feeling it results in brands getting too caught up in anniversaries and awareness days.

“I don’t like seeing things like ‘Happy cats national second birthday’,” he said. “There are some calendar events brands should jump on. But when it is your whole approach to social, it is embarrassing.

“You need to create your own space. You need to create a reason for people to come to your page. If you think about World Book Day, for example, the hashtag is great for seeing the different characters people have dressed as.

“But no one is sat there thinking ‘Where’s the Burger King tweet’. Choose your battles and find where you have the right to speak.

“The content calendar approach is not for me. We will plan out some of the content for our clients, but we want to leave some of the budget for reactive and relatable posts.”


Want access to masterclasses like this?

You need to be a member of The Media Team Academy. Click here to find out more about our learning and development programme for comms and media professionals.

Reactive and relatable posts

And that brings us neatly to reactive and relatable posts.

It is something Coolr is well known for.

And the company has a defined process for this type of social media activity.

It begins with monitoring keywords and trends associated with its clients, together with direct mentions.

The client is then made aware of this activity while the company devises a plan. Those ideas get client approval and are posted and monitored as soon as they go out.

“Social media is so volatile, you need to monitor your activity from the second it goes out,” James said. “Even if you are winning, the narrative can change immediately.”

From there, they look at how they can build on initial success.

James added: “We look at how we can blow it up, get it into newspapers, on TV or whether there should be a bigger campaign to come off the back of it.

“I ask a lot of our clients to have WhatsApp or be available for that ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because you only have around 24 hours with reactive social media before it does not really matter what you post. You have to be quick or you will not get the numbers.”

On that point, Adam added: “If you had a client paying you for reactive and was taking a week to sign everything off, you’d get fed up, and they wouldn’t see a return on their investment.”


The story of the most liked-branded tweet of all time

James is the man behind the most-liked branded tweet of all time.

Back in 2018, controversial recording artist Kanye West tweeted that McDonald’s was his favourite restaurant.

And Burger King UK – with the help of Coolr - quickly responded with a three-word tweet that simply said “explains a lot”.

That post created 536,769,135 media impressions and global headlines.

James said: “It happened four years ago, and Burger King had been a client for about six months. 

“When Kanye West tweeted that about McDonald’s, it came up in our feed. I rang the client and said, ‘Trust me on this one’, got it posted, and within 30 minutes, it was 100,000 likes.

“And then the phone blew up with news outlets trying to talk to us.

“It is one of those things that when you work on socials for long enough you know when something is going to do well.

“But when it exceeds your expectations, that is some buzz. And it set us off an agency.”


During this exclusive session for members of The Media Team Academy, we also looked at the reasons why people like, share and comment on corporate posts, and the risks of adding humour to your social media.

But you’ll need to be a member of our learning and development programme to access that content. Speak to your account manager about joining.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our social media training courses

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