What's he laughing at, anyway?

Cats might laugh, too, but they always look sinister.

You love to laugh.

I love to laugh.

We all love to laugh.

There’s a negligible number of people in this world who don’t love a good guffaw. Most of those are practicing self-deception. Heck, even dogs giggle in their own way. There are very few things as pervasive and equalizing as laughter. No matter what language you speak, if you’re laughing together, you’re understanding one another.

Laughter is a powerful, unpredictable reaction; to harness that power, you must be especially clever and careful. No matter what your target audience, using humor as an aspect of your content marketing strategy is a nothin’-but-net guarantee—as long as you’re successful.

A Veritable Panacea

Involving humor in your marketing strategy can be a stroke of genius. Almost all content that goes viral has a humorous aspect to it—think Grumpy Cat, Doge, any Internet meme, in fact. Of course, most memes aren’t created with marketing in mind, and people are inherently suspicious of marketing ploys (as evidenced by the sarcasm-speckled results when you search #brand on Twitter).

A successful content marketing campaign that involves funny business can launch you toward a few lofty goals. Above all else, it keeps your message human, which can be difficult to do when you’re a faceless business. The hallmark of a truly funny something is how well it surprises and delights. And along with that surprise comes a change of perspective, a feeling of camaraderie, and the first gently-unfurled petals of blossoming trust. The rewards to reap from successful, funny marketing techniques are almost beyond value; the risks, however, can be overwhelming.

It’s All in the Delivery

In content marketing, there are a few avenues that are best suited to an attempt at humor. Most of these will be your social media outlets: Twitter, Facebook, even Pinterest if you’re image-literate. Each medium has its pros and cons. The brevity and shareability of Twitter can be tempting, but it’s also a volatile public space where any weakness in your joke will be exploited. Facebook combines the social reach of Twitter and the image-reliance of Pinterest to provide a very joke-worthy template, but faces similar dangers to the Twitterverse. Pinterest is likely the safest medium of all, given its total reliance on sharing and subpar commenting capabilities, but it doesn’t have the reach of its more social cousins.

Incorporating a humorous tone into your site content, blogs, press releases, and other written content can be very beneficial, as it drives customer engagement and encourages your readers to finish what they’ve started. Sometimes, a playful writing voice can make all the difference, and it’s much less controversial than a stand-alone 140-character risk. April Fool’s Day pranks have ever been a safe bet for a well-received joke. Other innocuous options include the funny things children and animals do (videos and images are valuable, of course), puns, and—surprisingly—poking fun at your own brand. Charmin, for instance, has been wildly successful just by embracing and, yes, even celebrating the common usage of toilet paper.

The cruel mind-game that dominated office monitors in the 90s.

That’s not the face you want to see.

The Pitfalls of Pratfalls

Thomas Jefferson almost had it right: with great reward comes great risk. The downward spiral of bad publicity that accompanies a failed attempt at humor—or, worse, an outright offensive joke—can be difficult to recover from. To avoid the vicious reaction campaigns such as American Apparel’s Hurricane Sandy Sale and Kenneth Cole’s insensitive Egypt tweet have garnered, there are a few things you should consider:

  • Who is your target audience? What’s their sense of humor like? Would they prefer the wholesome, family-friendly banter of “Full House,” or the irreverence of “Family Guy”? This will make or break your comedic success, so do some research before diving in.
  • Is your subject an appropriate foundation for a joke to be built upon? If you’re blogging about crematory services, most likely not. If you’re a deep-fried pickles franchise, you’re probably golden.
  • This is the most important thing to keep in mind: is it offensive? To anyone? Besides appealing to the lowest common denominator and reinforcing harmful stereotypes, offensive jokes are barely well-received from professional comedians, much less your social media marketing intern.

Navigating the company-humor minefield can be as frustrating as, well, as a good game of Minesweeper. Sometimes you’re positive that you’ve avoided the danger, when suddenly you hit a mine and it’s game over. Consider all the aspects of your joke—if anyone might be alienated, ditch it. You ought to stay away from any subject that would get you in trouble with HR. Next, test it out on some unsuspecting “guinea pigs.” If it doesn’t elicit a laugh-worthy reaction—or a chuckle, or even a slight upturn of the mouth-corners—scrap it and try again. And if you’re not the comedic type, consider outsourcing your funny to a Writer who knows what they’re doing.