Funny = Followers: Using Humor in Social Media

Take a minute and think about the last ad you shared over social media.

Maybe it was a commercial on YouTube. Maybe it was an animated GIF on Tumblr. Maybe it was a Tweet. But whatever it was, it was probably funny. That’s why you shared it, right? Because the joke was too good to keep to yourself.

Moz considers humor “a pre-requisite for a viral ad.” Even if your joke doesn’t go viral, savvy brands know that using humor in social media marketing is a clever way to expand both your reach and your audience.

It’s also a way to connect with your current customers—and potential new ones—without overwhelming them with requests to buy your product. As internet marketing company HubSpot explains: “Humor is a way to sell your brand without outwardly selling something.”

Make a good joke, and your followers will share it with their followers. Some of those followers will start following you, and your outreach will grow exponentially.

Don’t believe us? As social relationship platform Hootsuite reports: “Entertaining content is one of the top five reasons people follow particular brands or individuals online.”

Hootsuite’s stats get even better: “An astounding 72% of individuals who follow a brand on social media are more likely to make a purchase.”

Be funny, get followers. Get followers, get customers. It’s as simple as that.


Using humor on social media is harder than it looks. A brand’s missteps, such as @FAFSA’s “Help Me, I’m Poor” joke or @DiGiornoPizza’s joke using the domestic violence awareness hashtag #WhyIStayed, spread just as virally as their successes.

So don’t be the brand that suggests people stay in domestic violence situations because “you had pizza.” Be funny by creating relatable jokes that appeal to your core audience without offending or belittling them.

What does that mean? Well, first you have to figure out who your audience is. What are their shared cultural references, and how do they communicate with each other online? Then you need to craft jokes that draw on these shared experiences and methods of communication.

Here’s an example of how this works: during the 2013 Super Bowl, the power went out in the New Orleans Superdome, temporarily pausing the big game. Oreo took a shared experience and shared method of communication—thousands of people turning to their mobile phones to scan Twitter and learn more about the blackout—to give us this tweet:

The joke works because it is relatable, inoffensive, and taps into what thousands of minds were simultaneously thinking: what are we going to do until the power comes back on?

So that’s how to write a good joke. But what if you take a joke too far? HootSuite offers suggestions to help you stay on the laugh track and avoid accidentally offending your followers:

  • What’s is my audience paying attention to on social media right now and how will this land in that conversation?

  • Has anyone else seen this? (If yes, did that person look nervous?)

  • If people don’t really get the joke, how bad am I going to look?

  • Is this right for the brand voice and tone?

  • Who could be hurt or offended by this? (The obvious one, but always worth revisiting.)

Hootsuite’s first bullet point is especially important because breaking news tends to break on Twitter first. A joke about uncomfortable airplane seats becomes inadvertently insensitive if it’s tweeted a few seconds after a plane crash. Even if you think your joke is great, always check breaking news stories and current hashtags before tweeting, to make sure you aren’t posting an ill-timed quip.

It’s also important to remember the general comedy rule: punch up, not down. That means jokes about your brand are great; jokes about your customers are not. Jokes that reference shared human experiences are often good; jokes that poke fun at a specific subset of people are bad. Make your humor inclusive, not exclusive, and you’ll get more people laughing.


Let’s take a look at a few examples of brands who are telling great jokes that land well:

Denny’s Tumblr: If you want to see a brand that knows its audience, visit Denny’s Tumblr. The value-priced chain diner targets a Millennial demographic and makes jokes that rely heavily on surrealism and unexpected connections between diner food and human experiences.

Here’s a recent Denny’s Tumblr post, punctuation, and capitalization left intact:

it’s not cool when people say, hey fruits and veggies, nobody likes you the way you are so make yourself into a pie or a veggie bacon or something. let’s start trying to accept foods for who they are and not try to force them to be something they’re not. so pumpkins, we’d like to apologize for making you guys be a pancake. next year we’re serving your guts in chilled bowls the way it was meant to be.

As of this writing, 1,541 people have engaged with this post, either by likes or reblogs. Also— you,’re probably a bit curious about Denny’s pumpkin pancakes now, right? That means the post did its job.

Hootsuite’s Game of Social Thrones video: If you’ve got a lot of money in your social media budget, consider making something like Hootsuite’s Game of Social Thrones video. It’s high-quality parody of HBO’s Game of Thrones intro sequence to show how Hootsuite can unite the “seven kingdoms of social media.”

The video has been watched over 940,000 times and is still being shared on social media a year after its release.

Charmin’s Twitter feed: Is it possible to make jokes about toilet paper that are tasteful, hilarious, and something you’d share with both your parents and your best friends? Yes, if you’re Charmin. Here’s one of their recent tweets:

This tweet works because it combines a trending hashtag with a nearly universal human experience. The graphic also implies that it is the toilet roll’s fault for being empty—it doesn’t put the blame on a spouse or roommate, which is a smart move (remember “don’t make fun of your customers,” above). And what could possibly solve the empty roll problem? You guessed it: Charmin.


Let’s end with a few more words of wisdom:

HubSpot reminds us that even a highly-specialized business can use the exponential outreach of humor to gain new customers:

Businesses with highly-specialized or expensive products can take advantage by appealing to all audiences. Someone who interacts with your marketing may not be your target customer, but they could very well share your information with someone who is. It’s all about brand awareness.

Hootsuite’s advice? If you’re telling a really great joke, put your budget where your mouth is:

Investing just a bit of your advertising budget towards your content can significantly increase the number of people viewing your post. If it’s as funny as you think it is, investing in its reach makes sense.

And here’s some advice from us: find what’s universal about your product or service, and base your humor in that shared human experience. Run your jokes through the do’s and don’t’s listed above before you share them online. Always check current news and trending hashtags to make sure you don’t accidentally share something that appears insensitive.

And have fun. You won’t be funny unless you’re having fun doing it.

What’s the best joke you’ve ever seen a brand make on social media? Did you share it with your friends?


Originally published 10/23/17.