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Don’t Try to Be Funny on Twitter

Recently, Teresa and I were discussing some social media best practices to present to a client and she mentioned that “humor rarely works on Twitter.” I could not agree more. While there are plenty of companies (mostly B2C) that have a more casual brand identity and have customers that appreciate a well-timed meme or joke on current event, it is so hard to get humor right on Twitter that it’s best individuals and organizations who are promoting their professional brand stick to thought leadership and genuine approachability.

Particularly easy to misread on social media is sarcasm. What goes over well with a certain facial expression and vocal intonation in person can have the opposite effect online. The problem is that it’s just too hard to tell the difference between someone being humorous and someone sounding insensitive, uninformed or like a jerk. Whatever chuckles one may get from a few understanding followers does not outweigh the risk of negative backlash. Twitter makes it way too easy to find and share tweets. A sarcastic comment can be retweeted easily and framed in a way that makes it appear you are absolutely not joking. People who previously did not know your brand could sour at you upon first introduction.

Let’s dig into the archives of our industry for an example of an attempt at humor gone oh so wrong. FAFSA, as we all know, handles federal student aid for the U.S. Department of Education. It’s critical students of all economic backgrounds fill out their form on time in order to have access to financial assistance. In 2014, in efforts to relate to students and the pop culture they enjoy, the office’s social media manager decided to attach a meme of the movie Bridesmaids to a tweet encouraging students to complete their FAFSA. Take a look and understand immediately why it fell flat.

While I don’t know a sane person who doesn’t thoroughly enjoy Bridesmaids and that scene in particular, the lack of awareness around the sensitivity of the hardship many face in affording college cast FAFSA in an extremely ignorant light. This was particularly bad considering their mission, as stated on their website is to “help make college education possible for every dedicated mind by providing more than $120 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds each year to more than 13 million students paying for college or career school. We are proud to sponsor millions of American minds pursuing their educational dreams.” Making light out of being economically disadvantaged goes against everything for which their organization is supposed to stand.

Twitter is an awesome platform. It provides a stream of constantly refreshing content and is a great place to share stories and expertise and engage in dialogue with followers. But before you press post on your 280 characters, check twice to make sure your intent is clear and not cloaked and you are not betraying your personal brand or threatening your professional reputation.