February 5, 2014

The wrong and right ways to use humor on Twitter

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Twitter can be a powerful social media marketing tool when used correctly.

Post by Brian Flax

Target audience: Marketing professionals, SEO specialists, PR pros, brand managers, businesses, nonprofits, educators, Web publishers, journalists.

brian-flaxAs a social media manager and search optimization strategist, I’ve used Twitter extensively as a social media marketing tool for businesses across the United States. When I’m deciding what type of message to tweet, I always keep the business and its target market in mind. Humor is a great way to reach your audience, attract more followers, and obtain valuable retweets from other users of the service. However, it must be deployed delicately and with discretion.

In this article, I’ll discuss the importance of humor that social media marketing experts can use in their day-to-day marketing campaigns. We’ll also look at how humor, when used the wrong way, can hurt your campaign and anger your customers. Here are some real-world examples that can serve as a guidepost so you can avoid offending your audience.

Not everyone shares the same point of view

I always determine my audience before sending out a tweet to my followers. This is a step professional social media marketers never leave out. If I’m tweeting toward a younger audience, I tend to use humor in my updates more than if I were reaching out to an older demographic. In any case, I never use humor that could be found offensive to any particular group. For example, as a rule of thumb, I tend to keep politics out of the conversation, as political views tend to vary widely among my audience.

It’s always my goal to get a conversation started, obtain retweets, and ultimately market the brand. When doing so, it’s important to remember that not everyone shares the same views I do, so even when using humor in my updates, I tend to stay as neutral as possible.

One example of a business using a political event to market their business is Kenneth Cole. The company used the protests in Cairo in an attempt at humor, which ended up backfiring and angering their customers across the globe. Although they ultimately ended up removing the tweet, it was far too late, and the damage had already been done. Screenshots of this infamous Twitter disaster can still be found around the Internet today.


Stay away from making fun of current events or politics. Not everyone shares your point of view.

Keep personal tweets clean — always

Although I’m a social media marketing specialist during the day, I also use social media and networking services in my personal life. Problem is, people can still connect my personal account to my business, so it’s important I maintain a positive image even when tweeting to my private network of friends. Just like most things on the Internet, I never know what can spread like wildfire and end up affecting my business and my clients.

Recently, Justine Sacco, a public relations executive for InterActiveCorp, posted a tweet in bad taste on her personal Twitter account. The tweet, which can be seen below, ended up angering her followers and made its way to media outlets across the United States. The tweet was a failed attempt at humor that put her in the spotlight and ultimately cost the PR executive her job.


If you represent a brand, keep your personal Twitter account in check, as well.

How to use humor correctly

Although things can go bad quickly, I still try to use humor in my Twitter updates when the content warrants it. Instead of making fun of politicians, current events, or groups of people, I tend to use funny quotes, the weather, and other consumer-friendly topics that can’t be taken offensively. I always stay away from political topics, race, gender, or any other group that can pick my tweet apart and use it against me.

As a social media marketing specialist, it’s my job to represent my clients. This means being selective with the type of humor I use, timing it right, and being creative without targeting anything or anybody specifically. There is always a chance that an attempt at humor can backfire, so I make sure I think of the consequences before I click “tweet.”

Humor can be a powerful marketing tool for both business and personal social media accounts, and it would be a shame to ruin it by posting a tweet in bad taste.

Brian Flax is a freelance writer and social media marketer based out of the Washington, D.C., area. He is experienced in a variety of topics including education, technology, and mobile payments.

One thought on “The wrong and right ways to use humor on Twitter

  1. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. -Martin Luther King.

    I agree that you shouldn’t poke fun at current events where other people may be suffering. It can be perceived as insensitive even if you didn’t mean it. However, I think people need to accept that we all have different opinions on politics, and should engage in adult conversation on the topic. Maybe we will learn something? Our government was designed to be on a short leash by the american people, and it is anything but that. We should not live in fear of our government, or feel we can lose our job, or friends for voicing our opinions. That trend needs to stop now.

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