A how-to guide to humour: lessons from Justin Bieber
We have been reflecting on last few months and got thinking about trying to make people laugh when you communicate. Who has done it well? Who has had a tumbleweed moment? We’ve taken a look at some examples and discuss how to ensure success when using humour in your writing.
April 1st has always been a day to take what you read with a pinch of salt, but in recent years, the rise of social media has allowed everyone from supermarkets to supermodels to jump onto the April Fools’ bandwagon. However, the day is usually also a reminder that we don’t all share the same sense of humour, and this year was no different. Notably, popstar Justin Bieber faced backlash for the fake announcement that he was soon to become a father, quickly provoking criticism for being insensitive to those experiencing real fertility issues.
When used carefully, humour can prove a valuable tool for keeping readers engaged and bringing brands to life, but getting it wrong can risk alienating your audience in a flash. So how can you judge when and where it’s appropriate to make a joke, and when to keep things serious?
1. Know your audience
Just as a stand-up comedian might tailor their set to the audience, they’re due to perform in front of, a solid understanding of your readership is key when deciding whether to inject humour into your writing. What sort of person is going to be reading your content? Are you targeting consumers, or business professionals? What topics or themes may risk causing offence, and might therefore be better off avoided? If you’re writing for social media, there are numerous tools available to judge whether past attempts at making jokes have enhanced engagement, or sunk like a lead balloon – so make use of them!
Back in March, Ryanair learned their lesson the hard way when they decided to mock competitor, British Airways, after one of their Dusseldorf-bound flights ended up in Edinburgh instead. Customers quickly responded to their tweet, featuring an image of the book ‘Geography for Dummies’, by reminding the airline of their own far from perfect record and suggesting that they might benefit from reading a copy of “Customer Service for Dummies” instead!
2. Choose your platform carefully
There’s almost always a time and a place for humour. If you’re writing content for a number of different channels, it’s likely that jokes will be more suited to certain ones than others. For example, a family law journal, publishing advice for those going through a difficult divorce, may not be the best place to use a light-hearted tone. On the other hand, less formal platforms, such as a personal blog, can provide the perfect opportunity to experiment with a joke or two!
3. Get your timing right
Timing is everything when it comes to humour, and failing to pick the right moment could ultimately make all the difference between amusement and all-out anger. For example, choosing to make a joke over a business’ Twitter account on the day of a natural disaster is unlikely to portray the organisation in a good light, and could quickly spiral into a highly visible viral backlash. Also consider what days and times readers might be more receptive to humour, including taking advantage of significant dates, holidays and entertaining events where you can.
4. Know when to draw the line
Regardless of when and where you plan to use humour in your writing, knowing when enough is enough is essential if you want to avoid turning audiences away. A wise rule to follow is that if you’re in doubt about making a joke, it may be better to go back to the drawing board. While a subtle use of humour can do a lot to increase your content’s readability, peppering the page with gags can quickly become tacky or reduce its authority, so remember to use it sparingly!
Last year, Snapchat made a major social media faux-pas when it chose to feature a “Would You Rather” ad game, making light of the domestic abuse case involving Rihanna and Chris Brown. Asking users to choose whether they would prefer to “Slap Rihanna” or “Punch Chris Brown”, the platform fell well short of amusing users and provided a powerful reminder of the need not to go too far when using humour online.
The power of social media means that once sent out into the world, your words have the potential to be read by huge numbers of people in a short space of time, so it’s vital to use your best judgement to get humour right first time. If not, like Justin Bieber found, it may be a little too late to say sorry.