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Is internet humour the new norm for corporate communications?

How to use wit to attract your audience

4 minute read
Man smiling at phone

Social media and evolving algorithms are changing the way we interact online, with users flooded with content and advertising campaigns, making social media platforms more saturated than ever.

So, what can an organisation do to make someone stop scrolling and – better yet – interact?

Humans and, consequently, social media algorithms have developed a hunger for funny and light-hearted content, with memes now being known as the preferred language for young and emerging generations who largely dominate these platforms.

Edith Cowan University Media and Communications Lecturer James Hall pointed to fast food chains and their extreme use of satirical content to sell their product and brand.

This is not new, however, it’s the growth of funny content from official channels highlighting a shift in the norms for external messaging to the wider public.

“When you look at fast food, it makes sense to be playful and jokey,” he said.

“In the US, it seems to be on another level, where Wendy’s and Burger King will subtweet each other and start a humourous friendly online war between them.”

Closer to home, Domino’s Australia has also attempted to engage audiences with an out-of-the-box approach, receiving around 6200 reactions, 4500 comments and 751 shares, taking interaction with the company to another level.

While this comedic form of marketing is far from new, it is spreading to local government with organisations such as the Western Australia Police Force and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) blending witty and informative posts together.

“The public are going to channels, like the WA Police Force and the DFES, for information,” Mr Hall said.

“They don’t want to talk about politics – these are considered boring and dry.

“So, making these pages entertaining has knock-on effects.”

Win-win situation

Mr Hall attributed the rise of government using social media posts with a playful tone to not only younger people being employed in roles at the organisation but also to the success these posts had in spreading a message to a wider audience.

“The use of a funny meme, as opposed to a serious image, has a much bigger imprint on the way social media algorithms work,” he said.

“The idea of likes, interactions, comments or shares really helps to promote the post.

“The majority of people don’t sign up to TikTok, Facebook or Twitter so they can follow their favourite companies and organisations – it is a small driver in terms of usage.”

Mr Hall said these platforms allowed organisations to effectively communicate a brand to people, with some studies showing that audiences reacting to humorous memes helps with brand recognition.

“Our regard for an organisation using amusing memes to convey who they are and what they represent is generally a favourable one,” he said.

“By using this method, organisations with uniformed authorities can cultivate a brand of being more personable and conversational.

“It’s like a corporate version of the politician going into the pub and having a pint during the election campaign."

“By having an amusing social media persona, it also increases the potential for virality.”

Social media expert and Coffey & Tea Managing Director Meg Coffey agreed, saying this type of messaging is strategically used to humanise a brand and connect it with a particular audience.

She pointed to the Queensland Police Service’s social media presence from around 2015 as the turning point for more official accounts capitalising on similar humorous posts.

Referencing sports, music and other timely pop culture events was left-of-field in 2015, but has since become common practice for similar organisations on social media to boost their digital footprint and reach of their more time-sensitive posts.

“I love memes, and I love what the DFES and different police departments are doing,” Ms Coffey said.

“It’s really fun and interesting, and it makes people want to engage with them because they’re relatable and in touch.”

Time and place

As the success stories from the fun side of social media are spreading, Ms Coffey said this clever style of messaging done wrong could have some serious negative consequences to a brand’s public perception.

“It definitely is not for every business, but every brand can find a lighter way of talking and communicating with their community in a way they will understand within their corporate tone,” she said.

“If you’re a big corporation dealing with life and death situations, you need to know your social media is a trusted resource.

“If you post today that there has been a death onsite and then tomorrow you have some funny message uploaded, then that’s really inappropriate.

“I guarantee every single one of these pages with funny messaging has well-researched content calendars and has a plan, as well as having written the posts out and workshopped them before publishing.

“There’s a lot of stand-up comics who are now working in social media to try and help with copywriting.

“It’s not just ‘let’s be funny today’ – it’s a very well-thought-out and well-planned strategy.”

Mr Hall said for an organisation to adopt this kind of messaging, it needed to fit in place with the brand’s perception and the type of work it was known for doing.

“It could be a very hard, dislocated pivot if an organisation is all of a sudden a jokester,” he said.

“It’s definitely not an instance of a lot of organisations using social media this way, so every organisation should do the same because there are a lot of pitfalls.

“I would say it’s not appropriate for some organisations to embrace it.”