Is it okay to use humor in your communications?

The recent death of actor/writer/director Harold Ramis (“Animal House,” “Stripes,” “Caddyshack,” “Groundhog Day) got me thinking about humor. One obituary I read made the case that Ramis used humor to explore the underdog dynamic, and how the little guys always triumphed over the big, rich and powerful in the end.

Humor is extremely tricky to use in communications because it can easily be misconstrued. Let’s face it, humor is subjective, and what one person may find funny another person may find offensive.

I think it’s perfectly fine to use humor – as appropriate – in internal and external communications as long as the following general guidelines are met:

  • It fits the company culture or brand (e.g., fun consumer products but not defense contractors)
  • It is timely (e.g., think of Oreo’s famous tweet during the Super Bowl power outage that you can still dunk [cookies] in the dark)
  • It is not mean-spirited and does not exploit the misfortune of others
  • It is relevant to the specific message and doesn’t stretch too far to make a humorous connection
  • It is self-referential (e.g., more about “we” and “us” rather than “they” and “them”)

I’ve seen plenty of company YouTube clips that employ humor appropriately, and some that just fall flat. I think the main question that needs to be asked is not “Is this funny?” but “What do I want this message to accomplish?”

What do you think? How do you use humor in your internal and external communications?

Author: Glenn Gillen, APR
Glenn Gillen is our Senior Account Manager.

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