Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | Local and state agencies walk a fine line between showing their personality through humor and remaining factual.
It’s undeniable—social media has become a vital communication tool for government as citizens flock to these channels to engage with public services and offices and find timely information during crises. When used effectively, social media can be a powerful way for agencies and officials to connect with citizens and increase transparency, trust and engagement.
While some may think that government communications should remain “official” and straightforward, humor can help humanize public officials and increase engagement with citizens.
The benefits of using humor in communications with citizens include:
- Boosting engagement and reach. Humor is a brilliant way to grab followers’ attention and lead them to wanting to learn more about a program or service. It also allows government to connect with a broader audience in a relatable and relevant way.
- Widening accessibility and conversation. Humor can also help make complex topics more memorable and easier to understand. Information packaged in a digestible way encourages engagement and feedback from citizens.
- Creating new connections. Developing more approachable content allows government agencies to pull back the curtain and share how they really function. Appropriate use of humor also connects fellow groups and organizations who may share a similar point of view and can soften or produce a more favorable attitude toward an agency.
At the recent Government Social Media Conference in Reno, Nevada, a session about using humor on government social media channels was particularly interesting and timely.
Matt Turner, the social media specialist at the National Park Service, walked the audience through how his team has successfully used humor on its social media channels.
In front of a jam-packed audience, Turner showed how his team used a series of tongue-in-cheek Instagram posts to promote bear safety. The posts’ humorous approach combined engaging content with need-to-know information and resulted in increased engagement.
Creating humorous content for local and state government social channels is a delicate balance. On top of staying up to date with current trends, local and state agencies and officials walk a fine line between showing their personality through humor and remaining factual and adhering to official social marketing guidelines.
It’s also important to ensure that posts are right for both the topic and audience. Using humor inappropriately can backfire and damage the reputation of agencies and officials, so social media managers must carefully consider the tone and context of the message before adding humor.
A key takeaway from the session was that approaching humor on social should first start with having clearly defined goals that ensure all content aligns with the brand and mission of the agency. Turner shared best practices for government communicators looking to infuse humor into their social strategies and planning. The process starts with getting buy-in from leadership to implement the approach. From there, social media managers should:
- Analyze the audience: Track audience metrics, understand who they are, what their social user behaviors are and how they respond to your content.
- Look for inspiration: Monitor what similar agencies are doing. If there are campaigns or posts that are receiving lots of positive feedback and engagement take inspiration from those posts and test and iterate on your social strategy.
- Find your voice: Consistency is key—stay authentic to your voice and personality. There’s a fine line between cringey and effective voices, but experiment with different types of humor to see what resonates best with your audience.
- Get a second pair of eyes: Collaborate with colleagues and gut check cheeky content. Humor is subjective and shouldn’t overshadow the message—it’s important to remember that the ultimate goal of your content is to communicate information.
- Measure success: Use analytics to gauge the performance of your content and how well your humor resonates with them. Social media allows agencies to test, iterate and adjust your social strategy according to the feedback that citizens share.
Universally, using humor in communication is a powerful tool for increasing engagement and comprehension of important issues—but even more so for government bodies challenged with communicating often complex, sensitive information. To ensure humor is used effectively, it’s crucial for government communicators to remain mindful of their core brand, audience, and message.
Adapting to the evolving platform algorithms is a great way to boost engagement on social, but what will guarantee better success is understanding what content resonates best with each channel’s audience—something Matt Turner has clearly figured out.
Mark Rybchuk is the director of public sector at Hootsuite.