Who doesn’t love a sassy tweet? Well, in my last column, we saw how a sassy tweet from an official school district Twitter account cost the social media manager her job. There were a lot of issues to examine in that situation, including whether the use of humor was appropriate.
It can be tricky for public agencies to use humor on social media, especially when trying to find the balance between being playful and remaining “official.” This time we’ll dive deeper into when humor does and doesn’t work for government agencies.
Let’s start with a government social media classic.
We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.— CIA (@CIA) June 6, 2014
Back in 2014, the CIA used humor in its very first tweet by playing off a well-known “meme” regarding the intelligence field. With more than 300,000 retweets and 250,000 likes, it’s clear that the joke went over well and resonated with the audience. After all, who wouldn’t get the joke? There was no room for misinterpretation, and because it was a clear self-reference, no possibility of offending somebody else.
If you have to blow into a Tostitos bag to know if you're intoxicated, for the love of all that is holy, DO NOT DRIVE https://t.co/gnTcIIL7Oj— Lawrence Police (@LawrenceKS_PD) January 26, 2017
A more recent example is the Lawrence, Kan., Police Department’s Super Bowl tweet about a new tortilla chip bag that acts as a breathalyzer. This post relates a core agency message (don’t drink and drive) to a trending news story. By using humor, the tweet comes across in a very human way; you could imagine a friend saying this to you in exactly the way it was written. Like our last example, this message had a low risk of being misinterpreted or seen as offensive. We have to give them bonus points for picking on something that itself is funny to visualize.
The Federal Student Aid Office also used current events to relay a core message in its Super Bowl tweet. Not only does it tie into current events, but it’s also a great use of an animated gif (from Lady Gaga’s halftime performance), which is a very strong trend in social media right now. Let’s run this post through a set of tests:
Last, let’s look at an attempt at humor that didn’t turn out so well.
The Atlanta Police Department recently made a strange tweet about Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement. While it attempted to connect the timely news story to its core message, it’s quite a stretch to make gunfire relevant to a pregnancy. This lack of clarity left the door open for interpretation, with many critics thinking there was some type of racial undertone to the post.
The department deleted the tweet (for which we hope they kept an official record!) and then apologized. The department surely had the right intentions, and was trying to tie its message with current events. However, as a golden rule, any room for interpretation in an official government post — intended to be humorous or not — is probably bad news.
If you’re looking for another example of bad humor, check out our video this month ;)