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Finding the Funny in Government

Humor can be a useful tool for generating social media engagement in the public sector.

“See you in the funny pages!” I remember my grandpa frequently using this good-natured colloquialism when saying goodbye to friends and family. It referred to a time when comic strips, a.k.a. “the funnies,” were published in the back of printed newspapers. Everyone flipped to the back of the paper to follow their favorites with each new issue.

Viral humor on today’s social media might be a close equivalent to yesterday’s funnies. We not only share these witty posts and clever burns with our friends and family, we also intentionally follow profiles that consistently use humor. Humor is a legitimate tool for earning a social media following, and the benefits of funny posts go well beyond simply getting one-time social media shares. Brands such as Wendy’s maintain a loyal following online, entirely derived from the tone of their social media presence.  

For example, in June 2018, IHOP (the International House of Pancakes) temporarily changed its Twitter handle to IHOb to publicize its new burger menu offerings. When a fan tweeted this news to Wendy’s, its hilarious burn — “Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard” — was widely praised on and off social media.

Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard. — Wendy's (@Wendys) June 11, 2018
But does humor work for government? Absolutely. Several government agencies have cracked the code in terms of effectively incorporating humor in their mainstream social media activities and striking a balance between the funnies and getting important government business done.

A quick look at the Lawrence, Kan., Police Department’s Twitter profile reveals why it’s known for its use of humor. Hats off to LKPD Officers Drew Fennelly and Derrick Smith for continually raising the bar for government humor. Not many agencies can say they’ve earned over half a million interactions on one tweet alone. In real life, their department is recognized, and even defended to outsiders, by citizens as a direct result of its Twitter style. Here's one of my favorites:

WE DID THE CLOWN THING LAST YEAR WE AREN'T DOING THIS AGAIN — Lawrence Police (@LawrenceKS_PD) September 6, 2017
Growing your online reach and getting positive public sentiment are both important goals. But what about using humor to actually get people to do something? A classic example of a humorous post getting people to take action — in this case, apply for a job opening — is a January 2018 tweet by the city of Los Angeles: — CityLosAngeles-Jobs (@Citylajobs) January 18, 2018
The response was resounding, and gave the city a new avenue to create engagement around employment opportunities.

If you’re anything like me, you continue to follow these profiles to see what these agencies will think of next. And maybe I’ll see you in the funny pages ...

Kristy Dalton is known as "GovGirl" in the government technology industry. She has been called on as an industry influencer and has a passion for social media, technology and digital strategy. Kristy is the founder & CEO of Government Social Media.