Hashtag Humor: Make Sure the Joke Isn’t on You

Hashtag Humor: Make Sure the Joke Isn't on You

Artistic image of microphone against a rustic brick wall with sp

Social media has become a multi-use platform. From politics, to videos and music sharing, to just simple conversation we have all found something of social value from these networks. One thing has made itself inherently clear, especially on Twitter, we’re all smart asses.

Most of the humor on social media, at least the planned humor, comes with a hashtag. There are two ways hashtags are used for social media humor. Either they are the joke themselves, or they are used to cultivate or moderate humor. Take the late night Comedy Central show @midnight and NBC’s @jimmyfallon. Both shows create a hashtag weekly to engage viewers and cultivate jokes. No two weeks are the same, but whatever hashtag they create (and share with viewers and followers) instantly becomes a trending topic. Many individuals and brands do this on a smaller scale daily, but it is hard to match the success of humor brands with rooted audiences.

Wading through the sarcastic comments is one thing, but finding the truly funny gems of pure humor is another. This is a not an easy task. From comedians using Twitter, to YouTube celebrities and the run-of-the-mill joke makers, there is no single hashtag to identify any of them. The simple truth is that Twitter has become something of a sarcastic playground, where humor has become the most popular swing on the set.

We have long running hashtags such as #omgsofunny and #hilarityensues, where the jokes flow daily. While the hashtags themselves aren’t that amusing, there are some amusing tweets that show up every once in a while. You can look at lists of the most popular and funniest hashtags of the year (last year) but that can be daunting, especially for brands looking to play along. There are three major ways that brands get in on the fun when it comes to social media humor.

Twitter Parties

Brands often employ folks like @resourcefulmom to hold trending Twitter parties. Each one is centered around a hashtag, created for the use of the party and that benefits the brand. These parties are basically giant conversations about subjects related to the brand itself. For instance, a kitchen appliance brand might have a Twitter party about cooking. Usually prizes are given out, when balanced against reach and impressions, a low cost affair.

The key to brands holding Twitter parties like this, and creating their own hashtags is planning. Their audience is going to want specific interaction — positive interaction. Creating a hashtag that doesn’t invite spammers or hijackers is tricky, but often quite possible. The advice for brands here is to think everything through, come up with a long list of possible hashtags and go with the most relevant and less misinterpreted one. While this doesn’t always work out (ask @resourcefulmom about the hashtags I myself have hijacked during her parties), it does at least eliminate most opportunity for failure.

Hashtag Hijacking

Speaking about hijacking, even brands do it. While the general Twitter populace loves getting their jokes in on a trending hashtag, brands have to be a little bit more strategic, even if they have nothing to do with the subject matter. The official hashtag for the LeBron James homecoming decision wasn’t actually used but in one of these brand tweets, but that is a great example of brands hopping on a trending topic and getting their jokes in.

The point is of course to be heard, but it can be a slippery slope for brands. The header of that article uses the word “awkwardly”, which is not something brands want to be called on social media. Yet, they often set themselves up as suck with poorly planned social strategies. As un-timed as it seems, the LeBron decision was a long time coming. While brands associated with the superstar had more reason to tweet about the decision, there is no reason other brands can’t talk about the news. The difference between doing that well, and just doing it is a very thin line.

Random Hashtags

Brands like @oreo and @tacobell are two major standouts when it comes to just being funny on a regular basis. A lot of planning likely goes into these funny tweets, which implies a strong social strategy and checks and balances. Rarely does a tweet backfire on either company. They, and other brands who take the time to actually think about their social strategies, usually appear random. The hashtags are different each time, and the hope is that followers latch on to the hashtag and continue the conversation. Oreo’s SuperBowl tweet was particularly well timed and spot-on.


Of course, when this strategy does backfire, it’s a big deal. Take McDonalds for instance, whose 2012 #McDStories backfired terribly (and is still going). This caused a terrible backlash at the fast food giant, who ended up killing the hashtag and revamping their social strategy to include more in-depth planning. Marketers take note — once again, the common theme between doing hashtag humor right for a brand, and doing it wrong is planning and thought.

Clever isn’t easy

Being funny on Twitter is considered either an art form, or a natural occurrence. It depend wholly on who you ask. Yet, when it comes to brands, they are held to a higher standard. When a brand falls flat, they are generally ridiculed and articles are written. When they succeed, articles are written and accolades are given. The point being, failure only comes with knowing that something in the process was wrong.

When advising brands on their social strategies, marketers are leaning towards a more long-term social media outlook. From planning social media activity around known events, to following the news and being prepared to jump in on a trending topic — brands are learning that sometimes being first isn’t always being best. YouTube commenters taught us that. Brands are learning how to be funny on Twitter, albeit with plenty of setbacks. While they aren’t exactly earning their spot in front of the brick wall (and old school stand-up joke, clap if you get it) they are certainly finding that being funny is no longer just random poop jokes. Though, sometimes it is.

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