Most business websites steer absolutely clear of three things: politics, religion -- and humor. Is it any wonder, then, that most business websites are detached, uninspiring and mind-numbingly dull? A dash of humor, on the other hand, will make your website less detached, more inspiring, and anything but dull.
Humor versus Insult
At its best, humor engages users. But humor must be at its best, or it will misfire and literally blow up in your face.
That last sentence was a joke. Did you get it? If not, no worries: it’s an example of how not to use humor in website copy. The rampant misuse of “literally” and “figuratively” gives professional writers a lot of laughs, but readers of this blog aren’t necessarily writers.
For humor to be effective, it must amuse the reader as well as the writer. Things that are funny to you and your coworkers or peers may not make any sense at all to potential customers. Even worse, some inside jokes come at the expense of the customer, which is almost certain to send them off into the arms of a competitor.
So the first and indispensible lesson for using humor: know your audience. This presents a real challenge for outsourced copywriters. If you use an outside writer for your site content, be sure to coach him/her on where customers will see humor in your business or industry.
Relevant versus Ridiculous
All this talk about customers brings up another key attribute of business humor, relevance. Jokes about the business world your customers live in make you look perceptive and connected. Thus, they help customers connect with you – and like you.
On the other hand, jokes about golf on a sheet metal fabricating website make you look like a nut job. Even if the jokes are funny, potential customers won’t trust your hands with carbon steel laser cutting if they think your head is at the golf course.
Lack of relevance is a real danger with business humor, and the fear of coming off as inappropriate or unhinged is what causes many firms to avoid humor altogether. And indeed, customers must be able to see a connection between the humor and the business, or you are better off following the advice, when in doubt, leave the humor out.
5 Quick Tips on how to add humor to your website:
- Humor isn’t the main course; it’s seasoning. Heaping helpings of humor will make readers vomit (figuratively).
- To prevent humor from mingling with important information, place humorous design elements on the sidebars of page templates. For instance, many blogs feature a daily cartoon that gives readers a reason to come back.
- Speaking of blogs, they make a great focal point for humor, because most readers expect them to be less stodgy than the main site.
- Videos are another wonderful way to convey humor, mainly because people can’t resist watching them. Bonus tip: Keep them short.
- Let users provide the humor. I’ll show you an example in a minute.
Humor at Work: Big Ass Fans
Big Ass Fans is one of my favorite companies, and it’s all because of how they use humor on their site.
Their site has a “Genius Not At Work” page, which features a short video poking fun at the company name:
They also have a “Kudos & Complaints” section, which consists of “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” reader feedback, along with company responses where appropriate. Here’s an exchange that manages to touch on religion:
Notice that the company violates some of the suggestions I made in this post. Big Ass is definitely inviting controversy … but with a name like that, can you blame them?
There are two reasons why Big Ass Fans makes it work. First, they allow customers to do the talking; second, they make themselves the butt of customer comments and their own humorous content.
Big Ass Fans is a large, successful manufacturer of industrial fans. They have used humor for many years to engage customers and improve brand awareness. If humor can work for them, maybe it can work for you.