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The Dangers—and Delights—of Using Humor in Your Online Content

using-humor-in-your-online-content

We remember things that made us laugh, whether it was as recent as a scene in a movie or as distant as a hilarious moment in our high school years.  What if we could use this gem of a fact to reach and engage more people with our online content?

The Argument Against Using Humor

Humor can be tricky and there are certainly instances where it shouldn’t be used (although how many times have you gone to a funeral where the mourners were laughing at stories about their departed loved one?). There can be pitfalls for sure, but, used right,  there are many benefits, too.

1. Your words aren’t always taken the way you meant them.

You understand in your own head what you are trying to say. But unless you paint your picture vividly and with enough details, your readers have a hard time following you.

2. People can’t see your face.

Body language adds much to the expression of humor. The expression on your face. The way you use your hands. In a blog post, no matter how much you think your tone is playful, in the end, it’s all just words and fonts.

3. You don’t know where your readers are coming from.

Here’s a perfect example. One day, a few years ago, a social media personality I follow on Twitter tweeted a quote from one of my favorite writers, Sylvia Plath: “The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt.”  Good quote. I love it. But then he added something about the next worse enemy of creativity being suicide.

Plagued by depression her whole life, Plath did indeed take her own life by putting her head in a gas oven. And if it didn’t happen that we had a very painful suicide in our family that we were still mourning, I might have laughed at his tweet.  But it just wasn’t funny to me.  As I look back, he was probably, in his own way, reflecting on the loss of a brilliant creative soul, not through her self-doubt, but the taking of her own life. The big question: Why couldn’t I laugh along with him?

Because I was too close to the subject.

The Argument for Using Humor

I learned something that day about the delicate balance between humor and a sensitive topic.

1. It’s the closest bridge between two people.

Humor, done right, brings people together and shows them that they have more in common with you than the differences they may perceive. It’s that, yeah-I’ve-been-there-too feeling that you want to elicit. In the process, it builds a sense of community. And if you have a blog, that is exactly what you want to happen.

2. It humanizes you.

This is a big one. Humor takes you from being a cardboard cutout to a real, live, breathing person who stumbles and gets up and tries again, just like the rest of us. The best writers and bloggers have a certain vulnerability.

They admit their humanness.

3. It takes the focus off other people’s shortcomings and puts the spotlight on you.

if you can turn your humor on yourself, you can address problems that almost everyone has, but do it in a non-threatening way. In a post about why it’s okay to watch other bloggers, take their strategies and apply them in your own unique ways, I told a story about my insecurities as a first-year teacher and how I shamelessly copied the veteran teachers in an attempt to find my own style. We have all felt that way at one time or another, so we can relate to it  without being called out or put on the spot.

4. It helps people remember your content.

As if you needed a scientific argument for using humor, in a research study, brain scans of the prefrontal cortex found that humor activated the brain’s dopamine reward system, which improves long-term memory.

Tips for Writing Humor – Infused Content

tips-for-writing-humor-infused-content

E.B. White, the distinguished writer and author of the children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web once said, “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process.” I agree with White. I honestly believe that no one can teach someone else how to be ‘funny.’

In my experience, a truly funny writer or speaker is not merely someone who tells jokes. Humor is personal. It’s the unique way each of us thinks and sees the world. And really. How can that be taught?

So, in respect of E.B. White and funny writers everywhere, I offer some ideas for injecting your own brand of humor into your online content:

Mine your own experiences.

Are there stories you could tell about your life, your family, your past jobs, that hold some truth for the topics you blog about? The key here is to help your readers extract from your funny story the universal truth.

My story about not being able to convince my 12-year-old daughter to unroll her jeans and turn her shirts right side out before throwing them in the laundry basket became a blog post on the topic of time management for writers. A story I opened last week’s post with on this blog, about the time I quit a job with the help of a hand puppet, drew readers into the subject of how social media connects us.

Play around with a few ideas of your own for using funny stories from personal experience in your writing. The more you do, the better you’ll get.

Show us how you view the world.

Each of us sees things differently. Don’t be afraid to let us peek into your mind and heart.

Embrace the spirit that we are all in this together.

Once I wrote on my blog about how painfully bad my very first post was.  My intention was to encourage others who may just be starting out, to show them that we are all in the same boat. That we each had to start with that first post:

Now I wouldn’t call myself an ‘A-list blogger’ (though I’m working on it). But, just for fun, I pulled out my very first blog post, written not quite three years ago. Okay, it wasn’t fun. It was an excruciating experience. What was I thinking? I called this piece of crap a blog post? In that respect, we are all alike. We all had a first post.

I proceeded to tear the blog post apart, practically line for line. And in the comments, we all laughed together and several people went back to read their first posts and report back on them.

Observe and remember the details.

Using details draws your reader in with image-rich words that  paint pictures in her brain. If you are starting out, a good place to begin might be your bio or about page. For instance, on my about page’s “Things You Didn’t Know About Me,” I could have said, “I love reading, rescuing animals and collecting antiques.” Instead, I said:

In my spare time, I love reading 19th century novels, preparing gourmet meals for stray cats and collecting those little snow globe thingies.

Do you see how adding details and using more visual words made it more interesting?

Stay away from topics that might trigger unpleasant emotional reactions.

It’s probably a good idea to avoid subjects like death, divorce, and politics. They have the potential for alienating, angering or dividing your readers.