Community Management, Social Media Tools, Facebook

When Funny Becomes Inferno a Cautionary Tale of Social Media Humor Gone Wrong

Screenshot_8_1_13_12_44_PMJay Baer Blog PostAn alert Convince & Convert fan sent me a Twitter direct message this week, alerting me to a gaping, self-inflicted social media wound  bleeding all over the Facebook page of the Evansville, Indiana airport. The status update in question has been removed, but I grabbed some screen shots before admins realized they had no career options in stand up comedy. Here it is, in all its glory:

We just saw a tweet from Google facts that an airline in India only hires women because they are lighter, so they save $500,000 in fuel!!! Insert your women drive jokes below – haha!

I have eight issues with this:

1. It doesn’t make sense, as the fact isn’t about women drivers at all

2. This is a true story, and would very much have benefitted from a link to prove it. Like this one.

3. The females-only policy only applies to flight attendants, not all positions. Perhaps inferred from the status update, but clarity is always a best practice.

4. This is a potentially interesting business decision that could have actually created some conversations about airline cost structures – a valid editorial approach for an airport Facebook page. Why burn it up with a ham-fisted joke attempt?

5. This post (and all Facebook posts) would have been better as a photo. Perhaps this one?

6. It’s generally not a good idea to potentially alienate 50% of your customer base. #JustSaying

7. Even after the tenor of the comments went way south, and the backlash was in full-force, it took Evansville almost 24 hours to delete the post

8. If you have to append “haha!” or “jk” or anything else that indicates “this is supposed to be funny” it is not funny enough. Funny doesn’t need help.

Funny Isn’t Universal

You might be thinking “but Jay, the biggest problem is that it is OFFENSIVE!” I concur, but look at the post. There are 10 likes on it, and the first five comments are either positive, or neutral. Only after the post sat there for a bit did it attract a negative comment, which then spawned a descent into outrage that culminated in deletion. (there were a few other negative comments that I didn’t capture in the screen shot)

And THAT’s the problem with posts of this sort. What someone finds funny (Andrew Dice Clay), other people find decidedly offensive (people other than ADC’s Mom). There are very few universally funny themes, and almost none that involve people as the butt of the joke. Whatever you (or your airport community manager) think is a real knee-slapper might end up causing a post like this to be written.

Monitor. Monitor. Monitor.

This is also a reason to make sure you have an alerts system set up for your Facebook page. You get a few likes and neutral comments and think you’re in the clear, and BAM! it all goes off the rails. Bigger brands will of course have a full-featured social media management software package to handle it, but I’m guessing the Evansville airport isn’t in that category. They could (and should) invest in something like Agorapulse, however, that gives you a ton of Facebook page management and monitoring functionality for $29/month.

When In Doubt, Leave It Out

Trying to be funny is so much harder than trying to be clever. We talked about the importance (and dangers) of tone with Bryan Srabian of the San Francisco Giants on my Social Pros podcast last week. Pro sports teams are starting to troll fans and other teams with regularity. Intriguing and fun, but it’s going to blow up in somebody’s face, eventually.

You are not a comedy professional. You are a social media professional.  Here’s a tip: before you try to do something funny in social media, ask five people if they think it’s funny (and don’t ask all the people in your office, too much group think). If five out of five think it’s funny, you’re probably in the clear.

How would you have written this status update? Best one in the comments below wins a signed copy of Youtility and a limited-edition Youtility T-shirt. Make me proud!


Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Humor is one of the most responded to types of social media posts. The problem is it has to be handled with kid gloves and be “funny”. Most people have such a wide variety of what they consider funny, it is easy to lose your way here.

    One way I have found to be a good avenue in using humor is asking cartoonists to use their pieces then add a question. It was a successful tactic for TedXSugarland when I handled their first year event. That was only one of many tactics that fit into our strategy and well defined audience we were talking with then. Most people will not take that route because it takes more time.

    Jay you do a great job of giving guidelines to ask better questions BEFORE hand.

  2. Chris Syme says

    Jay, you are right on. In what universe is this post funny? Humor is contextual. Anyone that thinks this is funny is missing the reason it drew so much attention. The context? It is posted by a company, not an individual. When you hit that button to post as a company, it becomes a piece of PR. I am saddened by the continual lack of good judgment by social media managers. Brands are in desperate need of social media responsible use education.

  3. Kathy Klotz-Guest says

    Jay – agreed. As a marketer and a comic improviser who has written storyboards and campaigns, funny is a craft. This is why – although I am all in favor of funny – you need writers and folks on board who do have experience in this kind of thing. And – stupid stereotypes are rarely funny. This was just not funny; it was pandering to the lowest common denominator. Still, humor in social media can be a great tool – no doubt – when used well. All humor has some risk if it’s pushing the envelope. I will do a small sample of folks to test something if I am not sure. One point where I slightly disagree with you (and maybe it’s semantics in your piece above). I don’t ask “do you think this is funny?” Funny isn’t about thinking. It’s visceral. It’s either funny or not; insulting or not. I would ask for feedback. When you stick something in front of a person, and ask specifically, “Is this funny?” they start dissecting and analyzing. You want an honest gut reaction. When they say they don’t like it, you can ask why. Just my experience as both a marketer and improviser speaking. Now, this outfit could redeem itself if – it apologized for a lapse in judgment first and owned it. Then, afterwards, poked fun at itself for its lapse in judgment. Self-parody is awesome; and it only works when you concede the mistake and fix it first. Then, it signals to the audience – “we hear you and we get it.”

  4. says

    Jay, I think you are missing the bigger problem Evansville put itself into. It just gave a ton of ammunition to a sexual harassment suit by its own employees.

    Posts like these are why corporate social media people have to wade through a ton of bureaucracy to get a program started.

    • Kathy Klotz-Guest says

      Amen, Michael. Misogyny isn’t funny to most people (sadly, there are pockets out there…). These folks didn’t get the memo. And – to your point – it is opening themselves to all kinds of legal problems.

  5. Diane Garey says

    I think there are some areas where certain corporate brands should stay clear of and unless your brand deals with something like weight, which is a personal topic for many, I that’s one. If they really want to comment, maybe they call the ‘fact’ out for what it is … sexist. “We just saw a tweet from Google facts than an airline in India only hires women because they are lighter so they save $500,000 in fuel. While containing costs is important to us as much as others, we work hard to converse costs while providing great value without resorting to such sexist measures.”

  6. Frederic Gonzalo says

    How I would have written this status update? Let’s see. How about: “An airline in India only hires women because they are lighter, so they can save $500,000 per year in fuel. What do you think, wise business move or sexist initiative?”
    (Insert link to actual story, as per your point #2)

    Notice I did not go down the humour road, too slippery in this case…
    I’d keep the funny cracks for photos or light-headed topics. Easier said than done, but a good community manager ought to tell the difference.

    Cheers, Jay. Great post, once again.

  7. says

    Thanks for sharing, Jay! I like reading about these mistakes. They help me to make better judgement in the cases when it’s not as obvious to find the best response.

  8. AlisaMeredith says

    So true, “If you have to append “haha!” or “jk” or anything else that indicates “this is supposed to be funny” it is not funny enough.” Kind of like starting a statement with, “Please don’t be offended, but (insert offensive comment here)…”

  9. Eric Olsen says

    Jay, your ending takeaway “You are not a comedy professional. You are a social media professional.” made me think. Humor is such an important part of social and communication in general, perhaps we NEED to start hiring/valuing that skill when staffing these positions?

  10. Chuck Kent says

    How would I have written this status update as the social media manager for Evansville Airport? Well, I suppose that depends on the brand objectives I was charged with serving. If, for instance, I was supposed to project a Neanderthal image of the airport (and namesake town, by extension) under the campaign theme “Travel back in time… way back” I might have written it just as is. Conversely, if my aim was to support brand Evansville Airport as, say, a professional-and-family friendly travel tool, I would have skipped it entirely and concentrated on posts that, while upbeat and light-hearted, worried less about being yuck-yuck and more about being useful… helpful… hmmm, there’s a special word I’m searching for here, help me out Jay…

  11. Ben Shute says

    My first thought answer to your question @jasonbaer:disqus I wouldn’t have – it feels like nothing but engagement bait.

    If they wanted to be truly useful though, and a catalyst for quality interaction, they should link it to a video or article on packing lighter.

    Loved the latest podcast with the SF Giants SM director.

  12. erikdeckers says

    Here’s my entry: Heard an Indian airline only hires women b/c they’re lighter; saves $500K/year in fuel. Next, flying w/o passengers saves additional $2.5 MM.

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