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!


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