Contributed blog by Sawyer Johnson, Communications and Outreach Analyst for the City of Grand Rapids, MI Parks and Recreation Department
A growing number of government agencies are leaning into humor and relatable online personalities as part of their social media strategy. From nationwide pages with millions of followers like the National Park Service to hyper-specific pages like the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, agencies across the country are getting noticed for their unexpected puns, sarcasm and memes — all while effectively tying the message back to their mission.
Seeing the success of these pages, you might wonder how your agency can get in on the fun. But how do you start? From making the case to leadership to walking the very fine line of being funny while retaining your credibility, there’s a lot to consider. Below are five tips to integrate humor in your social media strategy (with examples from my agency to back them up).
If the first challenge to add more humor to your social media starts with buy-in from management, don’t approach them empty handed. Instead, use your fellow government social media peers as examples. There’s no shortage of government social media accounts striking the perfect balance of humor and education. Here are some to get you started:
It’s no surprise that many of the accounts listed above are past finalists and winners of the Government Social Media Conference’s annual Golden Post Awards. Reading the judges’ statements for award recipients, it’s clear an appropriate mix of humor, education, engagement and professionalism is a winning combination.
If you’re worried a sudden change of tone will be jarring for your audience, start where humor is the norm. There are many opportunities that exist – from April Fools’ Day, to Star Wars Day (aka #MayThe4thBeWithYou), to Pi Day (March 14). For a full list of observances, be sure to download GSM’s 2023 Observance Calendar Roundup.
The unexpected kick-off to my humor strategy was an April Fool’s Day post last year. The response was so great, I began integrating humor into my everyday strategy (when appropriate!) and continued to see increased engagement and followers.
Screenshot of an April Fool’s Day Facebook post claiming that the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department is developing the very first park on the planet Mars.
Another great way to step outside of your usual brand voice is to jump on viral trends. When it seems like every brand is putting their own spin on a popular trend, an audience tends to accept a deviation into humor even if it’s not your norm.
Whether it’s a meme, pop culture moment, or a new movie that has taken the world by storm, you can use it to boost your agency’s brand relatability if you do it right and in a timely way.
Screenshot of a Facebook post depicting a Barbie doll in beach attire photoshopped into a Grand Rapids Pool with the caption “If anyone needs us, we’ll be hanging out poolside before our showtime tonight”.
It can be easy to lose sight of the key message when you’re trying to be funny. At the end of the day, you have to keep in mind what your real goal is: engaging with and informing your community. If your content begins and ends with being funny for the sake of being funny, it won’t do you much good in the long run. However, humor can be an invaluable tool to capture attention and raise awareness of “boring” but important messages.
Take the posts below. One uses a traditional caption, image, call-to-action approach with negligible engagement. The other uses humor that practically demands a pause in scrolling with much higher reach and engagement, and still informs about the Report It app.
Screenshot of a Facebook post with an image of an online reporting app and the caption, “Did you know you can report park maintenance requests online? Visit the link below or download the grcity311 app to submit a report for maintenance needs, broken playground equipment, litter or waste bins that need emptying. You can even upload photos and watch the progress of your report! Visit grandrapidsmi.gov/Residents/Report-an-Issue/Mobile-App or call 616.456.3000 to file a report and help keep our park spaces looking their best!”
Screenshot of a Facebook post with an image of playground equipment spray painted with “[expletive] Ashley” and the caption, “We get it–break ups are hard. And we're all for writing out your feelings, but maybe try a journal next time? You'll find someone else. Our maintenance team is aware of the graffiti at Plaster Creek Park and is working to get it removed. If you come across graffiti, broken equipment, or other issues in parks, you can report them online at grandrapidsmi.gov/ReportIt”
Although it may seem counterintuitive, this is perhaps the most important tip. You don’t have to be serious all the time to be taken seriously. But you do have to maintain your credibility as a trusted, transparent source of information for your audience. You know your audience best! Experiment a little and see what the response is so you can inform your future content.
Avoid pitfalls like irrelevant memes for the sake of engagement or humor at someone’s expense. If a particular trend doesn’t have a tie-in with your work, let it pass and don’t force it. If you can first win your audience’s attention with strategic humor, you’ll have their attention in situations when you need it most.
Communications and Outreach Analyst for the City of Grand Rapids, MI Parks and Recreation Department
Sawyer Johnson is the Communications and Outreach Analyst for the City of Grand Rapids, MI Parks and Recreation Department. He handles all things marketing and communications, including social media and website management, press relations, email marketing, photography, graphic design and more. Since starting as an intern in 2017, he has grown the department’s Facebook followers from 1.7K to over 19K. His work has earned him a finalist and winner of Golden Post Awards for Best Facebook Presence and Social Media Customer Service.
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