We’re all guilty of it. All of your friends tell you that you’re Hi-LARious, so you craft a delightful witticism and drop it right into your blog post or Facebook feed. You speak at an event or in an interview and throw a few hooks in with your one-two punch. Everyone enjoys a little sarcasm or a cute quip, right?
Wrong. Very wrong. Danger, Will Robinson.
Unless you’re a comedian or a professional writer, don’t lay on the funnies. There’s a reason those guys are paid the big bucks—because their work is largely formulaic and they experiment with content often. And not every comic resonates with us. Even though they’re professionals honing their crafts on the daily, only a very small niche of funny people can actually make us laugh.
Let's aim for "Not Funny at All."
What’s worse than a person with no personality? A person with too much personality!
I cringe whenever I find on-the-nose humor in a business piece, lead generation, or spoken interview; it undermines the author’s message and authority. You come across as flippant, and your anonymous reader will think you’re arrogant or overblown. A potential professional connection disappears into the black hole of your ego.
Even if you’re writing for speaking to a niche population and your piece is objectively amusing, the average reader will have very limited context for an embedded joke and even less time to parse through an ambiguous reference. The worst crime in business is wasting other people’s time. Don’t sacrifice your chance to reach them.
Don’t focus on being engaging; focus on engaging with your audience.
Make your tone conversational, not comical. Concentrate on these three steps when creating or curating content:
1. Identify yourself as a thought leader.
2. Demonstrate professional awareness.
3. Build a network.
Identifying yourself as a thought leader worth following and engaging with is more important than being “readable” or “endearing.” When you’re building a network or brand, stick to a professional tone and create unique content. If your content doesn’t achieve those three goals, reconsider it. Quality long-term relationships with clients and professional peers are better than one-offs.
As an example of this rule of three in action, I created the “Neurotic Law Student” character when I entered law school. I’m intensely Type A and immensely sarcastic, both of which are a benefit in such a fast-moving, adversarial profession. I had a successful blog and social media strategy as “NLS” to connect with my peers through commentary on an insular social environment (Thought Leader), grow my professional network through legal news updates (Demonstrate Professional Awareness), and build community among my cohort through shared experience (Social Engagement & Networking).
Here’s the thing: not everyone got it, even those who knew me well. Sarcasm doesn’t translate to the written word, particularly in professional settings. You don’t need to be funny to be respected or gain a following. People value advice when it’s well-considered and clear.
Jen Hand is a social media manager, small business consultant, project manager, and writer. Find more great content @jayhizzfoshizz.