Dog in sunglasses

Humor coming from a government agency has the capability to skyrocket engagement or go up in flames causing a PR nightmare. If you run a government social media page, you are well aware of the struggle to obtain followers and boost engagement. Many of us are tempted to experiment with humor, but could there be a strategy for government humor on social media?

We hosted a discussion on this topic on June 18, during our #GSMCHAT bi-weekly Twitter chat. Several local and state agency representatives from all over the United States joined in sharing their ideas and experiences with each other. While some admitted a hesitance toward humor, the majority enjoys joking with their followers.  

We Are Not Robots

On #GSMCHAT, many participants agreed that using humor occasionally in social media posts worked to humanize their agencies in the eyes of the public. Not only can it gain them more followers, likes and shares, it allows them to be seen as people, get routine messages noticed and even attempt to change negative perceptions. We particularly like how @PatrickWRollens tweeted, “Best thing humor can do is show that there’s a human being behind the curtain. We are one of you!”

Avoiding A #SocialMediaFail

There is always a risk that your attempt at humor just won’t work. However, you can minimize this risk by following these simple strategies, suggested by #GSMCHAT participants. Be relevant and consider the agency “voice” when posting. Take the time to fact check, spell check and grammar check. Before you jump on the meme bandwagon, take a moment to visit to help you understand meanings and originations of popular memes. Before capitalizing on a trending hashtag, research it. While some companies can laugh about or shrug off a post “flop”, an “epic fail” coming from a government agency may be more difficult to recover from. Don’t risk your credibility by failing at being funny.

Good Advice from Your Peers

Several tips were shared by fellow social media govies during our #GSMCHAT. For instance, we heard advice to keep current with national and local news. Current events can take a turn quickly, so stay relevant and refrain from making light of serious situations.

“If said humor could be followed with “What? Too soon?” then it’s not ok to use in the situation” said @sextonjn during the #GSMCHAT, and we absolutely agree. Also, scheduling future posts is a huge help for busy media managers, but don’t get caught scheduling a risky post for a time when someone won’t be monitoring feedback. We also suggest periodically checking your scheduled posts deck to ensure that they still correlate with current events.

If you’re unsure about how your message will be received, you may want to reconsider, or at least run it by a second pair of eyes. Whether you have an approval process in place or not, sometimes
getting a second opinion is the best form of proofing.

Kristy Dalton is the creator of Government Social Media and host of the online video series. Read her full bio.

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