How to Win Trust with Humor

by Dr. Peter J. Meyers November 11th, 2010 

Social media can be a tricky place. The lines between personal and professional are often blurred, misunderstandings are commonplace, and trust can be made or broken in 140 characters or less. I don't think there's one way right way to do anything, and you should always listen to your instincts (especially when it comes to personal branding), but I'd like to talk a bit about how you can use humor to earn trust, especially on Twitter.

1. It's Not About Comedy

Unless stand-up comedy is your day job, or you run a joke-of-the-day website, don't just go on Twitter and start spouting jokes or posting nothing but links of kittens falling off things (sorry, I couldn't resist). People like to laugh, but if you're not a comedian, you're not connecting people to your value proposition and professional identity. They may think you're funny, but they'll never become a network that has real value.

2. Keep It Genuine

It wouldn't be a post on social media if I didn't say something like "Be real" or "Be authentic." Here's the problem, though " when, in real life, have you ever had a conversation like:

Fake Tweet

Ok, I hope you don't talk like that even on Twitter, but you get my point. There's something that's not quite "real" about the way anyone interacts on social media, especially in 140 characters. Ultimately, our social-media self is a projection.

In some cases, it's ok to step outside of yourself a little. Maybe it's easier for you to relax and network online, and that's fine. The trick is not to take on an identity that's clearly a lie. On a network as interconnected as Twitter, if you have one personality for Group X and one for Group Y, it will catch up with you, and trust is too easy to lose.

3. Keep It Natural

You know the advice that you should always start a presentation with a joke? That's great advice " IF you're good at telling jokes. Otherwise, you'll probably stumble through it, no one will laugh, and you'll start off on an even more awkward note than ever. You need to know your own comfort zone.

If you're good at word-play, try a little word-play. If you're good at witty comebacks, start with people you know and hit them with a quick retort. Start with what's natural for you, and you'll seem, well, like you. You'll also probably be funny. If you try too hard to be funny for comedy's sake, you're just going to come across either fake or desperate.

4. It's All An In-joke

When in doubt, be inclusive. It's easy to alienate people you barely know, and most people on social media are, almost by definition, people you barely know. Excluding people or poking fun at them in a way that could be seen as mean (unless it's obvious you're friends) can leave a bad impression on bystanders.

In-jokes also give you a way to connect with people. If you can latch on to something you know about someone or something they've thought was funny in the past, it shows you pay attention and that there's something sincere about your networking efforts. That personal touch can be especially powerful on Twitter, where many people feel like they're just being broadcast at.

5. Think On Your Feet

Social media, especially Twitter, is a stream of consciousness, so keep it light and fast. Don't think too much. The good news is that, if a joke bombs (as long as you're not offensive or insulting), people will have forgotten in 30 seconds. When you hit the mark, they'll remember you and probably re-tweet it. So, don't obsess too much or be afraid to have a little fun. In 13,000+ tweets, I've said some pretty dumb stuff, but fortunately people only remember the 17 times I was actually funny.

Dr. Peter J. Meyers

Dr. Peter J. Meyers ("Dr. Pete") is the President of User Effect, a cognitive psychologist, and an accidental entrepreneur. In his spare time, he raises a daughter and writes about procrastination at 30GO30.

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3 Responses to “How to Win Trust with Humor”

  1. goodnewscowboy says:

    Nah Dr. Pete. I distinctly remember that you've been funny 23 times. You are WAY too modest :-)

    Seriously? I think your tweets rank with the funniest I read.

  2. netmeg says:

    Don't hate me cause I'm funny!