Tweet and Retweet were in a boat. Tweet fell out. Who was left? Retweet.

In case you are not yet aware of this yet, it is a joke that is currently making the rounds on Twitter. Its genius lies in its sheer simplicity. In less than 140 characters this one little line will most likely cause two things to happen when you receive it: it will cause you to chuckle, or at least smile, and it will get you to retweet it to all your followers on Twitter. The part about retweeting is important, of course. It is the whole point of the matter. It is what engagement is all about -- getting your reader to act on your message.

But it is the part about making you chuckle that I would like to focus on. It is equally important as the call to action part because this is precisely what sets everything up for the call to action. It is what softens up the reader and leaves him or her receptive to the idea you propose. Now take a second look at the tweet above and pay close attention to how it accomplished this. Therein you will discover one of the age-old secrets to effective interpersonal communication, and a very important ingredient to successfully engaging your audience.

Humor. That is what steers the simple Twitter joke above through the intricate barricades of resistance and indifference set up between you and your audience. Humor has the power, believe it or not, to tear through these seemingly impenetrable walls and drive straight at the hearts and minds of your target audiences.

During World War II, the Nazis made it a crime to tell anti-Nazi jokes. Now why was that? It isn’t as if a joke could physically disarm a thug with a machine gun pointed at you, or stop the dreaded blitzkrieg right in its tracks. It turns out that these jokes, witty remarks and acts of buffoonery concealed in them a power far more potent than people realized. Humor has the power to soothe and shield, as well as the power to create new awareness so that people can cope with adverse situations or make sense of new opportunities. The Nazis understood this; they were quite aware and concerned that humor was fortifying the spirits of the people whose will they sought to break down.

In his remarkable TEDx talk “Comedy is Translation” (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/chris_bliss_comedy_is_translation.html) delivered December last year, writer and comedian Chris Bliss mentions that comedy and satire have the unique ability to circumvent our existing perspectives, taking the core of our conventional wisdom and transforming this through ridicule into a new way of seeing and being in the world. Humor, in other words, short-circuits how we are wired --to our knowledge, beliefs and biases -- and re-wires us to see things in a different way.

From a marketing perspective, the ability to jolt the audience out of its normal thinking pattern is like cognitive judo; it throws the audience off-balance long enough to give you that priceless opportunity to deal the final and decisive blow. And so it makes much sense then for humor to be an  important part of our social media marketing arsenal. Easier said than done, of course. Like all things that possess an inherent power, humor is a double-edged sword that could inflict harm on yourself if you fail to wield it correctly.

Since humor is subjective there is a great big chance that people will not get what you have just communicated, hilarious though it may have seemed to you and to others. Worse, what may be funny to you may be downright offensive to others.

But still, the promise of connecting and engaging far outweighs the dangers, and so any serious marketer should explore shedding seriousness to explore the prospects and promises that humor presents.

Here are some tips for you to consider if you are serious about being funny.

  1. Take a current situation, or one of your products, or a problem you are facing, and ask yourself, “what’s funny about this?”
  2. Stay away from dirty jokes, innuendos and tasteless or offensive humor.
  3. Use humor selectively. Keep “double-edged sword” in mind, and be wary that like spot colors on a business card, too much can end up being distracting and tasteless. “There is a time and season for everything” is truly appropriate here.
  4. Stay away from anything that rhymes with “politics”, “religion”, “race” and “misfortune.”
  5. Australian actor Paul Hogan, in his first time to present at the 59th Academy Awards had this great advice to the winners about their acceptance speeches: “Be gracious. Be grateful. Get off!” This is great advice even for social marketers. Keep it brief.
  6. The status message is your playground. Use it to hone your wit to razor-edge sharpness.

If you want tools that focus more on the "distribution" side of social media marketing then check out Isis Toolbox - Free social media marketing tools. And, if you need help with your social media campaign please see me.