Comedy & Content Marketing: A Q&A With Marketing Technologist Travis Wright Jennifer Taylor January 19th, 2016 If the point of content marketing is to form and nurture a relationship with your audience, humour should be an important component in any marketing strategy. Nothing makes people feel at ease and grabs attention like a shared laugh. Content marketing is all about forming relationships with the audience, and humour can be a great way to break down the barriers between the brand and consumer. But how do you find the right balance between humour and professionalism? How can marketers use humour to engage audiences, and what can they do to recover when it doesn’t go well?Last week we sat down with Travis Wright, a “keynote speaker, marketing technologist, columnist, futurist, smart ass” and stand up comedian. We asked Travis a few questions about the importance of comedy to content marketing and how marketers can integrate humour into their strategy.We’ve compiled the highlights from our conversation with Travis below.SL: You talk a lot about your love for comedy and you inject a lot of humour into your blog posts and Tweets. Is this a conscious choice? If so, why is it important for marketers and bloggers to infuse their content with humour? “Well I think what I do and how I am on social media is more of an extension of who I am,” explained Travis. “I’m naturally a smartass and so when I’m writing I think that it sort of flows through me.”Travis elaborated - “one thing I’ve noticed is just that - especially when I’m doing presentations, or when I’m talking, or when I’m live - I have to build in jokes because, if every two or three minutes I don’t hear a laugh, then I feel a little awkward on stage. So I do think that, for me, I don’t think it’s a conscious choice. I just think it’s part of who I am.”When it comes to content marketing more generally Travis thinks "that it is important for marketers and bloggers to interject comedy into their marketing if that’s on your brand voice. So, if you’re a funeral home, you probably don’t want to be cracking jokes like, ‘We put the ‘fun’ in FUNeral home!’” Marketers need to make sure that any humour is on-brand and on-point. For some brands it’s not relevant to be funny, while for others it is.SL: Are comedians good content marketers?Travis believes that in many ways, comedians make the best content marketers. I think that having a comedy background is pretty helpful if you are a community manager with a brand that likes to have a little fun.“You know, we have a group of Kansas City comedians that we put together on Facebook. There’s about 400 comedians in that group and they’re all really hilarious,” explains Travis, and some of them “could be really phenomenal community managers.” “One of the guys, Matt Keck, got plucked by an agency here in town.” Matt is in charge of the @Wendys Twitter handle and Wendy’s @IAmBaconator Twitter handle. According to Travis, Keck is perfect for the job because he’s quick witted and has great one-liners, the perfect recipe for a social media-oriented job. “A lot of these comedians already have social media figured out because they’re trying to build their own brand and there’s a nice little marriage there. If you’re trying to be funny, and you want to be edgy, get a comedian and have them write Tweets for you,” says Travis, “because it works really well.”SL: Should the way you use comedy in content change depending on the social media channel? Which channels are the most/least receptive to a dose of humour?“Well I know it changes for me personally,” explains Travis. “I’m a huge smartass and I do very little business on Facebook. Right?” Travis explains that his Facebook is full of people from all walks of life. “I have friends that I’ve known since pre-school... all the way through to events I’ve spoken at all over the world. It’s a wide, diverse group. So I rarely share business stuff on my personal Facebook profile. It’s mostly things that I notice that are interesting, or random jokes, or me being a smartass...So, that’s different than how I manage Twitter.”“Now [on] Twitter,” begins Travis, “I do interject quite a lot of comedy in there with random observational Tweets, but I’m always sharing a lot of great resources and I’m interacting with people.”However, when it comes to LinkedIn Travis takes a completely different approach. “ I rarely ever joke on LinkedIn. It’s mostly business resources and I’ll normally share one important message every two days.”“For a brand I like to put up one [post] every day for LinkedIn, a couple on Facebook, multiple on Twitter. But it really depends. What are your customers expecting from you? Are they expecting you to be funny?”According to Travis, the best time to use humour is in the Twitter sphere, and some of his favourite examples of using comedy in content come from the Twitter sphere. “There’s some great ones out there that are doing a great job, like Charmin. Charmin does some pretty hilarious stuff.” Travis also likes brands like Old Spice, Taco Bell, and Oreos because they’re willing to have some fun, don’t take themselves too seriously, and actively engage with their audiences and other brands.“Some of these big brands don’t take themselves so seriously. And the internet really doesn’t take itself all that seriously so if you can have fun with it and play around I think that’s good. Don’t make your content strategy all cat memes and jokes and random pictures because that’s what people like. But interjecting relevant content, mixing in a bit of humour, that works better than just saying ‘here’s a funny cat picture.’”SL: Do you think that humour has the ability to humanize brands? Can it help audiences form a connection with the brand?For Travis, humour is important when ‘you’re trying to touch the hearts of the buyers of your business.” According to Travis, interjecting some comedy into your work helps endear your brand to the people following you and this is a good thing. “Because you know what? There’s a lot of boring stuff that comes out in social content. People [are] pitching their own stuff all over - most of it’s boring. So if you have a little bit of comedy and a little bit of personality interjected into your brand, that’s a good thing.”SL: Which bloggers, in your opinion, are “winning” at infusing their content with comedy?For Travis, there’s quite a few social media influencers that do really good job at using comedy in their content strategy, primarily because they’re naturally funny people.“One of my favourite people is Joel Comm.” Joel is an internet pioneer, NY Times best-selling author, futurist, and social influencer. “He does lots of live videos, streaming, and part of his appeal is that he’s funny and he’s intelligent.”“Brian Carter - same thing. He pitches himself as a social media keynote speaker and he’s a comedian. And so, that’s what I’ve noticed, I think that I connect well with those types of people. Most of my real-life friends are really hilarious. And I don’t like people who aren’t funny. Is that bad?”SL: What types of humour should content marketers avoid when trying to draw a laugh from the audience. Are there any instances when comedy is the wrong approach?“Yeah, you know, there’s some instances where people try to do stuff where they’ try to be funny and it’s either too soon, or it’s inappropriate, or it’s blue humour, or it’s dark humour,” explains Travis. “You wanna stay away from all that. I don’t know if you remember that one instance where this journalist was getting ready to fly to Africa and she said ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just Kidding. I'm White!’ She had no idea what kind of storm she was creating for herself. By the time she actually landed in Africa she was already fired from her job and she had multiple death threats on her.”The lesson here is, be funny but also be smart about it. “There’s some topics you probably want to stay away from” like religious, political, or racial jokes. “You gotta be smart about it,” cautions Travis.SL: What can brands or businesses do when humour goes wrong on social media? Travis wants brands to get straight to the point; “Well, I think you should admit it and move on. I mean, you address it and say ‘ah - this wasn’t our intention.’”Travis described how companies can get into some “really interesting scenarios” or “snafus” when people managing a Twitter handle accidentally send out Tweets intended for their personal accounts on the company handle. For example, a Chrysler employee accidentally Tweeted "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive." In instances like these, people get fired over it.However, Travis also brings up an instance when a woman from the Red Cross accidentally tweeted “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer...when we drink we do it right #getting slizzerd.”The Tweet was obviously not meant for the Red Cross handle, and the embarassed employee quickly used some self-deprecating humour on her own account to diffuse the situation; “Rogue tweet from @RedCross due to my inability to use hootsuite...I wasn’t actually #gettingslizard but just excited! #nowembarassing.”Red Cross also smoothly handled the situation, Tweeting “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the REd Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” The Dogfish Head even used it as an opportunity to help boost donations for the REd Cross, adding to the Tweet storm; “RT: @Michael_Hayek: #craftbeer @dogfishbeer fans, donate 2 @redcross 2day. Tweet with #gettngslizzerd. Donate here http://tinyurl.com/5s720bb”.The exchange boosted Red Cross donations, and fans Tweeted about how impressed they were with the way Red Cross handled the situation. Travis uses this as an example of how brands need to take ownership. “A lot of people will immediately delete it and act like it didn’t happen, and then this huge storm starts bubbling up and people are irate and you just gotta address it, man up, and take it on the chin, and then just move on.”“But, I’ll tell you what,” continues Travis, “if you’re a brand or you’re a company and you’re looking for someone really kick-ass to do some social media for you, go to some local open mike comedy events in your city and try to pick out some people who are really smart. Because most of these people are super broke, for one…[and] most of them are really, really hilarious.” Travis recommends introducing yourself to stand up comedians because “some of these people have a really cool social media following on their own. They might need a little guidance, but man they can really help sculpt creative content because they think differently.”SL: Do you think that your time in front of the audience at stand up comedy venues has helped you in your career as a keynote speaker?“Oh, huuuge,” replies Travis.”I think it’s been one of the most influential, most important things it’s done for me. For one, I love reading. I love learning, I’m very curious. So I study and I read and research, and I out-hustle most anyone...I’m having introductory conversations with people all the time. So me being comfortable with myself, being able to interject comedy or interject a joke instantly makes people feel at ease.” This is especially true when Travis is doing business presentations in front of large audiences (sometimes 1000+ people); “I’m up there and within the first minute they’ve just had a huge laugh. They’re gonna love me. Already they’re gonna be like ‘Alright, this is not gonna be a boring, monotone, mindless presentation. There’s gonna be some knowledge, there’s gonna be some education, there’s gonna be some entertainment, and there’s gonna be GIFs.” I find various different ways to interject comedy into my life because that’s how I am. I do that regularly so of course I would do it in my business.”SL: I like that you brought up GIFs. Do you use them a lot as a comedic device in presentations?“Most people don’t use GIFs in presentations but I’ve used them for at least five years. And they pretty much always get a big laugh. Especially if it’s relevant to the conversation you’re having, or some emotion,” says Travis. I’ll use GIFs as an exclamation point on top of something that I’m saying.“Every 2 or 3 minutes I figure out, I throw in some sort of joke or a GIF or something to get the crowd chuckling. It makes them pay attention.”SL: If a company was looking to hire a social media team, what qualities would you look for? Would a good sense of humour be an important quality?“Right, well I do have a few of myself cloned. They’ll be ready in about three years…”All joking aside, Travis would say that being curious and inquisitive are two of the most importan qualities. “Loving to learn, loving to teach and share. Not being afraid to get your hands dirty and testing and trying out new things. Not being afraid to A/B test stuff. And also, not being afraid to fail a little bit. Because not every idea you [have] is going to be hilarious. That’s why open mics have open mics - so you can test the jokes to figure out which ones are crappy so you can cut those out of your bit. Right? But when you’re Tweeting or you’re sharing on social media you don’t necessarily have that. You gotta have your own filter. So yeah, having your own filter is important as well. You don’t just want them burping out anything they’re thinking because that can be dangerous.”Though brands usually need some guidelines to inform what’s appropriate and what isn’t, oftentimes “the funniest and the best most engaging Tweets are the ones that come up on the fly. Right? Or a response to somebody who said something to you.”Travis brings up the example of the recent Twitter conversation between @Wendys and @jimmyjohns. Jimmy John’s Tweeted “@Wendys #KissAGingerDay.”Wendy’s shot back with a playful Tweet; “@jimmyjohns Not sure how we feel about kissing someone with two first names. #KissAGingerDay”.Jimmy Johns used this as an opportunity to poke some more fun and wrote “.@Wendys Ok Wendy Thomas...”, eliciting this response from Wendy’s - “@jimmyjohns True. You guys really do deliver.”The exchange got a ton of positive feedback from followers on both accounts. “There was a funny little banter back and forth where both brands didn’t take themselves too seriously.”Another one of Travis’ favourite Twitter exchanges of all time was when Old Spice and Taco Bell were going back and forth.“I thought, ‘These guys are hilarious!’ The banter back and forth makes people go ‘Alright, that was awesome. I want to follow that because who knows what they’re going to say.’”SL: How has comedy helped you succeed personally and professionally? Travis explains that people are much more willing to approach him after seeing a particularly engaging presentation that showcases his passion for comedy.“They figure out they want to work with me somehow. I don’t know how that works. ‘He’s smart and hilarious? Alright I guess we’ll work with that guy.’ I don’t think I’m smarter than anyone else. I don’t think I’m funnier than anybody else. But I read, and research, and learn. I mean I read a book a week and I’m doing all these different learning courses online all the time. So I’m putting massive amounts of good information into my head all the time. And then the more good stuff you put in the more good stuff that comes out. And the more hustle that you do the more rewards you get.”This approach isn’t as glamorous, but it’s necessary if you want to be a leader in the field. “Some people go ‘Wow, you’re so lucky.’ And it’s like ‘No, I have put in thousands and thousands and thousands of hours on this and I’m always learning because the space is always changing and so I’m trying to stay up on top of it!’”SL: How do has comedy helped you succeed personally and professionally? Do the things that scare you because outside of your comfort zone is where life is most fun.”“I think that’s one of the reasons that I’ve been successful is my mind thinks a little differently. I’ve been doing stand up comedy for almost 20 years. Right? Not religiously, like I never decided ‘I’m going to go be a famous comedian.’ I did it because it sometimes terrifies me to go up on stage to go do comedy. Going to do a business presentation in front of 1000 people, I’m not nervous at all. Going up in front of 10 or 15 people to do comedy, for some odd reason it just freaks me out sometimes. And so that’s why I still do it, because I know that it scares me, I’m living, I’m on the edge, I’m gonna keep doing this because it’s helping keep me alive right? So nerves are good I think. It’s ok, it’s part of life."