There’s no doubt that a little humor goes a long way in marketing and branding, especially in social media efforts. It’s memorable, improves your company’s likability factor, and sets you apart from competitors.

Last week, during Social Media Week in Chicago, a panel called “When Comedy Meets Social – Creating Something to Laugh About” was hosted at the historic Second City comedy club. The panelists included Alex Epstein, Manager of Digital and Social Media for the National Safety Council, Erich Marx, Director of Interactive and Social Media Marketing for Nissan North America, Grant Jones, Marketing Director at The Union, and Tom Yorton, CEO of Second City Communications.

The difference between success and failure with humor can straddle a thin line, but luckily these marketers have figured out the right balance of comedic gold. Here are some great examples of how these business leaders incorporate humor into their social media strategies.

Humor With a Purpose

Nissan’s Erich Marx said that when dealing with big purchases like cars, you can’t be too casual about encouraging people to make the second biggest purchase of their lives (homes being the first). “The humor needs to have a purpose and be connected,” said Marx.

Nissan recently partnered with Second City to promote the new Pathfinder SUV. Armed with a live band, wardrobe, and video editors, Second City improv performers created music videos based off of fan suggestions (crowdsourced through social media channels) and Pathfinder features. From start to finish, everything was shot and edited in under fifteen minutes, and personalized music videos were sent back to the fans who made the suggestions. This created an unprecedented level of engagement, for obvious reasons, and also produced hilarious and highly sharable content.

Building Off of Engagement

Grant Jones of the satirical newspaper The Onion said that the paper’s headlines and stories are perfect for social media, though it’s purely unintentional. Readers share the short, punchy, and funny headlines thousands of times a day, but how did the controversial fake news source get so lucky?

People can be funny without having to do any of the work just by sharing, and in general, people are more likely to post something when they find it humorous or entertaining. When The Onion ran the story “Joe Biden Hitchhikes to Democratic National Convention,” it decided to capitalize on its already excellent reader engagement by starting the #BidenHitchhike hashtag. The gag asked followers if they’d picked up Joe Biden and where they dropped him off, spurring thousands of responses. Utilizing existing engagement with your brand is one of the most effective ways to incorporate humor and interact with your customers simultaneously.

Handling Sensitive Topics With Grace

Alex Epstein of the National Safety Council said that one of the organization’s biggest challenges is handling touchy and often unsettling topics appropriately. The NSC is also a non-profit organization and executing campaigns with a very small budget can be difficult. Yet it has been very successful working with limited funding, claiming ownership over the “Click It Or Ticket” campaign.

Its most recent campaign urges parents of teen drivers to be more involved when it comes to teaching their children safe driving habits. Automobile accidents are the number one killer of teens, but instead of using scare tactics and sad statistics to encourage involvement, the NSC used a humorous approach featuring a series of YouTube videos (yet to be released) — produced by Second City.

The video Epstein screened during the panel features a teen asking to borrow his mother’s car, but before he leaves she makes him “role play” with her in a fake car in the living room. Handling sensitive subjects in marketing efforts can be difficult. By incorporating comedy into a campaign, you can soften difficult subject matter, allowing your topic to be remembered in a favorable way.

[Image credits: Chris Hunkeler, Nissan, The OnionState Farm]