3 Steps to Energizing Your Employer Brand Through Humor (Hilarious Examples and All)

September 21, 2017

My most popular tweet is about barfing—and recruiters can learn a lot from that.

Okay, it’s actually about people calling themselves “thought leaders” on LinkedIn, and how it makes me want to barf, complete with a GIF of a puppet (barfing, of course).

Now, I’ve got over 9,000 tweets, and plenty of them are about legit business insights and valuable recruiting strategies. So, I had to ask myself: why did barf do best?

Because it’s funny. After some analysis, I saw this pattern across all my content—and my clients’ content: the posts that got the most traction were either funny or emotional: humor or heart. Humans are drawn to humor and heart. It’s ingrained in us, and even dates back to Ancient Greek comedy and drama (that set of happy and sad masks you’ve seen a million times).  

If you want to stand out in the sea of boring employer brands, my advice is to be funny or emotional. Some companies have gotten better at connecting their employer brand to the heart, but many are afraid to use humor.

Here are four examples of companies that use video to showcase humor and one example of a small business that lets its personality shine through funny social posts. After the videos, we’ll walk through three simple steps to use humor effectively in your own employer brand.

Examples of Employer Brands That Use Humor Effectively

Twitter gets cheesy

CloudLock laughs at your business jargon

Fort Worth Police take Batman for a ride-along

Rapid7 spoofs corny pharma ads

Foundation Medicine’s Quirky LinkedIn Posts

Few things are more serious and sober than fighting cancer, or the rigorous scientific work that my client Foundation Medicine does in that pursuit. But their recruiting team still knows how to have fun, be funny, and let their personality show.

In the office, the team was always joking about cats and lasers. So one of their leaders gave the world a little window into their in-joke:

Lo and behold, it got a TON of engagement!

You don’t need to be a comic genius or a Madison Avenue brand strategist to use humor in your employer brand—you just need to be comfortable enough to let your guard down and let the silly parts of your culture come through.

3 simple steps to use humor in your own employer branding

Step #1: Understand the personas of your best people (and ideal candidates) to know what kind of humor will be a hit

Start with this quick exercise. Gather 15 to 30 of your best, most engaged, exemplary employees into a room. They should be a diverse group—not just across gender and ethnicity, but also age and tenure with the company.

Then simply ask them what they like: what movies they enjoy, their favorite TV shows, how they get their kicks on the weekends. Get a sense of their sense of humor, along with what channels they actively engage in.

Fight the temptation to let leadership define your culture: the C-suite’s sense of a company’s work atmosphere often doesn’t line up with how the rank and file employees feel. That’s why you’re going straight to the source. The insights you get here will help you shape what kind of humor you’ll want to project.

Remember that your employer brand should center around a candidate’s dreams—not the company’s dreams. After all, the candidate has already decided to work within your industry (e.g., life sciences), so you don’t need to sell them on a generic mission (e.g., helping people live healthier lives)—you need to sell them on their own career goals and happiness. And that often means being part of a fun, funny team who shares their sense of humor.

Finally, keep the candidate’s context in mind. For example, CloudLock—a startup acquired by Cisco that retains its startup culture while enjoying the big-name backing—knew it was targeting candidates at large companies. To emphasize a flavorful culture, it made fun of the bloated corporate jargon that you find everywhere at those boring, faceless multinational conglomerates.

Step #2: Don’t overthink humor—keep it simple, stupid

Comedy has a way of tripping people up. You definitely don’t want to be offensive or extremely off-putting, but beyond that low bar, you don’t need to over-engineer the most perfect joke in the world. You’re not going to make everyone laugh—that’s fine. As for the people who do laugh, that’s exactly who you want on your team.

Don’t be afraid of risking some ridicule. On the Internet, you’ll always have some haters (if you get popular enough, that is). Let your hair down and show off your employees’ sense of humor.

A funny employer brand doesn’t need to be complicated. Check out this other Rapid7 video—it’s literally just an employee pulling off some silly (and, honestly, impressive) dance moves. And it got over 1,000 views!

Instead of overthinking it and getting stalled in analysis paralysis, just go with your instinct that aligns with your employees and employer brand.

Step #3: Get all your employees involved, don’t just leave it to HR or Marketing

Your employer brand is supposed to reflect the shared work culture of all your employees, not just the ones in HR or marketing. Get everyone involved when it’s time you brainstorm.

You never know where the right dash of humor can come from: that quiet dude in accounting might be the funniest person in the company! Crowdsourcing your humor also takes a little pressure of HR and marketing to be funny and spreads the morale around.

Even if your company culture isn’t super quirky, you can still be funny

Never misrepresent your culture. If your employer brand sells one thing and candidates see something completely different when they walk in for an interview, they’ll be walking out just as quickly.

That said, just because your company is a little more serious than the typical tech startup doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Foundation Medicine’s team treats cancer, but they can still find the humor in laser cats.

Take Deloitte, for example. As one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, they’re certainly a serious company. But they still put together this hilarious, gamified “choose your own adventure” series of recruitment videos.

Above all, don’t stress too much: the point isn’t to be perfect, it’s to grab attention and show that you know how to have fun—even if your jokes are a little corny, candidates will see your character. That alone is enough to separate your company from the crowd.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. For years, I’ve been diving into content that connects and collecting research on the psychology and neuroscience behind the way we evaluate brands. I’m pumped to share what I’ve learned about creating content that actually engages at my breakout session at Talent Connect 2017 in Nashville, and I hope to see you there!

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