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August 9, 2007

Is Mixing Humor and Blogging A Bad Idea?

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Okay, so I have this problem when it comes to blogging. Basically, it’s that I think I’m funny. Actually, I think I’m hilarious. Often I’ll write something or respond to an unwelcome Susan blog comment and I will immediately burst into giggles over my own creation. It actually scares Susan which, in turn, makes the entire thing that much funnier to me. But as Copyblogger’s Brian Clark remind me today, sometimes humor is dangerous and bloggers should decide if it’s absolutely necessary to their posts.

I think it’s a tough call. Am I writing my blog posts around the next punch line? Of course not, I’m trying to tell you a story, but I do like to throw a little quip in there every now and then to make sure the lot of you are paying attention. Sometimes I also do it to make sure I’m still paying attention.

One of the greatest differences between a blog and a newspaper is that blogs get to take on the personality of their author. They’re personable and it’s the being personable that helps readers develop an attachment. The best way to bond with someone is to make them laugh (or feed them). If you can keep them laughing (or eating), you’ll keep them coming back, and you may even make them fall in love with you (I make a mean meatloaf).

Of course, if you don’t make them laugh, and your attempt at humor, instead, breaks their train of thought while they are reading your entry, that’s bad. When you try to be funny and people don’t get it, they tend to get angry. Ask Brian.

"Sure enough, one reader ridiculed me for my "purple prose," while another actually chastised me. An especially self-important blogger named Nancy Friedman even wasted 963 words of her life equating me to the end of good writing as we know it. Nancy doesn’t get a link, because trolling for links via attack post is so 2005."

Heh. That’s the thing, trying to work humor into a blog entry or even onto your Web site really is a tricky thing because not everyone has the same sense of humor. And as funny as your writing is to you, not everyone will get it and you don’t want to alienate your readers or make them feel dumb. Being funny is great and can be a powerful branding device, but if it sacrifices the clarity of your message it’s not worth it.
I think the key to adding humor into blogs or even into your Web site is to understand your reader’s sense of humor. Brian mentioned that the way comics write material is that they’ll try out different variations of their jokes on different crowds to see what works and what flops. I tend to look at blogging in a similar way.

Not that we’re out there trying to come up with silly jokes or one-liners, but I think over time you get to know what your audience responds to and what they roll their eyes at. You can see what makes them comment nicely and what makes them comment that you’re an embarrassment to the English language.

If you’re trying to bring humor to your blog, my initial advice would be to play off your audience’s knowledge base. What topics or bits of humor are specific to them? If you can hit upon their specific geekiness and make them laugh, you’ll have a fan forever. You should have heard all the Windows jokes being thrown out at WordCamp. It was ridiculous.

Personally, unless I’m having a really cheesy moment, I stay away from the blatant jokes. Being sharp or displaying a touch of wit is different from reciting the riddle I just heard from the crazy guy on the street.

And yes, even though it’s hard for me to understand, I realize that not everyone thinks I’m funny. Just ask Nick Stamoulis, he definitely doesn’t think I’m funny. (Hi, Nick!) Hopefully, you don’t find my attempts at humor so distracting that you lose the message of the post, because it really is the message and the story that is important. If the jokes or the sarcasm are getting in the way, tell me. I’ll try and control myself because really the quips are nothing more than the chocolate syrup on the sundae. The sundae of optimization.

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13 responses to “Is Mixing Humor and Blogging A Bad Idea?”

  1. Adam Audette writes:

    If someone can’t appreciate the humor and style you bring to (what is often) a stale blogging industry… that’s sad.

    The main reason I read this is for the humor, so please keep doing what you’re doing because you’re doing it great.

    But the secondary reason is the insights, which are equally great. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve noticed your posting style has gotten more sophisticated, and instead of just pointing at other stories you’re using them as springboards to look deeply into an issue.

    It’s obvious the time you take to craft these posts is substantial.

    But I still have no idea who Susan is. That’s okay too, cuz this is Lisa’s blog (and maybe Bruce’s too).

  2. Chuck writes:

    Nice thoughts here. You know, I think an author can target his or her audience pretty well on a blog. Brian has gotten a lot of noise on his site about his recent posts, but that’s mostly because of a vocal minority.
    In the long run, you can trust that an audience reading about copywriting and blogging will be fairly sophisticated and creative.
    In my case, I count on the fact that people who hate their jobs want a balance between thinking about it seriously and laughing at it.
    Nice site, by the way : )

  3. Scott writes:

    Maybe you’re just trolling for comments (OK, OK, it’s a JOKE!).

    It is certainly important to be wary of potentially hurting feelings unintentionally with humor (intentional harm is another matter!). However, personality and humor are part of what makes this blog charming, as well as interesting. Keep up the good work!

  4. Brian Clark writes:

    Nicely written post, Lisa. And yes, I think you’re as witty as you think you are. :)
    I think I wrote that post as a caution more than anything. I like inserting humor into my posts, but it’s the absolute truth that I restrain myself. I guess I’m trying to reach as many people as possible, and I know from sales copy how easy it is to lose someone.
    But ultimately, I feel the same as anyone else–I want to write for the people who get me, and let the others fall where they may. It’s getting easier and easier to live that way as the days go by.

  5. Arthur Freydin writes:

    Lisa,
    One of the main things that draw me to read every single entry you have ever written (I’m pretty sure that’s accurate) is the personality element in your writing.
    I remember when I first stumbled upon your blog more than a year ago. It took two entries to get me hooked to your writing styles. I remember spending like 2 days reading past entries because I just couldn’t get enough. I have read every one of your posts since then.
    I subscribe to about 15 seo/ppc feeds but your blog is the only one that I don’t just “skim” through. Keep it up, breaks in my work day depend on it!

  6. Dan Perry writes:

    I’d be willing to bet that the consistency of your humor is what keeps people reading your posts. The first thing I thought of when you started blogging was that, based on your style, Bruce is probably under-paying you (Hi Bruce; See you at SES!).
    If you have the ability to inject your personality into a blog, then do it (and you definitely do). There are enough blogs that I’ve unsubscribed from for lack of personality. Without it, we may as well stick to reading press releases.

  7. Arthur Freydin writes:

    Well put Dan!
    That’s exactly how I feel.

  8. Cassi writes:

    I also wanted to agree with everyone else. This is definitely one of the only blogs I don’t just “skim” through either because of the humor and personality.

  9. Lisa writes:

    [prints out entry comments, staples them to Susan's forehead.]

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone, it means a lot. See, I KNEW I was funny! :)

  10. Jane writes:

    Wow, that Nick Stamoulis post is kind of mean. Sort of like when boys throw rocks at girls whom they actually like. I mean, he’s talking about you again today!

  11. Ammon Johns writes:

    Mean?

    The guy’s throwing a sulky tantrum about being pretty bad at understanding things. First he has trouble understanding search engines, and then failing to understand Lisa’s humor is the final straw and he snaps. ;o)

    As I commented on Nick’s own blog:

    Nick said: “Instead of relying on some vaguely defined algorithm, you might actually get results for things you are interested in and not just some staid, worn out keyword stuffed site.”

    Sheesh! You moan about Lisa Barone’s writing style then throw your toys out of the pram in a literary sense about the algorithms built by some of the brightest scientists in the field of Information Retrieval, presumably because you’re not very good at understanding them.

    Have you considered that maybe with your opinions about “vaguely defined algorithms” (which are not at all vague to those who devise and define them in pure maths) and the suggestion that every highly ranked website is “just some staid, worn out keyword stuffed site” that maybe you’re focusing on the wrong field?

    I thought this was going to be a search engine optimization journal and instead I find a search engine pessimism sulk. Maybe you should adjust your meta tags or something?

  12. Phoenix Roberts writes:

    I write buying guides for a big internet retailer and I get some flack for some of the jokes I make. My humor is dry, it sneaks up on you, and it’s based on the fact that I’m a 40-something native New Yorker. Yeah, a lot of people don’t get me.
    Nevertheless, I keep doing it. Why? Well, do you consider 2,000 to 4,000 words on how to buy slipcovers, faucets, televisions or men’s hunting clothes fun? Not a lot of people do and since these aren’t on our product pages, they are what I call an optional read. If it doesn’t contain extremely useful info and is not also fun to read, you ain’t stayin’ around for the whole 4,000 words. If that happens, I ain’t staying around to collect my paycheck!
    Different people have different tastes and styles, and I don’t get why they think they’re funny any more than they get why I’m funny–like the difference between “Night Court” and “Seinfeld”, I loved one, hated the other. But, I always respect their attempt to enliven a dry read.
    By the way, my goal as I write these buying guides is to have someone finish it and email a friend to say, “You’ve got to read this thing–it’s hilarious!” If it happens, I’ll probably never hear about it, but I’m trying for it anyway.

  13. Jordan McCollum writes:

    Every once in a while, I’ll just write a post that is hiLARious. I end up editing out most of the jokes, though, telling myself, “Who do you think you are? LISA?”



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