It’s no secret that 2020 was the year we learned to live our lives online. But it wasn’t just Zoom calls and online shopping.  Fifty percent of adults now say they are spending more time on social media than ever, and social platforms across the board are reporting a significant uptick in engagement. 

As our online lives flourished, so did another social phenomenon: the use of humor in virtually all forms of social media. From TikTok, to comedic memes and videos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, humor helped ease our pandemic gloom. GlobalWebIndex recently ranked comedic videos and memes #2 and #3 respectively for sharing. 

That’s why now is the time for healthcare brands to tap into this larger, more engaged audience through one of the fastest-growing trends in social media and give people what so many of them came to the platform for in the first place—a good laugh. 

After all, patients who have been hearing the same health messages for years don’t log onto social media thinking “I want to be reminded about my blood sugar today.” They go there for things that will add value to their lives: to be entertained, for distraction and to connect. Humor can help brands stand out and secure attention in unexpected ways, tapping into cultural trends, conversations and movements people already care about. People are also exponentially more likely to engage with and share platform-friendly content that made them laugh vs. branded messages. 

But for healthcare brands the advantages can go even deeper. So often our brands are intertwined with taboo topics, pain, or just the monotony of a chronic condition. Humor is a great way to disarm people, normalize the unmentionable and forge an emotional connection to make brands more relatable. Consider this migraine meme: 

As a migraine sufferer, that meme stopped me mid-scroll. But it didn’t just make me laugh; it made me feel “seen,” like someone really connected with me.

But getting humor right is an art, based on truly and deeply understanding your audience.  The consequences of getting it wrong can range from a joke that falls flat to creating a full-scale social media crisis. So here are some rules of the road for healthcare brands to safely navigate the comedy landscape:

1. Know Your Audience: What one group of people thinks is hilarious may be deeply offensive to another. Start by answering critical questions: Which types of humor will stop your audience in its tracks and make it laugh out loud? Which platforms does your audience already go to? What forms of humor are they already engaging with? What types of humor work on specific platforms? What is it about the disease state that can help forge a deep connection with your brand? 

2. Know yourself: Determine what kind of humor is authentic to your brand. Then bring in the comedy professionals and craft a persona, a voice and POV. Establish guardrails of where you can and cannot play. Look for opportunities to co-create with the community. Finally, test, test, test to see if you’re getting it right.

3. Create your Social Media Comedy Dream Team:  If ever there was a situation that called for you to collaborate directly with an integrated cross disciplinary team, this is it. Your agency social media team are experts in the platforms, the industry and regulation, and that’s important. But they cannot do this job alone. You need the best thinking across disciplines and agencies: data scientists who can uncover target insights, patient advocacy groups who understand the community and how they interact, experts who specialize in humor and follow the latest comedy trends, influencer specialists who work with independent creators, comedy copywriters who know how to make a joke land and paid digital media experts who can get your posts in front of the right people. And then go ahead—make people laugh!

Dxtra Health Integrated Solutions is a global collective of 27 marketing specialty brands and more than 7,000 employees, anchored across Weber Shandwick, Golin, Octagon, Jack Morton, dna Communications and THAT LOT. Dxtra Health Integrated Solutions companies bring together unique combinations of in-demand skills and expertise for clients, including experiential, public relations, sponsorships, innovation, brand, influencer, digital, social and analytics.