I am a big fan of comedy, and can be a bit of a cutup myself. I would love to be a comedy writer; perhaps I will do this in my next life. For now, I will focus on a topic that I have been thinking about: how content and social media marketing can be like standup comedy – and what we can learn from great comedians.
Please read on before you dismiss this as one big joke, as I think you just might wind up agreeing, and hopefully will learn something in the process. The advice could help transform your content from a lead balloon into a hit (please, hold the applause).
Be Entertaining and Attention-getting
Good comedians make sure not to lose their audience. While being a great performer helps, they also need to have the right material or they’ll flop.
Content marketers, too, need to make sure that their content is interesting and attention-getting. You might have the best product in the world and that big campaign idea. But these things are meaningless unless and until you capture attention and hold onto it via interesting content.
- First and foremost, have great material. If you are not a writer, hire one or delegate.
- Heed the tips from my post Winning the Attention Game in Content Marketing
Test Your Material and Choose the Right Words
The really big acts sometimes show up unannounced at comedy clubs, especially here in New York. They’re generally not receiving a big paycheck, but do this to keep sharp and test new material.
It’s always a great surprise when this happens, and fun to experience their comedy-making thought processes. Sometimes they marvel aloud at which lines get the “yucks” (it is not always the expected ones). Often the audience laughs – or not – based on the choice of a single word.
Choosing the right words is also important in content and social media marketing. Testing your content is critical too, in many forms – e.g. A/B testing of a Web page, to see which design is more effective, or testing various headlines, email subject lines or tweets.
- Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” It is a great piece of wisdom to remember; taking the time to choose the right words can make a big difference in your campaigns. I wrote a series about finding the words that work in high tech PR.
- Test market your content, whether informally (e.g., by bouncing ideas off colleagues) or via rigorous and quantitative trials.
Have a Good Setup and Story
Long form narrative is under fire (see my post It’s the End of the Storytelling World as We Know It). And I have always favored one-liners (the tweets of the comedy world?) over long, drawn out jokes. Nonetheless, storytelling remains a staple of marketing and comedy.
Many comedians engage their audiences by telling stories; this is especially true for the headliners and cable standup comedy specials. It is awfully hard to fill 45 minutes with one-liners. Of course, the story provides the setup in both content marketing and comedy for the close, or punch line.
Listen and Engage the Audience
Great comedians monitor the mood of the audience and adapt their routines accordingly. There is occasional banter, and even the best comedians have to put up with heckling. In other words, they listen and engage.
Of course, social media and content marketers need to listen and engage too – and sometimes deal with blow back. While you probably don’t want to be as brutal in dispensing critics as comics, you do need to be attuned to your audience (see my post You Talking to Me?) and have strategies for dealing with negativity.
Transition with Ease, Stay on Message
Good comedians are masters of the segue. They effortlessly transition from one joke to another, finding ways to bridge topics while holding the attention of the audience throughout.
Marketers also need to move from one topic to another while staying on message, ideally steering the audience to some kind of conclusion or conversion. I wrote much more about this in my post In Comedy and Interviews, it’s all about Timing and Segues, which also features a bit by comedian Doug Benson.
Have a Good Punch line or Close
One thing that all jokes have is a punch line. Likewise, marketing content should have a good close, or call-to-action. Keep them hanging onto every word until you are ready for the “ask” – and make sure it is seamless and effective.
Timing is Everything
Many people are familiar with the joke about comic timing. It is such a popular one that it’s right at the top of the Wikipedia definition for Joke. Here is an abbreviated version:
Q: What is the secret to great …
Make sure that you are launching the right content at the right time. Some obvious rules apply: e.g. don’t send B2B content on weekends; if possible, target the right content to the right people based on where they are in the sales process. Don’t schedule your content to go out when there is lots of competing noise – as an example, last week was not a good time to launch consumer tech news in light of Apple’s iPhone announcements.
And, most of all, if you have a big idea for that next content marketing campaign, don’t delay too long, because in today’s fast-paced world there’s a chance that someone will beat you to the punch (line).
I learned this the hard way as I planned this topic for weeks, and had looked but not found anything similar out there. However, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my column, I saw this very nice article on Business 2 Community: Content Marketing Strategy: Lessons from Good (and Bad) Comedy. Oh well, great minds think alike!
I thought that I would close with a joke:
Three marketers got into a heated debate about how to best screw in a light bulb.
The social media marketer says: “First, you must engage the bulb! I do that the best.” The others stared at him blankly, and he added: “Pick it up, man, and hold it! Get to know the bulb.”
The content marketer adds: “Yes, but you must optimize it, too, and I can help with that.”Again, the others seem lost by this statement. “Orient it properly! Don’t cross-thread the @$%&# thing!”
Finally it is the PR guy’s turn. The others look at him, ready for a cryptic statement. He grinned, and said: “I have the most important part: just take the bulb and spin, baby spin!”
Ba Dum! Okay, I won’t quit my day job – but I will be here all month.