If you mess up in a small way, convey your apology with humor to defuse the situation. However, for bigger issues or if you anticipate an angry response, use a calming and respectful tone instead.
- For a while in 2011, Tumblr.com used fan art created by Matthew Inman (TheOatmeal.com) on its server error page after a grassroots campaign by Inman’s blog readers. Tumblr is an image-based blogging platform. Because it isn’t likely to be seen as a mission-critical service, a humorous error page is likely to diffuse any anger before it starts.
- Humor won’t cover persistent errors. Twitter’s equivalent to the tumbeasts is its Fail Whale image. Unfortunately, in Twitter’s early days the Fail Whale appeared so frequently that the visual gag lost its humorous aspect. That, coupled with Twitter’s move from novelty to more serious communication platform meant that humor became a less suitable style of response.
How to prevent anger with humor
- Use humor to reduce the potential for anger, but not to deal with existing anger.
- The humor you use should be whimsical rather than containing hostile or aggressive themes such as one person putting down another person because these can increase aggressive feelings.
- Jokes are only funny once. Ensure that people aren’t going to see the humorous content too many times; otherwise, its effect will wear off and may even backfire.
- If you know that users are likely to be angry at the time they see your response, consider a placatory approach instead of a humorous approach. Apply the punch-in-the-face test: Ask yourself whether using humor would get you hit if you were face to face with your user at this point.