How Universities are Using Humor to Build Their Social Brand

Surfing the Internet on a Laptop

You’re a hallowed institution. To debase your message of lofty intellectual ideas with the crude language of humor is anathema to all you hold dear.

But then, of course, it isn’t.

Sure, you’re one of the finest research universities in the world, but that doesn’t mean your personality is as rigid as a tweed-coated professor bloviating into the wind. Your school is a living, breathing entity composed of faculty, students and staff. And, who’s to say it can’t be a little funny sometimes?

Universities have been using humor to both blow off a little steam and to showcase the personalities that make it so dynamic.

Let’s take a look at how schools are leveraging their funny-bones to elevate their visibility.

Funny = Follows

“MIT is a unique place,” says Maia Weinstock (@20tauri), deputy of the MIT News Office. “Of course, we’re world renowned for our groundbreaking research and engineering, but we’re also home to a unique body of students, faculty, and staff.”

The institution shows off their unique personality through custom and timely content, like this campus-created gem in honor of #WorldShakespeareDay. The Bard was no stranger to a good rib-tickler, after all.

“Humor is a wonderful tool on Twitter and social media generally,” said Weinstock. “Not only does it help solidify our brand as an institution, but it also invites those who might not otherwise think they’d be interested in a college or university social feed want to follow us and share in the fun.”

“To thine own self, be true”

You’ve got more than ample opportunities to brag about your brainy side. Social media can be great way to show-off that, at the end of the day, we all just want to have fun.

#tbt Move-in day on Bay State Road in September, 1977.

A photo posted by Boston University (@bostonu) on

“Yes, we’re a world-class research institution,” says Emily Truax (@emilytruax), Public Relations Associate at Boston University, “but our campus culture is also laid back, approachable, and fun-loving. Our voice represents the culture of the University. We understand that our students are constantly bombarded with ‘serious’ messaging – from branded, authoritative emails to academic coursework. It’s great that social media can be a space for them to have a bit more fun.”

Just don’t try too hard

It’s all well and good to be funny, but as Colorado State University’s Director of Social and Digital Media Kimberly Stern (@KimberlyLStern) puts it, don’t strong arm it into your posts.

“In order to be relatable, relevant, and credible,” says Stern, “we regularly use GIFs, pop culture phrases, memes, slang, and emojis to deliver our message to and have conversations with students. But, we use these tools very strategically. We use them when it’s right. Not when it’s forced.”

Humor is also a great way to engage with current students, potential applicants, and alumni. If you give your audience a titter on Twitter or a funny on Facebook, it can go a long way towards creating long-time followers who engage with all of your content because it feels like they’re connecting to a friend, instead of a distant brand.

About John Tolley

John Tolley is an editor for StoriedU, concentrating on the fields of content marketing and social media strategy in the realm of higher education. He is particularly interested in how schools leverage their various... More about John Tolley »

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