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Cover Focus | Mar 2015

The Importance of Not Being Too Earnest

How to use humor in social media.

Steven had lived a long life, which was now drawing to an end. He asked his wife to fetch his ophthalmologist.

“Why?” asked his wife. “There’s nothing your ophthalmologist can do for you now.”

“Don’t argue woman!” said Steven. “Just get the man for me!”

And so she did. Dr. Patterson was summoned to the deathbed.

“Dear Steven, what can I do for you?” asked the doctor.

Steven opened his eyes and sighed. “Doc, before I go, I really have to know,” he said, “which one was clearer: A or B?”

I always love a joke. But then again, who doesn’t? We use humor to provoke laughter, and laughter releases tension. It makes us happy, or at least it gives us some perspective when we are unhappy.

Surgeons make difficult decisions every day and perform complex procedures in stressful situations. They change people’s lives, for better or worse. That is a pretty serious way to make a living. Fortunately, most surgeons have a sense of humor, and therewith the ability to release tension. I have seen many ophthalmologists use their senses of humor among colleagues and friends.

But when they appear in public or communicate on social media, professionals tend to drop that sense of humor. This is because we are programmed to think it is unprofessional. Unfortunately, when you do not use humor on social media, you miss an opportunity to release tension together with your followers or friends—you miss an opportunity to connect with them. The level of engagement that humor can bring to bear is tremendous. And what is more, you can have fun in the process. You can actually enjoy your day more by using humor. So, why wouldn’t you?


Figure 1. One strategy for humorous posts is to find a way to laugh at yourself (A). Sending a party meme is typically not appropriate on a working day (B).


Of course there are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

1. Choose themes carefully. Although all of us have a sense of humor, one person’s definition of humor can vary greatly from others’. Another person may perceive what you consider funny to be offensive or hurtful.

It is not good practice to make fun of patients, mock religions, or make ethnic or sexist jokes on social media. Rather laugh about yourself than about others (Figure 1A). The purpose of your presence on social media is to strengthen relationships. Offensive humor does not do that.

2. Use humor in small doses. After all, you are a doctor, not an entertainer. Keep a close eye on your ratio of informative versus fun updates. Social media empower people to craft their own images. Keep focus on what you want to be known for, and use humor as a delightful surplus.

3. Timing is everything. When a tragedy occurs and social media are flooded with expressions of grief and distress, it is not a good idea to lighten up the Web with some humor. People will perceive it as hurtful or in bad taste.

There is a right time for everything. We used a party meme (Figure 1B), for instance, on New Year’s Eve, and it was received with great enthusiasm because the timing was right. We would not, however, recommend using this meme on a working day.


Whatever you do, think before you post. When you are in doubt, hit the backspace key. But remember, a day without a good laugh is a wasted day. Have a great one! n

Philippe Bogaert
- Cofounter and Director of Sales and Marketing, FingerTalks
- philippe@fingertalks.be
- Financial disclosure: None