All I Need to Know about Social I Learned from The Muppets

It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.

Remember those lyrics? Whether or not you were a child of the 70s and 80s – and most of you probably aren’t – you must remember the Muppets from YouTube or updated movies or your older-but-still-hip friends.

The Muppets are not human, but they are terribly humanlike. The conflicts on the weekly variety show, airing in the late 70s and into the 80s, were the stuff of legend for kids of this era. What can we learn about social media from these puppets who showed us how to be better and worse and everything in between? Why do I see the Muppets as such a microcosm of the social web?

Well, these beings – and most Jim Henson creations in general – were instrumental in my growing up. I would watch the Muppet Show every week, never quite knowing why I loved it so much. For me, the Muppets were much more than imaginary friends who appeared on TV and helped me out of jams.

THEY WERE REAL PEOPLE.

Well, people’s hands in puppets, but you know what I mean. The Muppets were incredibly human to me. As archetypes of the human condition, these characters show the best and worst of each of us.

Far from being make-believe, the Muppets help form one of the realest lenses that we can use to examine social media behavior. To show you, dear readers, how they do that, here are some of the basic tenets that the Muppets can teach us about human behavior both on and off social media.

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courtesy of Joe Penniston/flickr

Stay green

Almost every one of us has been confronted with a HIPPO–a highest paid person’s opinion–who asked why we weren’t doing things more like this or that guru or ninja or samurai or whatever. Doesn’t it make you feel like running into the path of a moving car?

Never fear, Kermit said it wasn’t easy being green. The frog also said being green was just fine with him. The fact is that, in this business, we can’t ever know all the things about all the things. That’s fine. It’s a good thing to approach each day, and each new innovation, with a fresh eye.

In all seriousness, who calls him or herself a guru and expects people – except those who make decisions about gurudom – to look at him with a straight face? One of the main points in being a guru is that you can always learn from others. You’re never an expert – not in anything. There’s always a new medium to learn. There’s always a new person to listen to, always a new thing to try.

Stay green. Keep learning, keep growing in the field. It will benefit you as a person and your university more than you know.

Be your school’s Kermit arms

For our second lesson from the Muppets, I’m going to remind you all of someone we know so well – the naysayer. There’s one in every group: the person who is disgustingly negative. The person who can find NO redeeming thing about anything the university does.

Instead of being happy about the student center getting new tile, she has to fuss about how many more steps it makes her morning walk to avoid the construction area. On social media. Loudly. Incessantly.

Constant negativity wears on anyone who happens to be responsible for the organization’s social media presence. However, enthusiasm is our stock in trade in social media – especially for managing an account for higher education.

We serve as the primary cheerleaders for our organizations. It’s also OK to have negative thoughts about our organizations, but it’s important – as the public face – to present the best case for our institutions.

Don’t let someone else’s bad attitude get you down. Kermit wouldn’t. He’d just throw up the Kermit arms and get on with the enthusiasm. And that’s a very good thing.

Remember the little people

Does anyone remember Kermit’s nephew, Robin? He was small, and that was an issue for him.

But it was never an issue for Kermit. The adult frog always paid attention to his little pal. Kermit was always able to help Robin feel better about lots of things. And in the same way that enthusiasm is important to cultivating a healthy social media presence, the little people are too.

Without many different folks favoriting, sharing, retweeting and commenting on our posts, we wouldn’t have jobs, right? The real consumers of content – and those who give us content on a daily basis are what this job is about. Right?

We can be like cheerleaders for those little people. Like a squad of cheerleaders, it’s the bunch of folks on the bottom of the pyramid that make things strong.

They catch you, they defend you.

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courtesy of Chris Goldberg/flickr

These are your people. Take care of them.

I can’t think of a better example of taking care of people – through social media and beyond – than the higher education web community. We support one another and salute one another and lift one another up. Just like a group of cheerleaders building a pyramid. It’s our responsibility to lift up those who work to lift our institutions up as well.

Winning takes a team

Just like we depend on the little people to push our messages forward, we often depend on a team to produce the content that’s important in social media. In order to achieve our strategic goals with social – whether it’s encouraging students to apply or alumni to donate – it frequently takes a group of people to come up with an idea and then to carry that idea to fruition.

Kermit couldn’t have signed the “Standard Rich and Famous” contract and he wouldn’t have made it through each week’s Muppet Show without a group of collaborators.

We can’t win without all the people. So, ask your co-workers for ideas on what content they like to see in social media. Seek contributions from your major stakeholder groups and then use them.

There will be trolls

Sometimes, however, it’s readily apparent that you just can’t get a team to stand behind you in your efforts. There will always be naysayers, and there will certainly always be trolls.

Statler and Waldorf will always be sitting in the balcony making negative comments about everything.

At the point where you realize that you have one follower who just won’t quit publicizing every little thing he feels is wrong with your institution, you just have to remember Kermit’s attitude. Statler and Waldorf never did get Kermit down – despite the fact that they never found anything good about the Muppet Show or Movie.

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courtesy of Joe Penniston/flickr

Weird can work

In light of the negative that can – and will inevitably – come your way, do you modify what you inherently are?

Here, we definitely need to take a lesson from Gonzo – whatever he happened to be.

Gonzo couldn’t be normal to save his own life – or the life of his beloved chicken, right? He was unapologetically weird; Gonzo wears the different like a badge of honor. That comes back to how we should behave on social media as individuals and as representatives of our institution.

Being weird – or our own unique selves – helps others know if they want to engage with us. If we give an accurate picture of ourselves, or our universities or institutions, then we help those who would best fit in with us find us.

My institution is not right for everyone – none of yours are. But when we talk about those things that make us weird, then we’ll get the right kind of students and we’ll make alumni remember why they love us in the first place.

Humans make the show

I have one final lesson from the Muppets to share. Always remember that there are human beings behind every one of those accounts. Most of all, remember that you’re a human being too.

We all make mistakes. We have hard days where we can’t maintain a positive attitude and we inadvertently encourage trolls.

In the end, we’re all just humans. Nothing more and nothing less.

All the people – even trolls – are in that same boat. The best thing we can do through social media is to demonstrate the behavior we’d like to see in the community.

Do it enough, and you’ll get the payback of hearing you’re right about your institution’s investment in social media. You’ll hear that it does help build teams and affinity and results for your organization.

And in the end, isn’t that why we do what we do in social media in the first place?