Over the Thanksgiving weekend, while shoppers were elbowing their way through extended Black Friday buying frenzies, my husband and I ducked into our beloved Alamo Drafthouse for a 90-minute visit with some old, very dear friends of mine: The Muppets.
Having grown up watching “Sesame Street,” I remember the buzz that arose around “The Muppet Show” when it debuted in 1976. The idea of leveraging daytime kids’ edu-tainment into a prime-time variety show was a risky one, but it paid off handsomely and the show remained a family favorite until its run ended in 1981.
Thirty years later, this blue-chip brand has managed to do the unthinkable: bridge the gap from the Atari set to Generation Twitter. And along the way, it’s taught us a few valuable lessons (subtlely, in true Henson fashion) about how we can become better social media practitioners.
1. Everyman always wins
There’s a reason why Kermit the Frog is one of our most enduring icons: he’s our Everyman.
Each episode of “The Muppet Show” involved a maelstrom of craziness fueled by the shenanigans of a diva (Miss Piggy), a clueless goof (Fozzy), a couple of grumps (Statler & Waldorf), a hardass (Sam the Eagle), the boss’ nephew (Scooter), a rage-a-holic (Animal), and countless other oddballs. In the middle stood kind, tolerant Kermit, just trying to put on a show without losing his froggy mind, and we loved him all the more for it. This is not just the stuff of great kids’ entertainment, folks; it’s the making of a workplace comedy that every grownup can relate to.
Takeaway: Don’t try to “present an image” to your blog readers, your fans, and your followers. Share your lows as well as your highs, your frustrations as well as your triumphs, and you’ll lay the foundations of a true rapport that will keep them engaged over the long term.
2. Choose your friends well
The guest-star list of the original “Muppet Show” reads like a Who’s Who of 70s Arts & Entertainment: Steve Martin, Diana Ross, Peter Ustinov, Paul Simon, Carol Burnett, Johnny Cash, Debbie Harry, Beverly Sills, Peter Sellers, Rudolf Nureyev, the list goes on and on. The added prestige of A-list guests attracted a grownup audience who might otherwise have no interest in a prime-time “kids’ show.”
Fast-forward to 2011 and our favorite felt fun-bunch found a new friend and champion in comic actor Jason Segel. At first blush, the costar of “How I Met Your Mother” and Judd Apatow bromances seems an odd match for the loveable Muppets … and yet he doesn’t.
Fart jokes aside (not to mention the fact that we saw his hoo-ha in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Segel’s edginess is tinged with a healthy dose of sweetness and optimism. It was, after all, he who first pitched the idea for the film The Muppets to Disney (mere months after his FSM bare-all hit theatres)—not as a celebrity with a pet project du jour, but as a lifelong fan who wanted to bring the joy of Kermit and the gang to a new generation.
Takeaway: Reach out to people (peers, key influencers, bloggers, enthusiasts) who complement your brand and who can help fill in the gaps in your social engagement.
3. Not every joke needs a butt
In researching this post, I found Jason Segel’s interview with The Huffington Post, where he touched on what I see as a key element in the Muppets’ broad appeal:
They managed to be edgy without it being at somebody else’s expense, and I thought that was kind of an important message to send to kids. You don’t have to get laughs by making fun of somebody else and it can still be cool. This movie — and I know, I wrote it — in my opinion, it’s pretty cool in addition to being nice and sweet … There is a temptation to give in to what you know will be popular and successful, which is mocking people, but The Muppets would never give in to that.
That’s what we marketing wonks like to call a “unique selling point.” In an environment where it seems every joke comes at someone’s expense, the Muppets prove that you can get laughs by poking fun at no one but yourself.
Takeaway: Keep your edge, but be nice. It’ll come back to you.
4. Having dibs on the catchiest tune of all time doesn’t hurt
Takeaway: Get into people’s heads … and stay there.
So, whether you’re a Gen X–er ike me or a more recent convert to all things Muppet, I’d love to hear your thoughts how Kermit and the gang can help make us better and smarter at this social media thing. Leave a note in the comments—we’d love to hear from you!