Three Social Media Tips from Willie Wonka

May 13, 2009

You’ve seen the books in the self-help section of Barnes and Noble or Borders.

Who Moved My Cheese

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

All I Needed To Know About Social Media I Learned Over A Danish At SMB13

Popular titles, all. But the one thing they have in common is the strength of the storytelling. To get someone to pay attention to you, your company, your product, your prowess, your demands and your opinion, you should tell your story in a convincing way.

Take for instance Willie Wonka. Without the golden ticket promotion or the fact he had imprisoned some short factory workers, he was just another guy with a chocolate river, a glass elevator and a weird time-machine boat. But he could tell a story.

Let’s take a harder look at the candy magnate’s modus operandi and see if we can apply some of the lessons he taught to your life in the social media sphere.

Hey, Oprah, Ashton, Today Show, Brookstone, Fat Cat Quincy and others, this might help you connect with your social media audience a little more effectively. So listen up.

1 – Don’t be predictable.

Mr. Wonka looked conservative and staid in his suit, top-hat and cane. But he wasn’t afraid to use an impromptu gymnastics move to recharge his audience and get their attention.

*If you haven’t seen the movie, Wonka sticks his cane in the bricks, feigns losing his balance and somersaults forward toward the locked gates of his chocolate factory with the entire town and multiple media outlets standing outside. They gasp and then cheer and he captures their hearts. Touching.

Convert this to apply to your social media strategy. Your company can remain as laced-up as you want when it comes to traditional media and marketing, but if you want to reach a new audience go to them. Wonka new the people thought he was a reclusive, unapproachable soul. He reached them by being human.

So get out there and converse with your communities. And from time to time, refresh yourself in their eyes by stepping out and doing something unpredictable.

e.g – (after each section I’ll give a real-world example that could help a company) How great, and how much buzz would Dunkin Donuts generate if they gave away free coffee to their Facebook Fans one day? Nobody else gets the free coffee, only FB fans.

2 – Don’t make missteps (or at least prepare for the fallout as best you can)

As part of his process of searching for a successor, Wonka invites five children into his factory for a tour. During this tour he allows them enough chocolate, blueberry gum, golden eggs, fizzy lifting drink and other accoutrement to eliminate them as candidates.

They fall one by one and soon nobody is left to take over the chocolate factory.*

*no spoilers here.

The world of social media shrinks the world and speeds up the flow of information. If your company is doing something wrong, stop now and get ready for the eventual (because it will happen) backlash. Social media people will recognize these names – Skittles, Domino’s and KFC (thanks Oprah).

Either poorly thought out or poorly responded to crises, these companies all got dinged by something as simple as a hashtag or a RT (@oprah, that means Retweet. It’s when someone repeats what someone else on Twitter says. It’s the viral way for a message about free chicken to cause massive food shortages as the world’s largest chicken chain.)

So, when you make a mistake and create a new return policy on massage chairs or decide that you’re not going to let a Nine Inch Nails application in your iTunes App Store, be ready for the public response.

When in doubt, pretend that you’ve made this decision public on all TV shows, in all newspapers and magazines and on all Websites across the world. Then see how you might handle it differently. Because people will find out.

3 – Keep an eye out for unlikely partnerships

While it was a manufactured misdirection, the association of Slugworth and Wonka was one that seemed so unlikely that little Charlie was aghast when he saw Slugworth near the end of the movie.

Wonka found that it was important to remain friendly and cooperative with the majority of people within his sphere of influence because it was beneficial to the chocolate plant and to him personally.

In social media, don’t just ignore someone because you can’t see their worth right away. Take a moment to explore the different facets of a person’s background and skillset before you dismiss them.

A real example for me was landing a gig writing content for a pharmaceutical community site. The company had assigned me to work on a community for one condition without knowing my background. When I mentioned that I had a chronic illness, the hiring professional stopped in her tracks and decided to move me to a community they were creating specifically for that disease.

Now the company is getting a deal and receiving richer content because I can spend less time on research and use more billable hours writing.

Is there a takeaway to this? Should you model your social media-aware business on the stylings of a guy who breaks into song everytime he wants to teach a lesson?

My comment is to keep your eyes and ears open. Learn from everyone you meet. And find people who can show you the proper way to communicate with the tools of today.

Keep reading…sweet dreams.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A lot of people ask me where my ideas come from and how I can create so much content across so many channels. The content production just comes from knowing the vehicles and using them correctly – and from 20 years as a professional journalist and freelance writer. The ideas, they come from everywhere. This column was sparked – literally – by my mistake of putting a FastBreak candy bar in the microwave. I asked myself aloud if Willie Wonka would have done that and out popped this piece. See photos below for the aftermath.