It’s true. We can learn lessons from children all the time. However, did you know that we can also learn a lot from their cartoons as well? Case in point, recently while tapping out some work on the iPad as I watched ‘toons with the kids, a couple of their shows’ lessons crept into my head where I started to see parallels with the world of social media marketing. 

I often say that social media comes down to three Cs — connections, conversations, and content. It just so happens that there are two very unlikely teachers in these areas …

Thomas the Tank Engine Knows What Drives Content Marketing

These stuffy little Brits were imported long before Downton Abbey and remain just as trendy, albeit with a much younger demographic. Anyone familiar with these talking trains from the mythical Island of Sodor knows that they answer to a rigid taskmaster — the superintendent of the railway, Sir Topham Hatt. Among Hatt’s many decrees, which also include warnings not to cause “confusion and delay,” he frequently reminds Thomas, Percy, James, and the other trains of the need to do their respective jobs by “being really useful engines.”

The Social Connection? Sir Topham Hatt’s words of wisdom to these trains with faces isn’t all that different from the advice given by Ann Handley and CC Chapman in Content Rules — “share or solve, don’t shill.” When creating content it’s important to take a big step back and ask yourself why you’re doing this? Are you meeting your audience’s need? Remember, modern consumers don’t want to be interrupted with ads about your stuff. They want your content to help solve their specific problems. Are you in the HVAC business? Shoot a video showing how to program your thermostat. To quote another kids’ classic, Robots — “See a need, fill a need.” Make sure that you and your content are “really useful” to your audience.

SpongeBob and the Secret of Social

Over here on the other side of the pond, we like more manic kids’ programming, like the irrepressible Sponge Bob SquarePants. Fans of the show (you know you love it) know that SpongeBob often ends up on the other side of Plankton, his diminutive nemesis with dreams of world domination. On a recent episode I walked by as Plankton asserted that “Only aggressive people conquer the world!” to which the silly sea sponge replied, “What about being aggressively nice to people?” He then goes over the top in acts of kindness which sickens Plankton and restores balance to the universe.

The Social Connection? As a community manager a big part of social media is building connections through conversations (those other C words again). In both Crush It and The Thank You Economy Gary Vaynerchuk (no relation to SpongeBob’s pet snail, Gary) makes the case for tweeting until your eyes bleed, going the extra mile, and wowing the customer. Again, Gary Vee gets social because his retail background keeps him grounded in a customer-focused mindset but he goes about it using SpongeBob’s ethos of aggressive kindness. Even during the times when a follower might not have something great to say about you or your brand, often leaning into the punch and being aggressively nice can go a long way toward repairing the damage and building lasting connections with your community.

Back to Work

Okay, I’ve spent way too much time waxing philosophically about kids’ shows. However, the best shows at any age often embed lessons we might not have seen otherwise that we can apply to our lives and work.

What’s the craziest place you’ve ever found an insight?

Photo via Flickr user JD Hancock