What The LEGO Movie Can Teach Us About Social Media

As the father of two children under eight years old, I have seen The LEGO Movie A LOT. But I can’t really complain, especially since the other films I watch on a regular basis feature a pair of sisters with a seriously dysfunctional relationship (C’mon, Anna and Elsa from Frozen communicate exclusively through a door for, what, fifteen years, and we expect them NOT to have any issues?), a tow truck, named “Mater,” in serious need of a dentist, and a “castle steward,” voiced by Tim Gunn,* who serves a princess who ascended to her lofty post “overnight.”


After spending many hours with Emmet and the gang–and since I see almost everything through the prism of social media–I thought it was an ideal time to write about The LEGO Movie, social media, and what we can learn from one of the highest grossing films of 2014.

Lesson #1: REALLY Listen to Your Audience

One of my favorite scenes from the film happens within the first half hour. After Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) narrowly escape Liam Neeson’s Bad Cop, Emmet reveals that he is not, in fact, “The Special.” Once Wyldstyle gets over her initial anger, she gives Emmet a detailed explanation of the prophecy and the nefarious plans of Lord Business. Emmet responds by saying. “Great. I think I got it. But just in case… tell me the whole thing again, I wasn’t listening.”

While Emmet’s failure to really listen doesn’t do any irreparable damage–Wyldstyle does end up repeating herself–the same can’t be said when it comes to social media, especially Twitter. Dismissing, or flat out ignoring your target audience, can alienate the very people you wish to engage and can lead to negative brand perception. But when you actively listen to your audience AND act on what they are saying–or tweeting–a number of engagement opportunities can arise. Below are a few examples of how, as social media manager for the Harvard Business School (HBS), I have embraced this approach to varying degrees of success.

On Tuesday of this week, alum Alejandro Goyen posted the following tweet.


Recognizing an ideal engagement opportunity (after “listening” to this alumnus), I responded as follows.


While Alejandro did favorite my tweet, we didn’t see any other engagement.

Things were much different when we interacted with fellow alumnus Tom Leung, as evident below.


Like with the previous example, we reacted to what Tom tweeted, but in this case we received a more substantive response.

And once his offer was on the “table,” we had much more to work with social media wise.


These two examples happened within hours of each other and serve as proof that listening is integral to effective social media engagement.

Lesson #2: Ignore the “Haters”

There are detractors (people who question your decisions and motives) and then there are the haters, individuals who seem to relish in despising you. Emmet has the latter in spades. Everyone from Batman to Abraham Lincoln seem to have it in for our hero, uttering such gems as “You are so disappointing on so many levels.” and “A house divided against itself would be better than this,” respectively.


Granted, Emmet doesn’t help his own cause, especially when he delivers one of the worst motivational speeches of all time. But even in the face of mounting criticism–coming mostly from the Dark Knight himself–Emmet remains undeterred and succeeds, first by saving Batman and company with his double decker couch and later by convincing Lord Business to lay down his arms, um, Legos.

We can learn a lot from how Emmet dealt with the “haters.” As a field/discipline, social media is still fairly new and because of this it’s not uncommon for social media managers to have their work questioned or criticized. This is completely understandable, especially since much of the work we do is both unpredictable AND experimental. While I can predict some things (e.g., alumni responses to a question I pose on Twitter), I’m often surprised by which content resonates with my audience and which does not; case in point, I posted the link to an article penned by an alumna yesterday, with no idea how it would perform. Based on past posts, I expected 25-30 clickthroughs and maybe 10-11 “likes.” The post generated 600 clickthroughs (and counting) and 24 “likes.” I have absolutely no idea why.

So, how should you “deal” with the “haters?” I can sum it up in three words.

Data, Data, and Data.

Okay, that was four words, but you get the point.

Regardless of the social media platforms, or platforms, you’re focusing on, it’s imperative that you have a way of measuring your success. Here at HBS, I gather data on both global (clickthroughs, “likes”) and granular (individual alumni engagement) levels; for more on my data collection and reporting read, “Making the Case: Explaining the Return on Investment (ROI) of Your Social Media Efforts.” While choosing what you want to gather data on–I for, one, spend most of my time analyzing individual alumni interactions on Twitter–is difficult, it’s crucial that you have this information at your disposal. Because once you have this information in your arsenal, you’ll be able to respond to some (and hopefully all) queries regarding your approach.

Lesson #3: Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, matters

Near the end of the LEGO Movie, Emmet delivers a MUCH better speech than he did earlier in the film. With Bricksburg, Emmet’s home, on the brink of destruction, our hero appeals to the compassionate side of Lord Business , encouraging him to “take his hand” and join the “good guys.”

During the speech, Emmet also shares how everyone–Lord Business included–can be “The Special.” That, essentially, every person is important and has value.

This philosophy–one I’ve tried to embrace even while driving here in Massachusetts–is a key feature of my social media work. Each morning and throughout the day, I review my alumni lists (for more on list management, see “Rules of Twitter Engagement”) to see how I can connect with alumni. Sometimes these connections happen on an individual bases (see below) and sometimes they involve multiple alumni. But, ultimately, the important thing is making each individual alumnus/a we interact with feel valued.


Granted, this individual engagement approach may be a tough sell to your supervisor. But here’s one way to look at it from a numbers perspective. If you have ten of these types of engagements a week (note: we typically have four to five times this number), this will translate into 40 individual engagements and month and 480 a year. These types of interactions, which may not have happened otherwise, can lead to alumni feeling more brand affinity (i.e., a feeling that the alumnus/a is being listened to) and can help open the door to other engagement opportunities through events, student mentoring programs, etc.

For me, this approach is a no-brainer…just like the double decker couch.**

 *While I may have take issue with the program “Sophia the First,” Tim Gunn can do no wrong in my book.

**I’m a huge fan of the double decker couch as well and would have built one myself–and probably gotten injured in the process–if I had thought of it while in college.

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS.

Follow Robert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s