10 Lessons from The Hunger Games
originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
When you read or watched “The Hunger Games,” did you catch all the lessons for social media marketers? Any story about a post-apocalyptic society sacrificing 23 teenagers annually was clearly written with marketers in mind.
Maybe that’s not the case, but there’s still plenty marketers can learn. Before getting into it, there are two things you need to know. First, there are a lot of spoilers here. I may well have spoiled everything. Next, I only watched the movie. I tried reading the first book twice and couldn’t get into it. If you’re a purist, I’m sorry, but I have no clue how faithful the movie was to the book.
Enough caveats. Here are 10 lessons coming all the way from Panem, the nation featured in “The Hunger Games”:
1) Know your strengths. Heroine Katniss is the archer. Her cohort Peeta could pin Hulk Hogan. Figure out what your brand’s strengths are and play to them.
2) Being nice reaps dividends. Katniss wasn’t the most approachable contender, but she needed a crash course in charm school. As a marketer and a brand, there has to be some reason for your target audience to like you. If there isn’t, then you have work to do before diving into social media.
3) Promote your assets. One of the heroes of the film, Cinna, is a stylist, so “Project Runway” junkies have someone to root for. Cinna aids Katniss and Peeta by dressing them in opening night attire that everyone notices. Cinna knows that it doesn’t matter who has the most talent or substance; assets need to get attention. Marketers in turn need to invest in promoting the great content they create for social channels. It doesn’t always stand out on its own.
4) Find your own turf, and get comfortable there first. During the Hunger Games competition, there’s a central, coveted plot of land by a structure called the Cornucopia that offers tempting rewards for participants. The problem is it’s also where most people get killed. For many marketers, Facebook is that Cornucopia. Yes, it’s important, and it has the richest user base, but marketers also need to carve out their own territory that they can own and defend.
5) The rules of the game can always be changed. Nothing is fair about the Hunger Games. Stay vigilant. Just when you think you know what you’re doing and everything’s humming, platforms can change, or people can change how they use the platforms. There’s little inertia in social media.
6) If you give people what they want, you still run the risk of irking the king. Consider the case of Seneca Crane, the lead game designer. He was the one changing the rules to make the games more entertaining. Then he broke one rule too many and paid the ultimate price for it. This often happens with social marketers, when they knowingly violate a platform’s rules in a creative move designed to get lots of press. These kinds of stunts are often shut down. Give Seneca credit though, as he died valiantly.
7) Learn how to blend in. Beyond being freakishly strong, Peeta is a talented camouflage artist. It’s a useful skill to have with social media. While brands aren’t people, marketers’ updates are often mixed in with consumers’ friends’ content. That’s a great opportunity for marketers, especially when consumers opt to receive brands’ messages that way.
8) The small, quiet ones have a shot at greatness. Consider Rue, the young, diminutive ally of Katniss, and a champion hide-and-seek player. She shows strategic brilliance and selfless courage. Similarly, many of the best uses of social media come from smaller brands that don’t have the most ardent followings. What matters is how you use your talents.
9) Don’t be content with your success. Haymitch, the advisor to Katniss and Peeta, survived the death match in a prior decade. When he first appears in the story, he’s a cantankerous, antisocial alcoholic. Aspire to greatness, and achieve it when you can, but then think about how to keep it going.
10) The odds are ever in your favor. If you’ve followed along thus far, you’ve got a pretty good handle on the rules of the Games — and when to break them. Still, not everyone’s going to win. Most mess up making avoidable errors. Fortunately, unlike for most of the Hunger Games contestants, there are plenty of second and third chances. Learn from others’ mistakes, learn from yours, and make the odds work for you.