Steve Woods

Social Media (and Life) Lessons from Mickey Mouse

In Social Media, What Day is it? on November 18, 2009 at 10:39 am

Still lookin' great after all these years...

Happy 81st Birthday, Mickey Mouse!  Mickey Mouse officially celebrated his birth with the screening of the cartoon Steamboat Willie on this day, back in 1928.

As usual, when discussing what day it is, I had to put some thought to how the remembrance and/or celebration of this popular character’s storied life can be tied to our existence in and use of social media.  And I believe that the celebrated Mouse ties in quite nicely.  Read and decide for yourself!

You can’t control how you come into a scene, but take hold of your future!

Mickey Mouse simply wasn’t really supposed to be.  You see, Charles Mintz of Universal Studios hired a young Walt Disney and his staff to draw for what became the lackluster Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon series.  When Walt asked for an increased budget to support his staff, Mintz went behind his back and hired all of Walt’s staff out from under him, then offered him a paycut in reply.  Walt, of course, was angered and began formulating his exit.

Walt finished out his contract, swearing to control his own destiny by creating his own original works and always retain the rights to them.  He began working with Ub Iwerks, and asked him to come up with some interesting character ideas.  Animals were popular in cartoons, so Ub drew frogs, dogs, cats, cattle and horses, but none of these appealed to Walt.  Looking through some old sketches, Ub discovered that Walt loved mice, having had a pet during his childhood on a farm.  Ub went to work on a few and presented them to Walt.

Walt loved the mice, choosing one in particular, and naming it Mortimer.  His wife Lilian didn’t like the sound of the name and encouraged him Walt to reconsider.  Legend has it that after a chance meeting with Mickey Rooney, Walt decided on Mickey Mouse.

Hand in hand...

In social media, you have the opportunity to spend some time thinking about how you want to be viewed by your audience, how you wish to present yourself.  If it is your desire to have a wide swath of influence, make sure that what you say is either what others need to hear or can relate to.  And make sure that it is honest, coming from your heart.

Mickey Mouse has grown from a bit movie part to the dominating face of the Walt Disney Empire.  He is so inseparable from the Walt Disney brand, that statues commemorating Mr. Disney in his theme parks include him standing and holding Mickey’s hand…

Whether in Twitter or Facebook, you started out with no followers and nobody to listen to.  You diligently sought out interesting people to follow, speaking up and opportune times and saying hello to, and engaging them.  Keep it up.  Even those that have a million followers started with none as they furtively typed in their first comment to the virtual Universe.  Get in there and get involved.  People will love you, too!

Learn from your mistakes and grow

In the silent movie Plane Crazy, Mickey plays the captain of an airship, flying through the skies with his passenger Minnie.  As he has always, Mickey has eyes for Minnie; however Minnie is not interested in his advances.  Mickey continues his amorous plays for affection, going so far as to even force himself on his passenger.  A far cry from the happy-go-lucky and friendly Mickey we know today…

You are the captain of your social media plane. Pay attention to what you are doing there, to your many followers, and engage them in a manner that they deem appropriate.  Don’t force people to follow you back, or push yourself over and over into their conversations.

They do make a cute couple...

Minnie ultimately discovers a parachute and escapes the plane, and Mickey ultimately crash-lands.  The movie was a flop, and is one of the chief reasons that the premiere of his second movie, Steamboat Willie, is the one we use to officially celebrate Mickey’s arrival on the big screen.  It would appear that since their introductions, Mickey has learned from his mistakes, and treats Minnie with far more respect…

Mickey smoked in The Gallopin’ Gaucho, but eventually gave it up, and we are all happier for him, as he celebrates his 81st birthday in full health.  Yes, even mice can be exemplars of improving behavior.

The Biggest Fool is the Guy who Refuses to Learn From His Mistakes.  ~ Gary Arbaugh (@Gary1980Arb)

It’s easy to say something that might offend others in Social Media.  Don’t fret – simply apologize for it, consider a better way to have said what you did, and move on.  Realize that some people will bail on you because they don’t like your style, and you will have to simply accept you cannot please everybody.  If you are respectful and kind to everyone you meet, you will soon find the seats in your social airliner filled with plenty of people returning the affection…

Always be friendly and respectful to others

The original bromance.

Across the board, Mickey Mouse is the most friendly of all of Walt Disney’s creations.  No matter what is going on in his life, he greets his friends and even strangers with kindness and consideration.  He is always quick to welcome in someone at his door, always ready to lend a hand or lend something to those in need, and ready to cheer up his curmudgeonly friend Donald Duck.  Who by the way seriously needs to work on that speech impediment.

If all of us greeted our friends and followers with the same loving acceptance of whoever was on the other side of the connection, I have a feeling we would spend even more time in social media enjoying the company.  Get involved in causes after carefully researching them, and don’t be afraid to cheer up the grumps.  Everybody has a bad day.

Don’t let others get you down

For some, the term Mickey Mouse has been used to mean shoddy or shady, from a character in the movie The Godfather II referring to a “Mickey Mouse Operation,” to Indiana Jones saying “Yeah, and I’m Mickey Mouse.”  While visiting foreign lands and noting unusual (and questionable) currencies, Americans have often referred to the flimsy notes as “Mickey Mouse Money.”  British Soccer fans call the second-tier League  Cup competition’s award “the Mickey Mouse Cup.”

We all have our nemeses both in life and here in social media, who put us down privately (and even publicly,) or question our motives and abilities.  Despite this behind-the-back derision using his name, Mickey has remained cheerful and forward-looking.  He has refused to let anyone get him down, and as young children seeing his fortitude, many of us have grown to love and respect the Mouse.  Keep moving forward with purpose, and those that deride you will eventually fade away in their own negativity.  There is also the block feature…

Be consistent in all that you do

Always humble, always consistent...

We’re talking about a little guy who wears the same outfit 99% of the time.  Consistency is Mickey Mouse’s forte and one of the big reasons he has been so successful over the last 80 years.  We know the many consistent attributes of Mickey Mouse, and no matter the twists and turns of plot in a Disney cartoon, we know exactly how he is going to react.

Change your social media avatar only when needed, because it is part of that essential “brand” you have among others.  Changing your avatar temporarily makes it hard for people to find you in the stream of information, as you are now an unfamiliar sight.  You don’t want to get lost by the very same people who love what you have to say because you shaved that mustache or went blonde.

Take the time to truly know yourself, what you stand for and therefore how you ought to behave around others in all situations.  Be well-grounded and familiar in your own personal philosophy and make the difficult decisions that keep you on course with it, or change when needed.  Consistency in behavior sets the needed deep habits that will carry you through the hazards that come into all of our lives. Those that know and appreciate you will love you all the more for the bedrock you provide in their lives while facing the larger societal issues impacting the news or their lives, and will they reward you on Follow Friday by asking others to follow you too….

Be willing to try new things

From his exciting but lustful beginnings as a plane pilot to his happy-go-lucky, whistling days on a steamboat, Mickey has moved on to serve as a soldier, a musical conductor,  tried his hand at Wizardry, has been a detective, and enjoyed a host of other roles in life.  Mickey has cheerfully gone wherever sent by his animators, and If he were real, would’ve learned quite a bit from each new character.

Don’t be afraid to try new things.  We are always faced with little opportunities disguised as hard work, and should never shy away from them.  Often, these new responsibilities lead to growth whether as a person or employee.  Never be afraid to figure out those things that seem positively magical in their complication; we often discover they are not so difficult once in the middle of the fray.

Find and make a variety of friendships in social media.  Don’t keep your sphere of influence limited to those that look and sound and work like you.  A wealth of varied experiences and backgrounds keep the stream of information flowing on your computer screen interesting. Accept the friend and follow requests from oddballs once in awhile, because you will soon discover that those residing outside of the box say things that make you both laugh and think, to say the least.

Be always at the ready to take the lead when asked

Always ready to serve you...

In politics, of all write-in protest candidates, Mickey Mouse has led the charge when voters have been dissatisfied with their offerings. Because of his consistently cheerful countenance and pleasant ways, Mickey on countless occasions he has had his name written down on ballot after ballot, his name bandied about in practically every single Presidential election since his birth.  He has been offered up as a leader at school board, mayoral, city council, senatorial and gubernatorial elections.

If you follow Mickey’s social examples, you will soon find yourself in demand in the lives of your friends and followers, asking for help and sage advice.  Don’t shirk your new-found popularity; rather, once again jump in with both feet and expand your niche.  Give your opinion humbly, and accept the thanks when given.

Stand up for your ideals and beliefs

If you ever want to see the power of protectiveness, just begin a business enterprise using the Mickey Mouse character, without first asking permission from the Walt Disney Company.  You will soon find yourself swarming in legal battles and facing off against a league of attorneys four-deep.  Walt Disney is extremely protective of its characters, Mickey Mouse in particular.  It’s Mother Hen-like guard over its brand has allowed Disney to grow profitably into new ventures over time.

Don’t let others take credit for what you do, know or say. Stand up for yourself, and make sure others know from whence the good ideas flowed.  Politely remind people to retweet or recomment giving proper credit when due. Be consistent in branding who you are and what you stand for, so that others can easily define you when they too go to bat for you.

Tackle issues head-on

Mickey has always been up-front about problems or issues he sees.  If he sees someone being bullied, he is the first to gather up his gumption and speak out.  Invariably, he gets the snot knocked out of him, but her perseveres and ultimately wins out, and we respect him for it.

His values can make a difference online, too...

I have had the honor of helping Kirstie Alley (@kirstiealley) with Aquathon, a 24-hour social media marathon last July, wherein with the help of thousands, we raised $28,000 to drill 2 fresh water wells in Africa.  I am looking forward to Aquathon II, slated for May 1st of 2010, a dance-a-thon to held World-wide.  I am currently working with Josh Charles (@joshcharles) with his very meaningful project to donate 100% of the profits of his beautiful song Healing Time, to rebuild the homes in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, where people are still smarting from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

There are a variety of issues you can address using social media.  Take one that means a lot to you personally, and run with it.  You can hold contests, tweet and ask for retweets, blog about your cause and send the links out.  Create multimedia presentations by playing music and sending photos related to the cause.  Be judicious in the amount of time you spend discussing your cause, so that your followers do not become jaded or block you due to the noise.

Of course, patterning your life or social media presence after a cartoon character might not seem desirable.  But at least take the time to learn from the values that made Mickey Mouse popular all around the World.  And if the big ol’ yellow shoes and round black ears fit, then wear ’em!

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