If you haven’t seen The Greatest Showman yet – please do. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, this is a superbly well-done movie. If you don’t know the background, it’s a story from the 1870s which loosely (with a hefty dose of artistic licence if you read some of the reviews) follows the trials and tribulations of PT Barnum – American showman, politician and businessman.
He’s remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus – and, according to PR textbooks was one of the first to use PR techniques we know today. I won’t spoil things too much, but these are the nine Social Business lessons I reflected on while watching the Oscar-nominated movie.
#Unearth the unseen and make them live
This is the core element of the story – PT Barnum’s oddballs and oddities. Now, I’d never go so far as to couch our wider workforce in such a way, but the deeper point is that there are all sorts of talents and people hidden away in your organisation. Go find them and give them permission to be heard. Because…
#If you give people a voice, they’ll thrive
When this group of people come together (pictured above), they find their voice, and make it heard. It’s as simple as that. Social businesses allow all employees, hidden away or otherwise, to have a voice, and provide a space for it to be heard.
#There’s always a naysayer or two – you can win them round
In the movie, House of Cards actor, Paul Sparks plays James Gordon Bennett, the founder, editor and publisher of the New York Herald. He’s not a fan of Barnum’s work – believing it was too low-brow. But yet he keeps coming back for more, realising that the people loved it. He respected what Barnum had done.
In the same way, some people will like being social – some won’t. Some will be active, some won’t. That’s OK!
#Plan for crisis/failure/gloom will do you no harm for long-term success
The character played by Zac Efron, ends up saving the day, by planning ahead for the event of some form of crisis/catastrophe. Won’t spoil it anymore! But we can all learn from that plot spot. Prepare for the worst, and then execute the plan when it does. I talked about being ready in a crisis back here after the Manchester attacks in 2017. You can do a lot of good, by being ready for the problem before it happens.
#Shiny new objects will always distract
In the film, the shiny new object is a Scandinavian singing sensation which distracts our hero and takes him off-piste for a spell. Down here in the real world, most people in the social media (and therefore social business) space will be keeping their eye out for the next big thing, get distracted by it, and then probably come back a month later when it doesn’t kick off. In recent weeks, Vero became a thing, taking on the Instagram mantle. We’ll see where it goes. There’s plenty of employee advocacy tools and platforms, and internal social networks, or apps, or intranet plug-ins or… the list could go on..
#Community is key – even if your thing isn’t for everyone
Barnum and friends worked their community – close community and far wider. The spoke to them in any number of ways and generated a good spirit and sense of support and encouragement. We could learn from that. However, it’s right to recognise that not everyone in the community was supportive or wanted to get on board. That’s OK. Focus on those who do, not those who don’t. As long as they don’t become detractors.
#You have to sell yourself in new ways
Barnum realised that he needed to use new forms of communication to get the message out. He used the press (maybe using less than ethical means..) and generated word of mouth to generate sales. Go to where your audience is. Make them talk about your product/service/company/initiative.
Interestingly, there’s been a lot of commentary in the press about why the Greatest Showman has become so popular. Writing here on the BBC, Tom Grater from Screen International says “It proves word of mouth can have results, compared to huge marketing budgets.” The irony of this, given Barnum’s approach back then, isn’t lost on me.
#Family is key – Work/Life harmony is key
Our man Barnum has his family at the forefront of his mind, but makes some choices meaning he’s away from them for too long. We should all recognise that everyone has a work/life balance (harmony to me..- see here for more) and everyone is at their best when they can bring their whole lives to bear. Embrace the fact that everyone has at least one other existence outside of your office. Happier people are more engaged, can bring their whole selves to work, and will help you become a more social business.
#Powerful content makes it live for longer
One of the big things about this movie is the soundtrack. There are some powerful anthems and tracks in it. I like a good music score, but I’ve never kept a soundtrack in my mind for so long after seeing a movie. I know many others have done the same – my team can often be found humming tracks around the office or in the car. And it’s why the big number – This is Me – is riding high in the charts, and the soundtrack was nominated for an Oscar.
But music aside, making powerful content is what drives the audience to remember the source. Make it resonate. Make it memorable. Make it stick.
This piece of content was produced by my son. The film has stuck with all of us.
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