The top 5 things Sharknado teaches us about great communication

sh Last week, one of the greatest cheesy movies of all time debuted on the Syfy channel. Sharknado.

In case you missed it, here’s the premise. There’re lots of really big sharks in the ocean and they’re all really angry. Due to some weird weather, the sea level begins to rise in Los Angeles and a freak tornado scoops up said sharks and rains them down on the city. 1990’s ‘C List’ stars Tara Reid and Ian Ziering (appropriately named ‘Fin’ in this film) take to the streets to kill the sharks and blow up the tornado using dynamite. Mayhem ensues. A cult classic is born.

I know what you’re thinking, “Hey pal, where’s the spoiler alert warning?!?!”

Sorry about that.

Obviously, this movie is designed to be a low budget, tongue-in-cheek, comedy/thriller that’s the entertainment equivalent of eating a box of Twinkies…at first the idea sounds delicious, but you end up regretting it by the time you’re finished.

The thing that’s most amazing to me about Sharknado is that it actually is a good case study in communications best practices, so here I’ve compiled the top 5 things a cinematic masterpiece like Sharknado can teach us about communications.

1)  Be trustworthy

You might be wondering what could possibly be ‘trustworthy’ about this movie. Well, it’s called Sharknado and features Tara Reid and Ian Ziering battling airborne sharks in a tornado…you immediately know what you’re getting with this one. No one is tuning in thinking this is going to be Spielberg’s next Oscar winner. You watch because you think the idea of tornadic sharks sounds funny.

In the same way, your messages need to be honest and transparent about what you are trying to communicate, even when the information might be difficult to deliver. Always give people the straight answer. People will be far more willing to hear tough information when they feel like you’re telling them the truth, but rarely forgive if they feel they’ve been deceived.

2)  Give your audience what they want

The folks in charge of programming over at Syfy know exactly what their audience is interested in. A quick Google search delivers a long list of awesomely awful movies Syfy has aired. These blockbusters include masterpieces such as Sharktopus, Piranaconda, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, Megapython vs. Gatoroid, and Dinoshark.

Clearly, there is a subset of the population who loves these kinds of movies and keeps coming back for the content they love.

This same approach works for communicators too. At GovDelivery, we advise our clients to offer a wide variety of topics that people might be interested in as subscription topics. That way, people can sign up to get the exact information they want.

For example, one person might go to the IRS website to look for information about filing personal income taxes. Another might search the site to find out how to file business paperwork to get a taxpayer ID number, and another person may want to know about the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit.

By allowing people to subscribe to only the information they find valuable, you can provide excellent customer service without burying people in superfluous information they don’t want or need. Your customers will be happy and you won’t be wasting people’s time.

3)  Spread the word

One of the things that Syfy did expertly with Sharknado, was create compelling content that people wanted to share and then get that message out to the masses. Sharknado generated more than 604,000 tweets in an 8 hour time period on the day the movie premiered. That’s 1,258 tweets per minute! The official movie trailer has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube and the movie poster showed up all over my news feed on Facebook.

While not all of the information you need to communicate is as riveting as Sharknado, efficiently getting your message out to as many channels as possible is essential for ensuring maximum viewers. Try to find tools that will simplify the delivery of information. It will save you time and make sure you are catching your audience on their channel of choice.

4)  Capture people’s attention

No one can deny that Sharknado was attention grabbing. But what if you are talking about something more mundane than flying attack sharks? Just because your message isn’t flashy, doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to jazz it up.

For example, you’ve probably heard how the CDC made emergency preparedness interesting with their Zombie Apocalypse campaign. The US Census Bureau found a way to make economic statistics come alive with the America’s Economy mobile app. The Virginia Tourism Association tapped into the growing craft beer trend and created an interactive map for a craft beer tour. You know there’s an audience out there for that idea. Louisville, KY decided to try new ways of capturing people’s attention by putting city content into a new channel where people were already congregating. The Washington DOT even found a way to make traffic information compelling by using a map goof-up to highlight road improvements.

Before pushing your information out there, take a few seconds to think if there’s a way you can make your information more compelling. If you can capture people’s attention, you will have a better chance of them remembering what you want them to know.

5)  Don’t be afraid to have some fun

Sharknado is a great example of having some fun with your content. No one expects this movie to win any awards; it’s purely for entertainment purposes.

Remember your main goal as a communications professional; you are trying to get people to engage with your content, sign up to get additional information from you, and come back for more in the future. If everything you put out is safe, boring to read, boring to look at, in outdated mediums and doesn’t move anyone, most people won’t be back.

Even serious government organizations can have some fun every now and then. And, finding new and exciting ways of getting your material in front of the eyes of the public should be fun for you. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I went this direction to make my message more engaging?” Don’t stress yourself out with this. Take it slow. Bite off small pieces at a time and get creative. Maybe you’ll come up with something even more interesting than Sharknado.

There you have it, the top 5 things a cinematic masterpiece like Sharknado can teach us about communications best practices.

What things would you add to my list?

Oh, in case you missed it, Syfy is re-airing the movie in August. And in case you’re already a diehard fan, Sharknado 2 is already in the works! Syfy is even offering a chance to get in on naming it. You can submit your title ideas via tweet to @SyfyMovies using #Sharknado.

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