Emotional Content: What Bruce Lee Taught Me About Digital Media

November 3, 2014

Let me get this out of the way: Everything that I know about producing content for digital media I learned through Bruce Lee. To be more specific, I learned it through a small scene in his classic film Enter the Dragon.

It all starts when Bruce discovers a young student walking around the temple. Upon seeing the student, he asks the boy to kick him. After a moment of apprehension, the student obliges and, needless to say, Bruce was less than impressed.

He calmly walks up to his student, and says, “What was that, an exhibition? You need emotional content.”

Ok, let’s stop right there and think about the term “emotional content” and what the master was asking from his young protégé. He’s basically saying that doing something for the sake doing it isn’t good for anyone. You have to put feeling behind your actions in order to achieve your intended goal.

Now, let’s put that in the realm of digital media for higher education. Before you post, tweet, write, or share do you think about why you’re doing it? Do you ask yourself what reaction/action you are trying to incite? Everything that you push out should mean something. That doesn’t mean that everything you do should be “important” but everything needs a purpose, and that purpose should drive to your overall goal.

Also, your audience’s reason for being in a space should complement your purpose for providing content. Students, faculty, and staff follow you or visit your site because there is information they need or want to find. Sometimes, they don’t necessarily even know that they need or want that information, and that’s when you have to use “emotional content” or purpose-driven content to make it apparent.

Now back to Bruce and the student.

After the kid delivers a series of kicks that impress Bruce, the master approaches his student and asks him, “How did it feel to you?” The young student then replies, “Hmm, let me think…”

Now this is when it gets really good! “Don’t think! Feel,” Bruce says. “It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

Ok, there is a lot there to unpack. First, he pushes the idea of feeling more than thinking. Even for something that comes off as uninspiring, like registration deadlines or event notifications, you need to be able to conjure feeling. Why should your audience care that a deadline or event is approaching? What is so important about this that they need to act? That’s a feeling you have to push, not an idea. Don’t get me wrong—ideas are great—but it isn’t until they push someone to feel something that action is taken.

Next, let’s talk about the “finger pointing to the moon.” Let’s say that the finger is your outlet (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.) and the moon is the message you are trying to get out to your audience. With social media constantly evolving, people become so enraptured with what these tools can do that the story and their overall purpose almost becomes secondary.

For example, remember the day Twitter made it possible to use a .gif? Every single brand on Twitter seemed to use it to basically say what we already knew: Twitter has .gifs. They normally attached some zany .gif that had nothing to do with their brand. Why is that? Because they were so focused on the finger (i.e., the tool) and not the heavenly glory (i.e., their message). This happens constantly, and if you don’t believe me, observe what brands do when Cinco de Mayo (May 5) rolls around. Here’s an example of a Liberty Mutual post from earlier this year. What exactly do fiestas have to do with their insurance? And other than retweets, what did they hope to get out of this?

Digital media for higher education can often feel like a runaway freight train. Figuring what’s popular, what’s going out of fashion, and what’s next is extremely difficult and can lead to a few missteps. Just be sure to never lose track of your overall goal and why it led you to enter the digital space. Stay focused on the content and the purpose behind it and you’ll be on the right track more often than not. I learned all of this from a 107-second clip of Enter the Dragon.