Lee Odden

7 Social Media Lessons from Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid

social mediaNote from Lee: This guest post comes to us from Frank Strong, the director of Public Relations at Vocus & PRWeb.

When The Karate Kid was released in 1984, social media had yet to be conceived.  Even so, we can still learn a great deal from the way a character like Mr. Miyagi simplified what might otherwise be considered complex challenges.   He was a master, a student, a mentor and a friend – all characteristics that might have made Miyagi successful in social media.  To that end, I offer seven Miyagi insights we can apply to social media:

1. Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle…
…sooner or later get squish like grape. Miyagi’s philosophy was one of commitment – if Daniel was to learn karate, he had to commit to doing it right.  Social media should be undertaken in the same way – commit.  If you want to be effective in social media then don’t consider it a part-time job or an additional duty.

2.  Wax on. Wax off.
Miyagi taught Daniel through hard work and repetition.  Though it appeared to Daniel he was being used as cheap labor – waxing Miyagi’s old cars – he actually was learning basic karate blocking techniques.  Social media is similar in that the best way to improve is through practice and hard work. Sure – you can read about social media best practices – but there’s no substitute for experience.

3.  Don’t forget to breathe
“Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.”  Sixty-five percent of marketing executives find keeping up with social media trends “at least somewhat challenging.”  Social media is relentless; it never sleeps.  Todd Defren recommends setting “a reasonable pace.”  Miyagi might have called this breathing.

4. Balance is key
Daniel wanted to learn how to punch, but when he asked Miyagi about it, his teacher responded, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?”  It may be tempting to sign up for every new social media service that comes along – and there’s certainly no harm in experimenting on the side.  However, focusing on a few social media sites you know are frequented by your stakeholders may well be a better approach.  “First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Daniel-san, not mine.”

5.  Now use head for something other than target
It’s a social norm: social media tends to reject commercialization.  If the only thing you Tweet, bookmark, or post is your own content, you might wind up doing more harm than good. It’s better to engage in the conversation, earn the trust of your community and offer content for the purpose of value rather than sales.  It may seem counterintuitive, but people buy things from people and organizations they trust. They’ll check you out in due time: trust the process.

6. Don’t know. First time.
After asking politely to have them removed, Miyagi used a karate chop to take the tops off a row of bottles a nefarious rabble rouser had placed on his truck.  In wonderment, Daniel asked how he did it.  “Don’t know.  First time,” Miyagi responded.  There’s a first time for everything, even for the experts.  Perhaps Brian Solis said it best when he noted we are “forever students of new media.

7.  JCPenney $3.98
Miyagi was too humble to have cared how many followers he might have had on Twitter.  He would have cared more about perfecting his technique.  Instead of studying karate to build his reputation, he practiced karate for karate’s sake and his reputation took care of itself.  Perhaps Miyagi’s philosophy here too is applicable:  when Daniel asked Miyagi what belt he held (as in black belt), the master responded, “Canvas. JCPenney $3.98. You like?”

If Miyagi had an eighth point it would be this:  “Banzai!”  In other words, have fun!

If you’re planning on scheduling or sending out a news release or a social media news release this week, here’s a nice surprise for you: Get 25% off PRWeb’s Advanced or Premium services: visit this special offer page. The offer is good until Friday, Sept. 10th.

After I asked Frank if he would be open to doing a guest post, I thought it might be of interest to our readers if PRWeb offered a discount on their news release distribution services, since they’re so popular amongst search marketers and PR professionals that read this blog. I checked with Frank and he was able to make it happen on pretty short notice. Thank you Frank!

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Gary Woodfine says

    Who knew that an old film can be so applicable today! Love the tips.

  2. “Man who catch fly with chopstick, accomplish anything.” Would that be being able to show metrics/ROI for social media? 🙂

    I love this Frank – tying a tired topic to a classic movie breathes life back into the discussion. Bravo!

    • Ah, that’s a great one Amybeth! I did look at that quote and couldn’t think of a way to work it in…ROI…of course! Nice! Wait, does that mean determining ROI is like trying to catch a fly with chopsticks! 🙂

  3. Life is a contact sport. You either learn to take hits and respond or you stay into an incubator. That does not mean violence. Learn the lessons and evolve, or spend time in a closet.

  4. What a fantastic post!! Love your use of Karate Kid to make it fresh and relevant and your points are spot on! Well done!

  5. Mr. Miyagi, social media guru. So wise.

    Frank, no quotes from the new kk movie then?

  6. Excellent analogy. I always loved Mr. Miyagi’s teaching methods. Good job of explaining social media in terms that we can relate to. Cheers ~ Deauxmain

  7. Frank now that you have done the old karate kid are you going to do the same for the new one?

    Either way I like how you tied in a movie that will be a classic.

  8. I love the way you link it to social media lessons. Whenever I watch the movie, I always link it to good instructional design lessons. What Daniel learned was for life, not just for the karate competition – which is what all instructional designers to aim to achieve!

  9. Great post – I agree 100% with #5 and have said that MANY times to my own clients!

  10. Awesome read! I think we tend to forget #3!!!

  11. Note Insight#2…great things always include something to do with wax. (sorry couldn’t help myself)

  12. Avatar JustinCambria says

    I thought this would be a pretty far fetched analogy, and read anyways as I’ll get behind anything Miyagi related. But it turned out to be pretty apt, especially #7. Follower collecting is such a pet peeve of mine, and as ever, humility is the key.


  13. Really enjoyed this. The lessons in the movie were useful and you have applied it well – and the 8th lesson is PRIMO! Thanks

  14. I really identify with life examples that parallel movies. This blog was nicely orchestrated into something very useful, in my opinion. Your second point was my favorite. It’s so true, that if you want to be good at something, you need to work very hard to do things how they should be done and get some experience. I also really liked your fourth example. Spreading yourself too thin could lead to being ineffective in all areas. Instead of looking into too many things, one should studying things directly related to the target market being reached. Things work one step at a time. Good read!

  15. Thanks for a great post. It helps brings some simple concepts home. I can really appreciate #1. Pick a side and commit.

  16. great post.. Thanks for sharing.

  17. I think #7 is great. If people focus on getting better themselves and sharing as they learn the success will come (at least I hope that’s the case because that’s what I’m trying to do :))