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In this episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris talk through how to make marketing operations during a crisis. When big, macro events have the world talking, what’s appropriate and what’s not when it comes to marketing? How should marketing leaders weigh the different operational decisions?

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:02
This is In-Ear Insights, the Trust Insights podcast.

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In this week’s In-Ear Insights, 2020 is the year that keeps on giving.

And here we

Katie Robbert 1:29
are number like 45th or something December at night.

Christopher Penn 1:34
So the big question that we’re wrestling with today, and we thought we’d sort of share our brainstorming out loud with you, because I’m sure a lot of folks are having the same conversations is with all the turmoil going on right now.

Particularly since we are a United States based company, even though we have you know, friends and clients around the world, we are still sensitive to what’s happening within our our country, the events of the last week, and things have proven that we are living in an extremely volatile time there.

For anyone who’s been under a rock, there was an armed insurrection attempt last week at the nation’s capital.

And according to some posts on social media, there’ll be two more attempts on the 17th of the 20th of this month.

And so one of the things we’ve talked about in the past is crisis management frameworks.

Like when is the appropriate time to shut up? And just, you know, if you have nothing useful, the content content to the discussion, you shut your mouth, right.

That’s what our parents used to say, you have anything nice to say? versus Do you still continue to run your business, which is important and you know, businesses, assuming that they’re, you know, ethical businesses do contribute to the world do spend money to keep people’s livelihoods going? Or do you also tap into? No, we do have a point of view, we should say something.

So there’s a lot to unpack here, Katie, you are the CEO of the company, you’re responsible, ultimately, for what happens with the company? What’s it like in the very warm seat that you’re setting?

Katie Robbert 3:10
I’m not gonna lie, I’m kind of nauseous.

You know, it’s, I tend to be very aware and sensitive of how everyone else around me is feeling.

And I’m not saying that other people aren’t.

But I really try to take that into consideration when making decisions, such as this.

And so, you know, I really am in that headspace of, do we just go ahead and shut up and wait it out? Or do we move forward with business as usual? Now, you know, the big channel that I’m focusing on right now is social media.

So you know, I still think that we’re going to send out our newsletter, you know, as planned, those are sort of the business as usual things.

But right now, social media is right at the center of all of this in terms of, you know, the division of people and the opinions and the fake news and the Real News, and, you know, everything else going on? And, you know, obviously, some big things happened with certain accounts getting banned, and people feeling like the violation of their, you know, first amendment and the free speech and, you know, privacy and so, my feeling, my initial feeling is that, you know, we don’t we, as a company, don’t have anything to add to that specific conversation right now, unless we had a perspective on data privacy.

So you know, putting up organic social posts, like, hey, do you know your digital customer journey isn’t what’s needed right now, I feel like that can wait, because we still have other channels such as email and you know, people are still reading the content on our website, which we should absolutely keep pushing out, we have, you know, our podcast or live stream, those things should keep going forward.

I feel like that, you know, when I’m looking at overall, you know, reading the room and taking the temperature, we don’t need to be putting up our organic social right now or any sort of paid social.

I feel like anything related to social right now can wait.

Um, you know, and I would love to hear sort of the, you know, other side of that, because you’re absolutely right, Chris, like we have another couple of weeks to get through, we have the inauguration, but then you sort of have to play that game of, well, after the inauguration are things suddenly amazingly going to get better? It’s not like midnight on January 1.

Like it doesn’t like flip a switch.

So at what point do you have to say, Okay, I have to get back to normal.

My gut is not right now.

But at some point, we’re going to have to.

Christopher Penn 5:53
Yeah, I would agree with you.

I mean, I think, certainly for brands, doubling down on organic and paid search right now is a smart idea.

Because if someone’s looking for you, particularly by name, then they’re interested in doing business with you, right.

And so it makes a lot of sense to put a lot of emphasis on that that way, you’re not reaching out to people who don’t want to hear from you.

They are coming to you, right, they’re asking, I know, management consulting from Trust Insights, if they’re googling for that.

Yes, we want to hear from you.

In terms of the conversation itself, and things, it depends, you know, as with everything on what do you what do you have to contribute to the conversation, if you did? You know, I certainly have no shortage of opinions about where I stand and things and unsurprised.

And it stands on the side of data.

Right.

And provable things stuff.

So.

But in terms of Do we have anything to offer to the discussion, publicly? I’m not sure.

privately, yes, and this is something that, you know, we didn’t talk about it last year, because it wasn’t appropriate to.

But during a lot of the awareness, and events around Black Lives Matter and stuff, you know, as a company, we took private action behind the scenes, everything from making donations to doing some volunteering, and some pro bono work for people to try and, and do our part to make things better.

And I absolutely think in in this situation, today, there’s room for doing that, again, again, it’s not something that you want to publicize.

But there are things to be done, there’s data to be analyzed.

One of the things that came out over the weekend was some some hacktivists, if you will, just copied the entirety of the contents of parlour, but that one chat app, and made it available as a 70 terabyte Docker image that anyone who is interested in analyzing the data could are the things that we could offer in that situation, possibly, I don’t know.

But certainly, more eyes on solving a problem generally is is better.

Not always.

But you know, there’s no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen.

But I know that every company has talented people working at it.

I know every person you’re working in marketing and data science and AI has skills to offer.

And I don’t think it’s a bad idea for people to give some thought to.

Okay, if I were to contribute, if I were to donate my time, how would I do it? And what could I do to make things better? Because you can’t go back in time, you can’t undo something? So what are the things that in your view of the world would make the world a better place?

Katie Robbert 8:43
I think that’s a really good way to think about everything that’s going on right now or has been going on because what you’re trying to do is, it’s not that you’re taking the emotion out of it, but you’re trying not to make a purely emotionally driven decision.

And so, you know, Chris, if we took data out of it, and we’re just saying, like, this is right, this is wrong.

You know, it’s a black and white issue, you know, being like, it’s only one thing or the other, there’s no gray area, we could take a lot of really big missteps, because we’re not looking at, you know, any sort of data that’s available or really thinking about like, Am I doing this? Because I want the pat on the back, or am I doing this because I think it’s the right thing to be doing.

And I think that that’s also sort of when you’re making those decisions, especially as a very public brand.

I know.

There was a few brands that chimed in on the insurrection that was going on last week, and it didn’t go well.

Even though they had the best of intentions.

It didn’t go well because it wasn’t the right time or place for that particular brand, to be a part of that conversation because they’ve never been a part of that person.

conversation before.

And I think that that’s something that, you know, as I’m thinking about how we fit in or what we’re doing, or aren’t the actions we’re taking, it’s the same thing.

You know, have we taken part in these conversations before publicly? Will it feel off brand to us, even if you know, in our own little bubble, we’re talking about it constantly, we’re looking at the data constantly.

We have to balance that with that external perception of well, Trust Insights has never weighed in on this before.

Why now?

Christopher Penn 10:32
Yep.

This is actually a conversation I’m having with my oldest kid about what the difference is between, you know, doing good work and doing what’s called performative work, you know, in the LGBTQ community is called performative ally ship where you, you do things and you talk about stuff that’s really for your own benefit, right, you’re changing your logo, to be a certain set of colors and things, as opposed to doing things that actually make the situation better.

And it’s funny because, in, in one of the religious traditions I grew up in, you know, this whole idea that, you know, if you, if you pray in public, you get your reward, you get the pat on the back, and there’s, you know, whereas if you pray in private, you get the better reward, at least according to that particular doctrine.

And I think there’s merit in that idea in that philosophy for how companies should be approaching this.

Because, yes, to your point, a lot of brands did a lot of performative stuff last week, and the question was, well, where have you been for the last four years? Right? Why have you not been contributing to this conversation? From the beginning? Why have you not been helping people who have been disenfranchised, and, you know, for some of the people involved in these situations, there is an understandable reason behind what they’re doing.

Right.

And, you know, it’s really important, I think, for people to to, that we’ve we’ve gotten is a weird place in society where we’ve equated understanding with agreement.

And I think that’s incredibly dangerous.

Like, you can absolutely understand someone’s reasons for doing something, even if you completely disagree with them.

But you have to be able to think like they did go, Oh, this is why this is happening.

If you do, you can’t do that.

It means you have substantial flaws in your data analysis capabilities, right? Because we’ve talked a lot data is more than just numbers, it is also understand the why of something.

So I don’t think these brands have jumped in, I have given a lot of thought to the why.

And they kind of jumped in very, in a very performative way.

And it Yeah, you’re right, it backfired.

Whereas if you’re giving serious thought to Okay, well, what is the reason for group A, for their actions? What’s the reason for Group B or group C with reason for their actions? And then, based on that analysis, can you find something that improves the situation for at least the majority? If not everybody? You know, in in the example I’m thinking of with some of this data analysis work, there are some people who clearly committed criminal acts.

No question.

Identifying, isolating or removing those people from the equation by making sure that law enforcement has that information will be a useful first step, because what they did is helpful to know one, right? It’s just like taking any type of contamination out of a product, right? If you can remove contamination, then the product becomes usable again.

So what are the things that you could do? Well, the things we could do as a company, Well, certainly making donations to causes that are working towards better data around these kinds of things.

Contributing our time and our own analysis and letting the appropriate folks know, like, Hey, we did this thing privately, like, we did this thing, if it’s useful to you great, if not, tried it anyway.

and promoting a viewpoint of Okay, you don’t have to agree with it, but you do need to understand it.

Katie Robbert 14:00
Well, and I think that that’s, you know, I know, something that we we did do publicly last year, during a lot of the Black Lives Matter protest was share some resources.

So, you know, we weren’t necessarily taking a stand one way or the other, even though we all had, you know, strong similar opinions, but publicly, just knowing how, you know, I don’t even know what the word is, you know, how not temperamental not fragile, but basically how react volatile, volatile people can be, especially on social media.

You know, you want to make sure that you’re walking that line in a neutral enough way, that you’re not just complacent, but that you’re being helpful without getting political without getting this is a really difficult thing to do unless your brand is a brand that has been doing that all along.

So to suddenly jump into the fray.

You’re going to get eaten alive.

And so, you know, one of the things that we can do in this particular, you know, situation, if we do want to have a voice in this conversation on social media is, to your point, Chris, sharing some data analysis to help people understand what’s been going on, or how to wrap their heads around a lot of the information they’re seeing, you know, without giving that commentary on the analysis, but here’s the data.

And then also just sharing some resources to help people understand maybe a little bit more about how, you know, privacy and how communications work on platforms, such as Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram and parlour, or why these companies have been able to make the decisions they have.

And they’re not necessarily violating your right to free speech.

But it’s really about what you have agreed to, when you signed up to use those platforms, because those platforms, even though people use them as news platforms, they’re not news platforms, they don’t follow the same conventions as a newspaper, for example.

Christopher Penn 16:09
That’s true.

The other thing I think, is important to differentiate because it is gotten muddled, is that there is a difference between, you know, politics and points of view, versus values and what’s right or wrong.

And I think that has gotten lost.

I think, for a lot of folks who are trying to figure out, you know, conversations and where they stand in a lot of stuff.

It’s a mistake to conflate the two, you can have political beliefs that are all of a spectrum.

But ultimately, you do need to be clear about what is right and what is wrong.

You do need to be clear about what is honest and dishonest.

And that’s where I think the line can get muddy because like if you look at for example, if you go to TrustInsights.ai dot AI, our website, you can see our values page here, the values that we stand for, and in this particular situation, there are very clear lines of division about is something honest, or dishonest is something something fair and just or discriminatory.

And biased is something selfish or selfless.

And so I would say additionally to brands thinking about, you know, do you get involved, look at your own values, right, if your values stand in opposition to a certain point of view, then I don’t see it as contradictory to take a position that is aligned with your values.

Now, if your values are out of sync with what you actually believe, you may need to go and revisit what your values actually are as a company.

But I think there is a case to be made that when you have something that is clearly out of sync with your corporate values, and you’ve been living them the whole time.

Some cases very publicly, some cases not.

Then there’s less harm and less risk in participating in a conversation, if it is if your perspective is aligned with the values you’ve always stood for, and you have members of your community who will say like, Hey, you know, these people have been on the side of, you know, honesty the whole time, or these people have been on the side of improvement, or whatever the your corporate values are.

Now, if your corporate values are kind of a muddy mess, like, you know, we believe in the leveraging of synergy.

It’s gonna have a harder time.

But being very clear about those values means that it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody in your community, when you do take a stand on something that matters to you.

Katie Robbert 18:40
I agree with that.

And, you know, I do want to be clear that I am not saying that, you know, just because you’re a brand doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an opinion on, you know, the environment that we’re currently living in, like, you absolutely should have an opinion, you do have an opinion, you’re a human being, of course, you have an opinion.

I think what the message that I’m trying to get across, and what I’m trying to work out for myself is it’s okay to have an opinion, but how do you thoughtfully share that opinion? You know, it’s not that you’re avoiding conflict, but you’re not necessarily bringing conflict upon yourself.

You’re not trying to damage your brand reputation, just so that you can, you know, have your two cents in the conversation.

So it’s really trying to find that balance of obviously, you have an opinion, everybody has an opinion, whether it’s a strong opinion, or no opinion, no opinion is an opinion.

You know, one of the things that I saw last week on Twitter was someone was saying something along the lines of, you know, if people aren’t speaking up and saying that everything that’s happening right now is wrong, then those are people you don’t want to be following.

And to me that was the wrong way to approach it.

Because People could just be jumping into the conversation just to be echoing like the echo chamber of, we have me too.

And I don’t want to see this happen.

And you know, I’ve always felt that way.

But I’ve never said it before.

And it’s, it just felt like the wrong message to convey of like, Well, everybody should be standing up against this thing.

Well, yeah, but there’s ways to do it so that it doesn’t just feel disingenuous and inauthentic.

And so Chris, to your point, taking a look at your company values is a really good place to start.

And so, you know, obviously, if you value honesty, you can speak about, you know, here’s what I feel, or here’s what the truth is, the challenge there is that you’re still going to get that, you know, reaction of people saying like, Well, no, what you’re saying isn’t the truth.

And so you just need to be prepared, that it’s not going to be this perfect little moment where everybody agrees with you.

That’s definitely not where we’re at right now.

And so it’s just a matter of how much of that are you willing to work with, and you can’t necessarily come at it combative, Lee, if someone says, I think your opinions wrong, okay, you have to be okay with that continuing to argue with people on social media is just gonna bring you down that rabbit hole.

And I feel like even my thoughts right now are sort of incoherent and spiraling, because there’s so much to wrap your head around, there’s so much to process.

And so, you know, I think the bottom line is, I think what we as a company for Trust Insights, what we’re gonna end up doing is really taking it day by day, sort of seeing like, what feels appropriate, what is appropriate, where are we comfortable, you know, potentially having someone say, that was the wrong move? You know, okay, are we had the best of intentions, but we did the wrong thing.

You know, what is our level of risk?

Christopher Penn 21:53
I agree, I think it starts with your values.

And Are your parents admonition to if you don’t have anything nice to say? or in our case, you don’t think productive to say to the conversation? If there isn’t a focus on how do you make things better? It’s okay to err on the side of not saying a whole lot right now, while you figure out the right approach to to making things better, and to be committed to saying, Okay, how do we, whatever the situation is, whether it’s racial injustice, whether it’s income inequality, whether it’s gender bias, whatever things with focus, how do you make the thing better? How do you improve the things so that the maximum number of people achieve the maximum number of amount of positive benefit? Now I don’t think that there’s any major value system in the world that would disagree with that general example of, you know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

As for how that rolls out, tactically, you’re right, it will be a day by day thing, we’ll figure it out.

But in general, again, erring on the side of are we making things better? Or worse? are we adding value or taking value away from people because every moment that you spend looking at a piece of content isn’t what you could have been doing something else? And so we don’t want to take time away from people that they could have been doing something more productive, republished something that isn’t all that productive.

So if you’ve got thoughts about this, and you got comments about it, pop on over to our slack group, go to TrustInsights.ai dot AI slash analytics from archives we have over 1500 people in the community asking them questions just like this.

Like how are you folks handling the situation? What’s your perspective biggest the ground and love to see you there and wherever it is you’re watching listening to go? Go to Trust insights.ai slash ti podcast to subscribe to the show to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.

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