How we got here: The White Hat Trolls blog begins

A playlist of thought, on shuffle

I was out for a run the other day, fueled by the excitement and the anxiety of where I am with the launch of White Hat Trolls, and trying to escape by listening to a streaming station based on the music of Weezer. I’m in a big Weezer phase right now, dovetailing off a several-years-long Cake phase. Thanks to the efforts of @weezerafrica, I’ve had their cover of Toto’s “Rosanna” stuck in my head all week.

(Sorry, @weezerafrica — it’s better than their “Africa.” But nice job getting both out of them!)

But I digress…

So, I’m running, and “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads comes on.

An interesting association, I thought to myself — the Talking Heads showing up in my Weezer-inspired stream. I’m always fascinated by the selections made by the DJ bots behind Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music, and this one was particularly intriguing. I remembered Pandora’s early days, when we were all learning why it served up certain songs (using the “Music Genome Project”). I’d order Cake and get Weezer for dessert. Similarities in the lyrical stylings of both bands, or something like that.

Yeah, maybe it’s the lyrics, I thought.

Are you there, White Hat Trolls? It’s me, David Byrne

Now, I tend to listen more closely to lyrics while running compared to when I’m driving or in any other music-listening situation. (I suspect this is part of my attempts to forget that I’m running in the first place.) I’ve heard “Once in a Lifetime” a thousand times, but due to some combination of my “why this song?” curiosity and the fact that I’d just started my run and had a lot of distracting myself ahead of me, I locked on to them. The song, from start to finish, spoke to me, but especially:

And you may ask yourself, well… How did I get here?”

Which is what you’re probably thinking, at this very second. Especially now that you’ve read those words. Now you’re really thinking about it. Kind of like that “don’t think about pink elephants” thing, or “visualize whirled peas” bumper stickers.

How did the White Hat Trolls get here?

I think most of the White Hat Trolls would agree with me when I say that we arrived after a lot of astonished head shaking, our mouths bone dry from our jaws hanging agape at what we were seeing and hearing. Sure, history is full of examples of people (before everyone and everything started getting called a “brand”) saying and doing stupid things. Leaders listening only to those who confirm their own ideas and opinions. Folks unwilling to put themselves at risk by pointing out the flaws in the prevailing plan. Heck, it was 1837 when Hans Christian Andersen wrote a children’s story about an emperor and his (non-existent) new clothes — clothes no one would dare mention weren’t there, lest they be deemed foolish or incompetent.

Yet here we are, nearly two hundred years later, and we’re still wondering “How did that get past everyone that looked at it?” and “Wasn’t there anyone who raised their hand and said, ‘Hey, I’m not sure about this…’”

A brand crisis and your “permanent record”

When Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes sang, “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record,” it was 1983 — still a decade away from the arrival of the World Wide Web. For a brand crisis, there wasn’t much “permanence” to that “permanent record.” There were only a few legendary names in the annals of brand failure, and some of those legends weren’t even true.

Plus, to even have a chance to be a pop cultural punchline, your crisis had to make headlines — there was still the “worthy” part to the term “newsworthy.” Only so many embarrassing things could be covered on the front page of The New York Times, as the old admonition used to go. Sure, Ted Turner had already (just) launched CNN, but it would be years until the insatiable appetite of the 24-hour news cycle.

No… To do real damage to your brand, you had to really screw up in a big, visible way, with high-profile celebrity spokespeople, make national headlines, and perhaps be the brunt of a Johnny Carson bit.

The tweets are coming from inside the house!

Right now, thanks to social media, modern mobile digital, and even “old fashioned” channels like the Web and email, there’s a person or a team of people in your organization with access to the world at their fingertips. (And the same goes for you if you’re a high-profile individual in control of your own communication channels, but good luck firing yourself when things go south.) Those people are on your side, though, so you probably only have to worry about them accidentally damaging your brand.

The White Hat Trolls specialize in the “They”

Then, there are all the people who don’t work for you: your customers, your competition, the media, your critics and detractors, and those with nothing better to do than make your brand’s life a living hell. We call them the “They.”

Some men just want to watch the world burn
And he doesn’t blink

If your new campaign is a flop, your execs or spokespeople say the wrong thing, or you respond poorly to a crisis or concern, the front page of The Times will be the least of your worries.

Oh, and there’s just one more thing… (And yes, you can read those words in the voice of either Detective Lieutenant Columbo or Steve Jobs — your choice): Diversity.

Think about everyone you’re not thinking about

I was serious, up above, when I wrote “access to the world” and added the bold and italics for emphasis, just in case you were skimming this. When you’re speaking to the public, you don’t get to redefine that word — the public’s the public. That means everybody. If you’re only thinking about your “target demographic,” the target is very quickly going to be on your brand, and rightfully so.

Your idea is only as good as:

  • The people behind it.
  • The people who’ve had a chance to review it.
  • The voices given the opportunity to chime in.
  • How willing you were to take their perspectives into consideration.

In a perfect world, the faces, voices, and perspectives in your board rooms, conference rooms, offices, and cubicles would reflect the world outside your doors. It is not yet a perfect world. Until it is, you owe it to your customers, your audience, your stakeholders, your employees — your brand itself — to understand how your words and actions will be received by one and all.

You’re here. We’re here. Let’s talk.

As the Femmes’ Kiss Off continued back in 1983, “don’t get so distressed.” You’ve found your way to the White Hat Trolls, and we’re here to help. Drop us a line so we can start a conversation about everything you’re not going to do wrong.