Should you take a stand on social media? In 1963, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the most famous speeches of his career from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, deliberately hearkening back to the Civil War and a past president’s bold words in support of a birth of freedom. Commonly known as his, “I Have A Dream” speech, Dr. King’s oratory was on fire and his words echo down to us today, through the years. Yet King, a truly inspiring figure dedicated to this unfinished work, delivered many, many other speeches throughout his career. There’s one speech, and one passage, that we’re going to focus on and pull apart today as I believe it has powerful lessons for us, both personally and professionally. If you’re new to Marketing Hyperdrive, welcome! I’m Mike Allton and amongst the many hats that I wear, most prominent is that of Brand Evangelist at Agorapulse. I’m blessed to be responsible for our influencer and brand relationships. But I’m really, at my core, a writer. I blog at The Social Media Hat and Blogging Brute, contribute to Entrepreneur and other publications, and have the privilege of co-authoring Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing with Eric Butow, Jenn Herman, Stephanie Liu and Amanda Robinson. What my brief CV doesn’t include is how I focused on the study of history while in college, born from a misspent youth traveling up and down the east coast with a parent that wanted to stop and see every covered bridge and Civil War battle location and road-side historic marker. In college I learned to combine my natural problem-solving and technical computer expertise, with the research skills and need to see the entire picture and understand future ramifications as part of the study of human history. Longtime readers and listeners will understand then why so often I choose to start a lesson with a story from history. Our years on this Earth have been populated with an unlimited reservoir of stories from which we can take valuable lessons, if we so choose. But what my unique set of studies and perspectives have wrought, combined with my need for the first of the 4Mat learning styles – Why – is an ability to see current events and problems and uncover solutions to them from an historical context. We can look to the past to understand and solve many of today’s problems, particularly when it comes to business and marketing. history found Dr. King speaking Four years after he stood upon the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the heart of Washington D.C., history found Dr. King speaking yet again to a captive audience, but an unusual one. On this day in May, 1967, the reverend found himself standing in the Butler Street YMCA in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, in the forefront of a room filled with white politicians who had met secretly under the name of The Hungry Club Forum where they could discuss privately how to support local Black leaders. While the country had passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and the world had bestowed upon King the Nobel Peace Prize, the great divide between peoples was still ever-present. Despite regulations prohibiting segregation and insisting on equal rights for all, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity, racism and inequality were still the norm, and there were often attempts through legal channels to illegally quell King’s movement and silence his speech. So in this private room, on this day, Dr. King spent a significant amount of his 43 minute speech applauding and recognizing the progress that had been made, but also pointing out that there was so, so much more work to be done. He shared the despair that some people felt after spending so many years fighting for justice and still coming up short, and in fact, King admonished youth at a previous meeting who had actually boo’d him. The only time in his career he had ever been boo’d, he said. But facing continued obstructions from whites in power, and efforts to get him to stop talking, he understood that here, in this room, King spoke to people who wanted to help and needed nothing more than his guidance and wisdom. They knew that the situation in our society was wrong, terribly wrong, yet they felt forced to meet in secret just to discuss it for fear of being exposed and threatened themselves. “For those who are telling me to keep my mouth shut, I can’t do that,” King said at the end of his speech. “I’m against segregation at lunch counters, and I’m not going to segregate my moral concerns. And we must know on some positions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And on some positions, it is necessary for the moral individual to take a stand that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because it is right.” You must do it because it is right. It’s been more than 50 years since the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. uttered those words. We honor him today and continue to be inspired by his rhetoric, and yet, I wonder what he’d think about the seeming lack of progress we have made as a nation and as a society. While he chastised those boys for their lack of patience and respect, I wonder if even King would feel disappointed, disheartened, disillusioned. But then I realize that Dr. King would doubtless be supported by his good friend John Lewis, who passed away in 2020 but had recently said, “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” Each one of us must do our part. 2020 was a year filled with incredible challenges and terrible events, including the horrific murders of people of color, particularly by uniformed police officers sworn to protect and serve. As a result, there was a renewed fire for social and cultural change – and an equally hot rebuttal from those who felt as though they were losing the last vestiges of their unearned and privileged control. Those of us in marketing paid particular attention to how brands communicated, or didn’t, on social media, and how consumers responded. While the idea of the importance for brands to stand for a cause and to demonstrate their values is not new, 2020 shone the harsh light of truth on whether any particular brand was truly in support of equality. It simply wasn’t enough to tweet out “Black Lives Matter” – many brands had to show they really did believe in the cause and were willing to do whatever it took to support the cause – or face the consequences of an unhappy customer base. The most visible consumer brands in America were brought to task for not having diverse board rooms or break rooms, social channels or shops. At the same time, many brands around the world seized the moment and realized that this, right now, was their opportunity to take stand. They were through asking if it was safe to talk about diversity, is it politic, or is it popular. And instead asked the simple question, ‘is it right?’ and answered with a resounding yes. This particular movement did not conclude with the turning of the calendar. Just as many of the cultural issues remain, the movement to address them and do better as a society continues. Which means you, as a brand, have questions to consider as I leave you for the day. The first is to think on what we’ve talked about today, specifically, and wonder whether you’ve yet made the determination to make a stand for what is right and work through your business to support and defend diversity. As I mentioned last week, I’d found an avenue through my work at Agorapulse to shine a light on far more diverse speakers than the industry ever has before, and I’m excited for how that will continue with Social Pulse Summit: Instagram Edition in February, and in every event thereafter. But the second consideration is a deeper one. Both Dr. King and John Lewis were champions of civil rights and spoke largely to that issue, yet that is not the only issue our society faces today, or will face tomorrow. It is beholden on you to listen to conscience and always be asking, “Is this right?” Maybe the issue you can stand up to in your work is harassment or bullying or something else. Maybe you’ve noticed how the popular new social network Clubhouse has so many rooms dominated by white, overbearing men and you decide you stand up for women and minorities there and help them to be heard. Maybe it’s something else entirely. It is my hope, regardless, that you have been as inspired by the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as I have, and that you take a moment in the coming days to give pause and thought to his words, his struggle, and ultimately his vision for us as a society. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But I don’t mind, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.” Until next week, be safe my friends.