We witnessed the impact of power followership play out this week.

It came in the form of a national outcry against powerful men ‘joking’ about drowning women. Specifically, the president of the Collingwood football club, Eddie McGuire, offering to pay $50,000 to anyone who would like to hold Fairfax journalist, Caroline Wilson, underwater in front of a crowd paid $10,000 each to ‘bomb’ her.

How is this power followership?

Holding power to account

McGuire was badly out of line, but he couldn’t see it. In his leadership role, he was blind to the implications and ramifications of the words he spoke, his influence, and his power. He could have been held accountable by the two blokes he was with: North Melbourne chairman, James Brayshaw, and former AFL coach, Danny Frawley. Instead, he was egged on. (Both quickly apologised afterwards).

The job of holding McGuire to account fell to the public through social and traditional media. Experts in family violence, survivors of violence, and active citizens of every persuasion stood up and aired their views. Those who stood in support of McGuire helped deepen the debate as their views were reviewed, considered and rebuffed.

Influencing the influencer

McGuire’s first attempt at an apology did not assuage the ‘power followers’ inner community. McGuire initially tried to excuse his behaviour by saying his comments were “clearly banter” and that he “didn’t see it as being in any way shape or form sexist”.

Under a second barrage of criticism, McGuire came to realise the full implication of his comments and to apologise without reservation for them, and personally to Caroline Wilson, who accepted this second apology.

Crowdsourcing better thinking

The debate really deepened our thinking about violence against women. Everyone who contributed bought another perspective to the issue. How does public disrespect for women by our leaders contribute to violence? Who is affected and who is not? How do such comments impact on our children, especially those who have seen their mothers subjected to violence? When is it right for a group of influential men to joke about paying to have a woman drowned? Can a footie club lead by McGuire start a women’s AFL team that is safe and supportive for women players?

The answers came back, loud and clear, supported by both data and stories. Supporters of the campaign to end family violence deepened their awareness and ended any doubts, and made new connections. The doubters, who could not see the link, were given an opportunity to grow (whether or not they took it.)  Difficult problems, such as changing social attitudes to violence against women, need the power of many minds, hearts and emotions. It is beyond the capability of any one leader to solve.

A deep understanding of our power as followers

None of those who helped McGuire to arrive at a new understanding of his power and of family violence want to have his job (as far as I know). Not everyone aspires to leadership. But we still have power. A lot of power.

As the traditional power followers — media and the unions — crumble before our eyes, it’s vital that we step up into our power as followers. Some might call it citizenship, but I believe it is broader than that. We can be power followers at work, at home, and as neighbours. To step into that role we need the three skills that helped McGuire to change his mind:

  1. Hold power to account (step up and speak out)
  2. Influence the influencer (our leaders)
  3. Crowdsource better thinking.

What does this have to do with content marketing?

I’ve been taking you on a journey, dear readers, away from the specifics of content marketing. But the two ideas — of power followership and content marketing — are deeply linked. Every time you publish anything, you are either working for good or you are not. If you are not, if you are self-serving and ungenerous — expect your efforts to be called our by power followers.   

Marketing is no longer about manipulating consumers, it’s about informing them. Content marketing is crowdsourcing better thinking and better decision-making. So, question every piece of content you publish and ask: is this really building trust, relevant to my audience, and using stories for good?  Welcome to the world of power followership.

PS: It ain’t over. Other powerful leaders, such as the Collingwood club board and the AFL CEO, Gillon McLachlan, are now under pressure from power followers to take action, and not just ‘forgive’ McGuire’s actions.