“Individuals and companies have a moral obligation to leave the world a better place.”
-Lan Phan, Founder and CEO of Community of SEVEN
Openness and transparency in the digital world are becoming increasingly important, both to companies that wish to do good in the world and for their financial success and growth.
What does openness mean to online platforms?
Openness refers to being transparent about the ways that platforms communicate with their users, with their employees, and with the world at large. But there are several different aspects of transparency that can be applied to these communications. These include a commitment to diversity, and to brand and user safety.
Business case for diversity
There are many reasons why online platforms should prioritize diversity, but you cannot ignore the fact that diverse companies often perform better than the competition. This is because a diverse team helps your company be more authentic, and better understand a diverse consumer base. Also, promoting diversity gives companies access to a greater range of talent compared to recruiting from a smaller pool of candidates.
Finally, people demand it. Potential employees are more likely to pursue employment at a company with better diversity, and 57% of employees1 believe their current companies should be more diverse. And customers respond to diversity, with one study2 finding that companies with better racial and gender diversity achieve 15x higher revenue and sales than their less-diverse competitors.
It is important for businesses to take a proactive approach to brand safety: creating standards that work for advertisers, platforms, users, and content providers. This is the only way to ensure an online environment that works for everyone.
77% of brands reported that brand safety was a key issue, with more than half stating that it was of greater importance than in previous years because they had a better understanding of it.3
There are different approaches to achieving brand safety, including:
This means reducing the risk that a brand will be associated with negative, problematic, or illegal content. Depending on where the brand appears online, this may include working with advertisers, publishers, or platforms to ensure that context and placement are consistent with brand standards.
More and more often, companies are moving from a focus on reducing risk to building positive brand equity. This transition may be described as moving from brand safety to brand suitability.
Read the blog: Brand Safety vs. Brand Suitability: What’s the Difference?
While keyword lists have proven useful in the past, preventing unsafe content from harming brand reputation, the complex online landscape requires a more evolved solution. Many brands are looking to technology, such as AI/ML-based solutions, that can accurately read nuance and evaluate context for content moderation.
Lan Phan, CEO and founder of Community of SEVEN, and Tiffany Xingyu Wang, founder and GM of Oasis Consortium, cover these insights and many more in the third episode of the Brand Safety Exchange podcast. To learn more about openness, transparency, and improving the digital landscape, check out the podcast or read the interview below.
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The following interview transcript has been edited to make it more concise.
Tiffany Xingyu Wang
Welcome to Brand Safety Exchange where you will hear unique perspectives from experts and leaders within the world of brand and user safety. Brand safety exchange is hosted by Oasis Consortium, a think tank to unite stakeholders and create actionable, measurable standards for the protection of online brand safety. Each episode contains a deep discussion into a specific topic, providing listeners with valuable insight into the evolving problems, solutions, and market forces that influence brand and user safety every day. I'm your host, Tiffany, GM and co-founder of Oasis. Today, I'm so happy to have my wonderful friend Lan Phan, CEO and Founder of community SEVEN to join today's session. Welcome, Lan Phan.
Hello, Tiffany. So excited to be here.
Well, you have a crazy background, and I want to dedicate this whole session today to be a master class of community building. Do you want to start by telling us about your background?
Sure. So in terms of my background, my parents are Vietnamese refugees. And as a kid, I've always said that I was looking for community since I was in the womb. So my family of five, were able to escape war-torn Vietnam because an American family sponsored us in San Francisco. We basically escaped Vietnam with the clothes on our backs. And it was the churches that fed us. We were able to flourish because the community came together to support us. So this whole notion of people coming together to help one another has been in my DNA since a very early age. So it was no surprise that building communities has become my passion. And I formed my current company community of SEVEN at the start of the pandemic. And to give you a little bit of context, and rewind a little bit, I had been recruited by Alan Murray, who's the amazing CEO of Fortune Magazine, to build a startup within Fortune, called Fortune Connect. This happened a few months prior to the whole COVID shenanigans. I was given a multi-million dollar budget and was supposed to hire an entire team and go from ideation to launch in six months. And then COVID happened. I was literally hiring for my team. And I was at number five, in early April. And I found out that because of COVID and the financial impact to the industry and to Fortune - that I was laid off, and that I had to fire my entire team. So I was depressed for six days, literally crying every day. I kind of was spiraling through this depression. On the seventh day, I kind of woke up and I just said, “You know what, I have to pull up my big girl panties, and figure something out.” And so on that seventh day, I came up with the idea of community of SEVEN. And there's a kind of a history behind the name. But you know, I'll go into detail on that on another day. So I literally came up with the idea and I built that website the same day. For context - the last time I ever built a website was when I was a senior at Stanford University in 1995, which was a long time ago, and back then it was really cutting edge to have created a website in college. But I figured it out. So community of SEVEN is an invite-only community for those looking to change the world. It's a community of purpose-driven leaders looking to serve the world, and they are leaders who understand that before they can really change the world, it first starts with becoming your best self: physically, mentally, and emotionally. And so community of SEVEN is built around three communities, our core communities, and micro-learnings focus on the personal professional development of our members. But what makes us unique is that our third community is centered around purpose-focused initiatives, where our leaders, like you, Tiffany, are working together to solve big business and social problems. So community of SEVEN has become my passion project of how we can bring people together to change the world for the better. So Tiffany, you are one of our first founding members. And Oasis was one of the first real tangible products that kind of came from these conversations we had about how do you change the world for the better? And how do you use your superpowers? How do you build and harness your company's (Spectrum Labs) superpowers to do good in the world? Because I firmly believe that individuals and companies have a moral obligation to leave the world a better place than how we found it. So in building community of SEVEN, I had to take my 20 years of experience being on both the agency side and the client/marketer side, and also having been a CMO, and having had to account manage and execute these huge campaigns for the likes of Microsoft and the US Army on the agency side, I had to bring those two together. And you know, my experience leading membership at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), where we work with all these huge Fortune 500 companies on marketing, it helped me kind of figure out how I was going to build this startup. When I was at the ANA, another opportunity that kind of was the precursor of community of SEVEN, was I built a startup within the ANA, which is a 115-year-old organization called the CMO Master Circle, where we brought in the leading chief marketing officers in the United States. And then we launched the global CMO Growth Council where we brought in the leading CMOs in the world. And the goal was, how do you bring these CMOs together to enact change in the marketing ecosystem. So this kind of ties itself with Oasis, the ability to bring people together to start making and enacting change. So I later parlayed that knowledge of creating executive communities to SeeHer, which is the advertising industry's gender equality movement. And I served as the general manager of that organization, our goal was to increase positive portrayals of women and girls by 20%. So we did that by mobilizing CMOs and senior executives at broadcast companies. And one of the learnings I had there was that we have so much power when we bring people together for a common good. So I believe that Oasis has the potential to create so much good in the world around brand safety.
Thank you so much, Lan. So Lan is a founding advisor of Oasis. We met at one of your virtual community events right before COVID. And you see, that community kept growing, and at that moment, I knew Lan is this master behind community building. I think Lan went through her journey; a couple of highlights include SeeHer, a real movement to push diversity and inclusion through her power networks into the CMO circle. She was the SVP of an AMA, and then tried to work on Fortune Connect, and now onto her own venture through her cumulative 20 years experiencing that was really impressive. So Lan, how would you summarize your superpower? You mention superpower all the time, what is your superpower to get those powerful community members together and to do the right thing for a good cause?
Well, I think my superpower has always been the ability to bring people together. In terms of the reason why it works is getting people who have that same kind of passion, purpose, and drive, being able to identify them, and being able to listen and have conversations with them so that you can connect people. Because connecting leaders, it's about knowing what they're passionate about, and what's important to them. And then connecting them with other people who have that same passion. And a lot of it is chemistry as well. And I think my superpower has always been being able to first listen and understand what people's motivations are, and what their passion points are, and then being able to identify who would connect well with each other.
Thank you. So as many of you already know, if you listened to previous episodes, Oasis is all about brand safety. So I want to do a rapid-fire round, which I call “Oasis rapid refresher.” And then we will unpack and dive deeper into your experiences of community building and how you infused diversity and inclusion every step forward. So to start with Lan, each question will take you 30 seconds to answer. So to start, why do you think brand safety is of growing importance today?
If we don't deal with keeping the internet safe; safe of racism, sexism, misogyny, propaganda, hate groups... it's going to flourish. And quite frankly, our democracy is at stake. I know that seems kind of like hyperbole, but I really do believe that our democracy is at stake. Our communities and families are being ripped apart because of the internet. Civility is jeopardized. And I think that's probably one of the most important reasons why brand safety is so important today. It's our civilization.
Thank you. Right and within 30 seconds. Why are you personally invested in this topic?
So I have a six-year-old daughter at home, I feel like I'm racing against time. What kind of world do I want my daughter to be in when she becomes a teenager, and when the internet is probably going to be consuming her. I mean, if you look at the stats, kids are hurting today. If you look at suicide rates, bullying rates, you have cyberbullying, online hate groups, GamerGate, the list goes on. These things all seem small and trivial when they begin. But left unchecked, they have the potential to rip apart the entire fabric of our society, and not to mention our kids’ self-esteem.
Yeah, I'll get back to that topic later. And the third question is, what do you predict would happen without some agreed-upon industry guidelines, which is what Oasis is all about.
Yeah, so I mentioned it above, our democracy is at stake, and our community is at stake. And the analogy I'd give you is, if you're a restaurant owner, you would never have someone come into your establishment and harass your customers. Why would you let them do that online? If we don't have these guidelines, self-regulation, and whatnot, it's just going to get worse. And you're going to have these unsavory players, whether it's foreign nationals or hate groups, infiltrating and indoctrinating our kids. And doing God knows what, to our society.
Thank you so much for coming along with me on this rapid-fire round. Two things you mentioned in the past two questions are very spot on. Our guest last episode was from Roblox, a platform for kids between 9 to 15 years old with 150 million users on the platform. We discussed how it's no longer just a gaming platform, it becomes an educational platform.
Yes. And these kids are making their first friends online. My daughter is on Roblox and she's six - it's crazy, right? But one of the things I do want to add that I didn’t mention earlier, and why it's important in terms of what Oasis Consortium is doing, is that what gets measured gets done, to quote Peter Drucker. And I believe that what Oasis is doing with openness and transparency and inclusivity is so important, is that if you have a metric, companies and brands can move toward something together. And one of the reasons, taking my background when I was at SeeHer, the gender equality initiative, the reason why it was so important was that in the very beginning, Jim Bechdel, who was the general manager at that time, and who had tremendous respect for and to I eventually took over for work with Lance Miguel Linden, who was at P&G at the time, and they created the gender equality measure. And the gender equality measure quantified consumers’ reactions to the portrayals of women and girls. And the reason why it was so successful was that advertisers could now link the negative portrayals of women with decreased sales. And the positive and accurate portrayals of women with growth. So one of the lessons I learned from Mark Pritchard who's the Chief Brand Officer of PNG is that companies need to be a force for good and a force for growth. So companies like Roblox and what you guys are doing with Spectrum Labs, and Oasis Consortium is so important because brands are understanding that they're not just there to have a product, they have to be a part of society and the community. Is your product going to be a force for good or a force for evil?
It's so true, we see the paradigm shift that equality becomes tied to revenue because it's tied to growth, and tied to branding. And then comes to this child safety or broader safety tag, my wish through Oasis is that we can go through the same paradigm shift that CMOs recognize how important it is to provide us a safe and a trusted environment for users, and therefore, they can drive growth in revenue.
Exactly. Because it's tied together. Because when you start peeling the onion, you realize that, I'll give you an example: One of the metrics we always use for SeeHer was that 85% of purchasing decisions were made by women. Yet, when you look at the portrayals of women and girls in advertising, only 3% showed women in a leadership position. Only 2% showed women being intelligent, and only 1% showed women with a sense of humor. Though they made 85% of the purchasing decisions. These 85% of women, many of them are also mothers making 85%... I'm going to repeat that, again, purchasing decisions for their households, gaming, household items, all of these technology platforms. So how do you think these mothers are going to react to negative portrayals of women or girls, or misogyny, etc, on the internet? They're not going to like it. Because I know I monitor my daughter's internet. And these companies have a responsibility to be active within the community of our democracy. And so that's a conscious effort in terms of the content that we put in the world, and also monitoring what's on the sites because there are malicious players that are involved every day.
Yeah, your brand has to be representative of what the real world is. I think that's definitely the case of what you demonstrated through SeeHer. And the stat I had for brand safety is that if you place an ad adjacent to toxic content, it is more than twice likely that your target consumers would abandon the consumer journey. And you mentioned one of the five pillars under Oasis, the O part, which is openness. And I think you spend your whole career demonstrating how you can infuse openness into all the initiatives you own. Can you share a little bit with us? How would you define openness, through your career and in your background, being a CMO and advising CMOs?
I think openness is just basically about complete transparency, understanding the full 360-degree views of your consumers and what contents you have. Because right now, CMOs are more aware. I think around 2017, I was still at the ANA at that time, I think with the CMO Master Circle. And I remember Raja Rajamannar, who's the CMO of MasterCard, had reached out because there was an incident with MasterCard and a YouTube video. And he wanted to understand more about brand safety. At that time, in 2017, brand safety wasn't talked about. And then it was funny, because after that, then Mark Pritchard came out and then asked the ANA for our advice on brand safety, and then it spiraled. Now you literally had the entire board of directors of the ANA, who are the leading CMOs of these major Fortune 500 companies saying they understood the impact of brand safety because, in the past, CMOs are usually kind of at this level where they're not seeing the granular details of what's happening on YouTube. However, when you're seeing a beheading from ISIS on a YouTube video next to your brand, then your eyes are open. And this is where transparency is so important. We had issues with the walled garden, with Facebook and Google, YouTube, etc. And the CMOs realized that they needed to come together, and just basically demand more transparency. And I think the key thing, and this is one of the lessons I've learned on the association side, and working with the membership side, is that there is power in numbers. Unless platforms and broadcast companies, unless they work on self-regulation, we're gonna get the regulation one way or the other, and you don't want the government to come into play. So we need to focus on self-regulation and working together, the platform's CMOs together, so that we can combat this issue, because you don't want the government regulating this industry because they don't understand it. If you've ever seen one of those Congress meetings, it's like you do not want Congressmen or women to regulate our industry.
I love it, taking this proactive approach before we start to see regulators coming. It’s so important that we can do not only the right thing but do the thing in the way that we know the best - because brands and platforms have their own priorities and constraints. So with you, and with Oasis, we need to bridge the chasm between these two big stakeholders to come together and work on that. So under the pillar of openness, we have transparency, exactly what you were saying, we need to open a box just to talk about it, what can be done, what cannot be done? What can be done today versus down the road that both sides have the appreciation of what is achievable and what is the ideal case? And another key measure under this pillar is diversity and inclusion. A typical example, if video games are designed only by white males, how would you expect the gamers from diverse groups to be taken into consideration... so diversity by design is super important, and you have been a champion for that diversity and inclusion. Now, tell us a little more about how this is not only just a good cause, a good thing to do, but it does contribute to the business.
So there are many reasons to build a business case for diversity, but I'll highlight three. Number one, your customer base is increasingly diverse and fluid. So your teams should reflect your customers and your clients. It's important that businesses provide customers and clients with a product or service that are able to genuinely understand what they want from it. So if you want to be more authentic and easier for you to understand your customer, and the workplace, you need to have staff and diversity that looks like your customer base. It's simple, right? Diversity also gives you access to a greater range of talent, not just a talent that belongs to the majority worldview. It helps to provide insights into the needs and motivation of your client and customer base, rather than just a small tiny part of it. Number two, you want top talent, and Millennials expect diversity. They demand diversity. A study by PwC found that 85% of females agreed to an employer's policy on diversity and equality. And that was important when deciding whether to work for an employer or not. And that's diverse candidates and also white females. So you're not going to get top Millennials and Gen Z employees if you don't value diversity. Number three, commitment to social responsibility. One-third of consumers will choose to purchase from brands that they know are doing good socially and environmentally. Consumers care now more than ever about business transparency, surrounding diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility. Diversity and inclusion are critical ways in which businesses can demonstrate that commitment to social justice. So those are just three, there's more, but it all points to doing good also leads to growth.
This also ties into what you mentioned about SeeHer back then, right? Because if your demographics are highly concentrated around women who have the spending power, your brand has to represent them. And in the same way, we see the Gen Z and Millennials will be at the helm of spending power in the next generation, and they care about trust and safety. They care about inclusion. And it's important for brands to consider that now.
Yeah, and even in industries like the gaming industry, these mothers are buying video games. So you need to care what's being presented, you need to care if there is misogyny, you need to care if there is sexism. I mean, the GamerGate thing pissed me to know end, you know what I mean? And it was so pervasive.
Yeah, I hope the audience can feel the passion in your approach to building communities. It is really a great, great pleasure and honor to have you on this podcast, and thank you for sharing all of your secret sauces about your experience and how you are making openness a thing with every single achievement you push forward. Do you have some other ideas and thoughts to share with our audience?
Yeah, one of the big ones is that what you do matters, even if it may seem small and inconsequential. One of my philosophies is this raindrop philosophy. And it's that we are like raindrops. What we do seems small and inconsequential. But when we bring all these efforts together, all of these raindrops become the ocean. And with the ocean, the ripples in the water create waves. And it's these waves that change the world. It's these movements that change the world. So what you're doing with Oasis Consortium, what all of us individually are doing at our companies to deal with either brand safety, gender equality, etc. It makes a difference, even though it seems small. These things combine and can change the world. So just keep on whatever you're doing, whatever your passion is, if you want to change the world for the better, believe that what you do matters because it does.
I really, really love that analogy. It's funny. It reminds me of a proverb in Chinese that says when you have enough water drops, it can cut through the stone.
Yes, I am very familiar with that analogy. And I totally love that analogy. It's true because we're stronger. That water, though it seems fluid and soft, it cuts through stone.
Yeah, and those are the hard battles you have been fighting. Leading Oasis I know how hard it is to put both sides around the table, willing to compromise and willing to understand each other and make some actionable measures happen. And hopefully, the little raindrops as you mentioned, will help us have an ocean that cuts through the stone.
I think it's also helpful because Oasis Consortium and Spectrum Labs both have you. It takes people that can bring people together to find the commonalities. And this is probably the most important thing that is so devalued, is trust. When you bring trust to the equation, and when you bring good people to the table, those differences melt away. Because people realize that there is a bigger thing than just me, that bigger thing is leaving the world a better place for our kids. And that takes efforts from a lot of people, all these raindrops coming together to mobilize and create change. So I think what you're doing, Tiffany, is amazing. I'm so proud of you. And then also that Spectrum Labs is supporting this initiative that I think is so important. I mean it when I say our democracy is at stake. We need to fight this now. Because it's not just about first amendment rights and freedom of this and that, it's really about - are you going to be creating a place on the internet where people feel safe? Because it's all about safety. And as you mentioned earlier, one of the most important things about community is creating a place where people feel safe and secure. And I think we're losing the battle on the internet. Things that happen on the internet would never happen, though they are happening now - normally they wouldn't happen in your neighborhood or your schools... the things that people call each other, the misinformation that's posted. Unless we can deal with what's happening on the internet, it's going to impact us in the real world. This is why I am a part of Oasis Consortium. Why I think it's so important is that by bringing people together and all these industry leaders, this is how change happens.
Thank you so much. I think this is a great note to end this episode on. I'm so glad about having you in this community and helping us shape Oasis. Thank you so much, Lan.
Thank you. Thanks so much, bye Tiffany.