The Citizen Analyst Manifesto, Part 6: Ask boldly. Be forthright and unafraid

In this series, we explore what it means to be a citizen analyst, the values we stand for, and what qualities in the world we must adamantly stand against.

Ask boldly. Be forthright and unafraid.

To be bold is to be strong, direct. Boldness is standing in the center of a storm, knowing we are correct of heart, holding fast to things we know to be true. Because truth and boldness, truth and the courage of our convictions, are inextricably linked. We can try to stand for untruths, for biases — but these will ultimately fail us. It is truth which gives us the strength to stand behind our data.

But how do we gather such truth? Alone, our data is inert, meaningless. We can’t give truth to it — that’s bias. Nor can we begin with a fixed idea — that’s bias, too.

Truth is not hard and fast. Truth is born of active questioning, of conversations and discussion. To find truth, we must dig. We must shed our fear and be bold, be forthright in our questions. We must take our data and ask difficult things, ask questions we may not want answers to. We must shake off fear.

Sometimes, we’ll confront unpleasant truths. We may find our research leads to an unpredicted, unwelcome outcome. We may find ourselves further from the answers we seek than we started. When we encounter such situations, we must pause. Like a road trip, it’s better to stop and find out how lost we are than to keep driving with a bad map.

What does it take to ask bold questions? Courage. Courage is about strength of heart, or belief; it is a deep word, an internal word. When we exercise our courage, we know it. We feel it in our gut. If we ask meek, timid, safe questions, we feel nothing. We don’t hesitate. We don’t hedge, don’t hem and haw.

When we ask boldly, discomfort guides our way. We pause. We hesitate. But should I really ask?, I might get in trouble and I don’t think I really want to know if… are our friends. When we ask questions, uneasiness and risk are our friends. They tell us we’re on the right path, that we are actively seeking truth, not avoiding it.

These questions form the basis of our scientific method. They help us dig into our data, analyze and seek insight to distill our hypothesis. They challenge us to be better.

That challenge is never-ending. Even now, asking boldly, being forthright and unafraid, is something I have to invoke in myself. I believed influencer takeovers of social media accounts worked better as a social media marketing tactic than normal organic social posting.

I sketched out my question and prediction, then wrote a hypothesis, but I was certain I was right. I was all set to write a blog post proclaiming this as the new way of doing influencer marketing, and just needed some data to prove the hypothesis true.

My first analysis proved me wrong. The opposite was true: when an influencer took over a magazine’s Instagram account, social media engagement went down, not up.


The same held true in the second… third… fourth…

I felt quite uneasy. My findings were a major setback to the belief I held.The data showed contradictory results, proving the hypothesis false. I didn’t want to be wrong. I could’ve ignored the data and posted my belief anyway; the chance of someone disagreeing with me was low.

But I’m a data guy, an analyst, a truth-seeker. Recall our previous Citizen Analyst value: seek truth. So I set aside my belief. I listened to my gut. I asked bold questions, following the path of unease. I asked the questions I needed to ask, knowing the answers might not be what I wanted, but asking anyway. Courage is not the absence of fear: it’s being afraid but stepping up anyway.

I continued to ask. To be forthright, we must continue on in the face of adversity. Using IBM’s Watson Analytics, I discovered a hidden nuance in the data. I’d chosen brands who ceded control of their accounts to influencers without knowing how those brands selected the influencers.

Watson revealed an uncomfortable truth for these brands: the influencers they chose weren’t influential at all. The brands already had more engagement and more reach than their influencers. Asking bold questions led me to insight, helping me find the story, the truth in my data.


Above, the brands are highlighted in green, while influencers are highlighted in red. The brands have higher scores and more influence than their influencers. Any additional influence lent by these individuals would be incremental at best.

Had I not been forthright, had I feared the answers to the questions I asked, I would not have found this truth. I would have walked away believing influencer marketing, despite being a clear marketing trend for 2016, was a lie.

Ask boldly; be forthright and unafraid. Let discomfort be our guide; let truth challenge our beliefs and show us what is real. When we do this, we become better, stronger, and wiser.


Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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