What a grandmother, TikTok and K-Pop can teach us about Crisis Leadership

By Janie Jordan, Reputation risk expert, Crisis communication adviser, Author and Public Speaker.

The American summer and the Australian winter have been marked by a surging movement of activism calling for social change but with the coronavirus pandemic affecting how people interact with one another, many of these calls to action took place online.  Not only have we seen the traditional movements but new forms of activism and how new platforms like TikTok are enabling online protests.

In June, Janie Jordan, who is our guest speaker for the upcoming Corporate Affairs Dialogue session took a look at this trend when Trump’s rally was derailed by a grandmother and K-Pop stans – yes stans – in her weekly blog.

The pandemic case study looks at how the new media and popular culture clash and what that might mean for leadership communication as (1) we navigate our way through the next phases of this crisis, and (2) scenario planning.

First, a little background.

As with everything that President Trump does, it seems to court controversy. That came in the form of a date and a venue.

Date – June 19. That day, known as Juneteenth, celebrates the end of slavery in the US.

Venue – Tulsa, the city that saw some of the worst massacres of black people in US history witnessed in 1921.

After criticism, he moved the rally back ONE day – to June 20.

Meantime, the social forces were rallying. Soon the Trump rally registrations were flooded – mostly fake thanks to a grandmother in Iowa, whose video plea ultimately landed into the activist hands of the K-Pop stans (for the uninitiated, and I was one!, they are fans of Korean popular music.)

Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old grandmother living in Fort Dodge, Iowa, appears to have helped led the charge on TikTok late last week when she posted a video encouraging people to go to Trump’s website, register to attend the event — and then not show up.

Fake! Playing Trump at his own game. Clever.

Laupp, who worked on the (now failed) Pete Buttigieg’s Democratic Presidential campaign in Iowa, told her then 1,000 or so followers on TikTok, normally thought of a platform for dancing teenagers and not, necessarily, political action. Her idea prompted multiple other TikTok users to post similar videos calling on their followers to do the same — visit the website, register for the event, fail to show up.

Trump Rally.jpg

And as it is with social media today, an idea can take hold very, very quickly.

Soon a video, with more than a quarter of a million views, called on the stans to join the trolling campaign. Fans of the music are a force on social media — they posted over six billion tweets last year alone. And they have a history of taking action for social justice causes.


  • Two million views of video.

  • Over 800,000 false registrations.

  • Less than 7,000 people showed up at a stadium with capacity of 20,000.

A contrite leader.

So what does this means for leadership in a crisis and, more importantly, scenario planning?

  1. Never underestimate the baby boomers!

  2. If you think it’s bizarre and won’t happen, think again. Not only is it likely to happen, the mere fact that you’ve thought it, means it can and most probably will happen.

  3. If you’re a leader in an industry that needs a ‘social license’ to operate it’s absolutely critical to keep up to date and hopefully abreast of the social media trends and activism trends.

  4. TikTok is the standout medium (apart from Zoom) in this pandemic. And K-pop fans, who can and will mobilise very quickly, are the stand-out for a new form of activism.

As The Guardian reported this week,”digitally-savvy and passionate, K-pop fans’ Trump activism should come as no surprise“. Fans of South Korea’s pop music scene, aka K-pop, first went viral recently by engaging in a kind of vigilante activism, as fans across the world supported the Black Lives Matters movement.

And, reluctantly, I say thank you to Donald Trump and his ill-fated campaign for these insights.

To hear more from Janie Jordan, register to attend our next Trans-Tasman Corporate Affairs dialogue session on trust & reputation.

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