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The Exciting Topic Of Senate Reform

He might have just become the most popular man in the senate they should take 10% of what they were going to spend on legal bills and buy Senator Duffy a car or something.

We’re not big on scandals in Canadian politics. Compared to our neighbours south of the border, ours are few and far between. The biggest in recent memory, is Senator Mike Duffy. In 2014, he was charged with 31 criminal offenses, including fraud, breach of trust and bribery. And this week, he was acquitted of all 31 charges. This scandal, and the subsequent acquittal, have once again spurred conversations on Senate reform.

Lessons in reputation management from the master

Not everyone cares about pop culture or celebrities, which is fine. But when a particular celebrity supersedes what we think of as a celebrity, when she is a veritable brand master of the first degree ‘ perhaps it would serve us all well, whether pop culture devotees or not, to take note. Aside from the talent, the insane work ethic and the fact that she is considered by many to be one of the greatest entertainers of all time, Beyonc’ has a perfectly crafted and maintained public image. My Microsoft Word, my web spell-checker, and my iPhone all autocorrect regular no-accent-aigu-Beyonce to properly accented Beyonc’, and I never had to tell any of them to do it; her supremacy is so undeniable, she’s dictionary.

Over the weekend she dropped her latest album, Lemonade, on HBO and on TIDAL. We haven’t heard much from her in between this release and her previous album, which surprised everyone at the end of 2013. In a time of over-sharing on every platform imaginable, Beyonc’ has demonstrated a master class in restraint. While other celebrities throw out every photo and personal detail of their life, expound on their ‘everyday’ activities and attempt to seem ‘just like us’ to some extent ‘ Beyonc’ delights in setting herself apart and refusing to compromise her standard. Instead, she drops hints and clues. Nothing is given away that isn’t part of an overarching narrative and hasn’t been tailored to suit the moment in which she chooses to reveal whatever it is that she is revealing. Her silence is just as powerful and telling as her presence. She demands to be studied and analyzed.

The Business

The Beygency. The Illuminati. There are many names (and rumours) for the team that works to protect Beyonc’s image. No one knows for sure how they operate, but their influence is vast. Beyonc’ dabbled in ventures here and there ‘ she and her mother started the House of Dereon in 2006 ‘ but it wasn’t until she launched her online presence that Beyonc’ the business really became apparent.

It started with Tumblr. Tumblr is a blogging platform that has been around since 2007. In 2011, it was home to Barack Obama’s blog, and in 2012, it was home to Beyonc’s. Tumblr is a culture unto itself. Depending on the blogging topic, it is mainstream or incredibly insider, it is weird or deeply personal, it is spontaneous or highly curated. Tumblr bloggers can follow each other, so it’s also a social networking site. Unlike other blogging platforms, it allows for a lot ‘ both content-wise and format-wise. It is home to polished blogs and messes of images, gifs, and haphazard text, but mostly, it represents a lot of personality. Beyonc’s blog (beyonce.tumblr.com, which obviously outgrew the platform — you can still see what it looked like on iam.beyonce.com) was a revelation because it was unexpected.

And here Beyonc’ showed how one should partake in social media: engaging on the every person’s platform, but engaging in a way that only furthers her distinctiveness. Does your Tumblr look like Beyonc’s? Of course not. Does Beyonc’ use Tumblr the way you and your friends do? Don’t be ridiculous. So why is Beyonc’ on Tumblr? Ostensibly, to reveal a more intimate side of herself. In actuality, it’s to show you just how good (and therefore, how much better than you) she is at Tumblr. Now, obviously, being Beyonc’ is beyond aspirational, but being distinctive isn’t. The purpose of social media isn’t necessarily to be relatable, but to be somewhat personal, so capitalizing on what makes your particular organization or cause unique is exactly the point. For Beyonc’, that particular thing happens to be that everything is curated to the smallest detail of an exactness only she knows. For us mere mortals, it means how is what you are doing and how you’re doing it, different from what anyone else is doing. Basically, what about it is inimitable, and therefore, memorable.

Her husband didn’t do quite as a good of a job. Around the same time Beyonc’ went for Tumblr, Jay-Z created his website, Life + Times. Even then though, Beyonce’s site was better and Jay-Z’s considered a mess. Jay-Z’s site was referred to as the new GOOP (Gwyneth Paltrow’s site) because it seemed to be full of content that only other rich people would actually want to consume. It can be a fine line to draw, but it’s there. Inimitable is a quality, or a feeling, or a perspective. And it’s consistent, because it’s inherent to you, your issue, or your approach. In 2013, she took this to the next level and dropped a surprise album. The delivery and absolute secrecy surrounding the event were the exact opposite of what everyone else did or was doing with any new release. While others have followed, it has become her trademark.

The Big Picture

The Elevator ‘ if you are unaware ‘ is an infamous event in Beyonc’s otherwise immaculate public image. For years, there were low-level rumblings about her husband’s (Jay-Z, aka Sean Carter) infidelities, but they had been only rumours with nothing real to substantiate them. Then in May of 2014 after the MET Gala, elevator footage caught Solange Knowles, Beyonc’s younger sister, attacking Jay-Z in an elevator while Beyonc’ stood to the side. Word on the street was that the altercation had to do with how Jay-Z treated his wife.

Regardless of what did or did not go down in the elevator, it became The Elevator with a capital ‘T’ and ‘E’. There appeared to be a crack in the otherwise flawless surface of the Carters’ reputation. Whatever Beyonc’ posted on her site, on her Instagram, on her Tumblr, was all in service to the larger story that she wanted to tell about the incident. At times, Beyonc’s relentless curating of her self-image shows through ‘ such as when she forced outlets to pull down “unflattering” photos from her performances. But her selectiveness with her sharing has made her all the more enigmatic and her pull that much more powerful. With the knowledge that her weighing in would give credence to the speculation, she waited until she knew how she wanted to throw her full weight ‘ the weight of say, a full-length visual album ‘ into the situation.

Patience is a virtue. Beyonc’s patience has to do with quality ‘ and at no point does she sacrifice the quality of her messaging. Now, situations don’t always warrant patience, and not everyone has the luxury of time. But the fact that Beyonc’ always has the big picture in mind is important to understanding how to control the narrative. It’s 2016 and we’re still talking about The Elevator, but in no way is Beyonc’ a victim, and the volume on the discussion has just been turned to max with her latest album, and it’s the volume for her voice and her voice alone. It’s that kind of management that has taken her to where she is today: Beyonc’ has reached such a level that she no longer gives interviews. Her latest album is called Lemonade and she has been hinting at it for over a year – dropping images of lemons on social media with no explanation. Not only is every move part of a larger construction, when the final product is delivered, you appreciate just how constructed and meticulous that product is. She does not deny that it takes work, and planning, and that when done well, it all pays off.

The Beautiful

Visuals are important. Things that look bad do not get as much attention from people — especially not people online. But more importantly than that, the visuals don’t have to speak to everyone. If you’re representing high quality, if you’re representing elite, or if you’re representing a specific point-of-view, and you’ve created something that speaks to everyone, you have a problem.

It’s clich’, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and being beholden to the irrelevant has never been a concern for Beyonc’. With her first single of 2016 and her Super Bowl halftime performance, there were threats of boycotts, riots, and there was’confusion from people who did not understand her point ‘ and her point was, and is, that she is not aiming to please. There are stakes and there are messages and there are causes. Rubbing people the wrong way is to be expected, and in fact, desired, if you are picking a side.

If you watch her latest visual album, the images are certainly not for everyone. The album, and everything it’s saying, is multitudinous. The visuals and references tell a particular story and have a history — a history whose unpacking takes novels. Aiming to please the masses would detract from the power of her narrative and negate the point she is making. Her messages fly over the head of the uninitiated and they run smack up against the prejudices of others. They resonate deeply with their intended audience and she doesn’t care about the rest.

Bow Down

She has grown and grown her fan base with her. We know details about Beyonc’s life, but they have been communicated through her voice alone. There have been other voices along the way ‘ she’s had a group, she has family members who are active in the media, she has a husband who, at one point, was more respected within the music industry and more famous. But no one is waiting on bated breath for what any of them say. When she is involved there is one, and only one, person for which people are waiting, attempting to schedule free time around predicted release dates, and whose every appearance is scoured for the tiny clues and nods that all signal a crafted and calculated story being told.

As she says herself on her latest album: She worth every dollar and she worth every minute. And she’s the one who made it that way.

Our Changing Social Media Behaviour

If you are a Facebook user, you have certainly become acquainted with its new ‘On This Day’ function, whereby Facebook shows your activity from that date from years previous. Aside from looking back at your questionable fashion choices and reliving vacations, the feature demonstrates how our use of the platform has dramatically shifted since we first logged on.

Much of the change in our Facebook use can be attributed to our familiarity with social media, upgrades in functionality and the wide adoption of the smartphone. When Facebook was first launched in 2004, we didn’t have the ability to snap a picture, post a video or host a live broadcast from our phones. This meant that the very nature of Facebook use was more deliberate; early users had to be sitting at a computer, not waiting for an elevator, to use the platform.

Along with technology, our personal networks on the channel have also evolved. For early adopters, our Facebook friends were classmates (in its infancy, Facebook was restricted to students with university email addresses), but now, they likely include your close and extended family, former coworkers, travel acquaintances and, maybe, your current boss.

Further, veteran users know what sort of posts are likely to receive positive engagement from their networks. You may have been very keen on promoting a band you discovered, but if your friends didn’t share your enthusiasm with likes and comments, human nature dictates that you are less likely to share something about that band or your taste in music again. In contrast, phenomenons like the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2013 would not have taken off if user networks did not pick up the challenge as a fun, shareable, and popular endeavour.

As Facebook matures and an individual user’s network includes many years’ worth of acquaintances, the social channel invariably becomes less intimate. Social media is certainly less social if you are deterred from sharing an article on oil prices because you are concerned someone in your network will bomb the comments with conspiracy theories. And it is certainly less social if you are wary of posting photos of a late Wednesday night at a Blue Jays’ game with beer in hand. Unsurprisingly, Facebook just isn’t as fun when you know your mother-in-law or boss could be watching and your news feed is dominated by the same loud people.

Further, early adopters of Facebook are now in their late 20s and 30s and are perhaps now too busy with their careers or young families to endlessly indulge in the medium. This is worsened by the fact that younger millennials are taking to Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to share their personal moments away from parents’ prying eyes. Regardless of the motive, from 2014 to 2015, ‘original broadcast sharing’, posts with a user’s own words or images fell by 21 per cent, while overall sharing dropped 5.5 per cent.

Facebook is aware of this fact, with insiders dubbing the decline in user sharing as ‘content collapse.’ To combat this, Facebook tweaked its news feed algorithm (how it decides what to display to its users) to favour user-generated content over posts from brands. This pushes marketers to use paid advertising to reach users, while ensuring that a post from your university roommate is not weighted the same as an organic one from a local pizzeria you might like.

Despite these operational updates, Facebook understands the days of users dumping 30 pictures from their vacation are over and personal moments are migrating to Snapchat, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and messaging services (Facebook owns WhatsApp). That is why the company is rolling out prominent notifications on Mother’s Day or Siblings Day (apparently that’s now a thing) to encourage user participation. Together with its ‘Memories’ function Facebook is trying to have users associate the platform with warm feelings of family, friends and nostalgia.

In addition to these engagement initiatives, Facebook is launching new features, like virtual reality and chatbots, to stay competitive and keep users from clicking off the site. These changes will better position Facebook for the long term, with the clear aim of transitioning Messenger into an ecommerce platform. At its F8 Conference this month, Facebook touted the ability to order flowers or clothing all within Messenger. If successful, developers may abandon their own apps and instead latch onto Facebook as the primarily tool for transactions, much to the chagrin of PayPal, Amazon and others.

Combined with Instant Articles (third-party articles that load instantly without leaving the Facebook app), these efforts all act to prevent users from clicking off Facebook in the moment, curtailing usage, or deleting their accounts all together. As Facebook moves towards publishing and ecommerce, users will become more dependent and hard-pressed to write off the platform as frivolous social media.

The ‘Hotel California’ effect of being able to check in but not being able to leave will certainly be good for Facebook’s bottom line and reinforce the need for marketers to stay at the edge of the platform’s features and best practices. Buzzfeed’s live Facebook broadcast of an exploding watermelon attracted more than 800,000 viewers, demonstrating that although user sharing is in decline, it is still possible to engage at a large scale. No matter the medium, audiences will always have a taste for entertaining or emotive content; smart campaigns will just have to keep up.

 

Photo credit: Rodion Kutsaev

Leadership Races

Really what the leadership vote demonstrates is an unwillingness to move back to third-party status.

Ottawa is still abuzz with the results of the NDP Convention and the NDP is now looking for a new leader, and so, this week it a number of our issues blended together. As sometimes happens with politic, and any major issues really, it can be difficult to distinguish where one ends and another begins. So our top issue for the week is really an amalgamation of a few topics: the NDP convention, Rachel Notley’s response to the Leap Manifesto, and pipelines.