Lessons in reputation management from the master

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Posted on April 26, 2016

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.

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