Good News/Bad News: The Liberal Government’s First Week Back

The House is back and so are we! Welcome to season two of Political Traction. To kick off our new season we’re changing things up a bit. First off, we have a slightly new format: instead of only bringing Colin MacDonald on as a frequent guest, he will be joining Allie and David every week as part of our Political Traction panel. So, every week the three of us will break down the top issues coming out of Ottawa and whether or not they got traction with the Canadian public.

Secondly, we’ve got some new data for you! This season you can sign up for our weekly digest of additional data, delivered right to your inbox.

You can download and sign up for this week’s download below.

And now, without further ado, we bring you this week’s issues: a good news/bad news roundup for the Liberal government.

Justin Trudeau was in New York to speak to the United Nation’s General Assembly. The speech focused on the global migrant crisis and Canada’s commitment for settling refugees. Trudeau has received a lot of praise for the speech, both at home and abroad (but also a little bit of snark). Given that the speech emphasized Canada as a peaceful, open, and welcoming country, a lot of comparisons were made between our national rhetoric and that of Donald Trump (see: skittles). Stating that we need to choose “hope over fear” and “diversity over division”, Trudeau is clearly placing Canada in opposition to the Republican nominee.

The Liberal Government, and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in particular, are receiving some criticism after announcing they will be sticking with the carbon emission targets set by the Conservatives. In the past, the liberals criticized the targets, calling them the “floor” and that the liberals “want to try to do better.” At the same time McKenna stated that she will impose some sort of fine for provinces that don’t implement a cap and trade system.

And lastly, the government is also receiving some flak for moving expenses for some of its staff. Although completely legal, some of the costs for relocating government staff to Ottawa are questionable, such as legal and real estate fees.

Podcast: Trump And The Revolt Against Political Correctness

 

He says outrageous things. He lies. But somehow, he still has a lot of supporters.

In this special episode, we explore what’s going on with Trump and how we can explain voter behavior. Talking with Nelson Wiseman, Professor of Political Science and Director of Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto and Anne Kilpatrick, a Principal on our Research Team, we delve into our current political climate and why someone might support Donald Trump.

Professor Wiseman explains what makes Trump appealing and Anne walks us through the difficulties of asking people why they might do something: getting people to explain their rationales is more complicated than you think.

Do you have a tribe?

As originally published on Navigator's website.

As humans, we are all ill-equipped to live on our own. We’re social animals who have coalesced into tribes since the beginning of time. And for literally ages, most of our tribes were organized along (often fluid) geographical lines. Our tribal associations led to the beginnings of agriculture in Mesopotamia; the rise of cities that we would recognize 5,000 years later, and the invention of writing, among other achievements. Even in more recent times, tribes were largely organized by geography—our local places of worship, bowling clubs, knitting groups etc. Geography placed such an important role in our ability to gather that national hobby organizations have long been structured around local chapters—think boy scouts, girl guides, home brewing clubs etc.

Today, we’re agnostic towards geography. Thanks to the Internet, tribes that would never have existed in a pre-digital age are now thriving online communities. It’s a completely predictable outcome—our natural instinct to organize and identify with tribes runs deep. In our line of work, we often think about the “ audiences” we need to target to get our message out. It can be easy to forget that these “audiences” are real people—human beings who collectively want to belong to something. We’re often too focused on how we get our message in front of the right eyeballs, we forget to take a moment to reflect on what motivates the people we need to reach, and what shared interests they might have. By addressing those questions, we might stand a better chance of making our content resonate.

In the public affairs and advocacy space, tribes are the vocal supporters and fans who believe in our cause (or worse, in a cause that’s mobilizing against us) to the point that they are willing to tell everyone they know about it. And in exceptional cases, they’re willing to step away from the keyboard to express their support in tangible ways: voting at the ballot box, becoming active shareholders, organizing a hostile takeover, demonstrating in the streets, to name a few.

Of course, it’s a cliché to say, but the Internet lets these same activists bring more fuel to the fire. They can use the Internet to self-organize and lend your movement legitimacy, or bring total disruption if you’re on the wrong side of an issue. One hyper-active member can bring more people onside, growing and cultivating an army of supporters. And while activists were once constrained by geography, this has become a thing of the past. This means tribes can become overnight movements that can either build your reputational equity or make your life a living hell, depending on which side of the tribe’s shared interests you find yourself on. The Internet makes the infrastructure easy: all it takes is an Internet connection, a shared interest, and a digital gathering place, and you technically have a tribe. But that alone won’t be enough. A tribe is a living, breathing thing. Something needs to be the glue that holds these individuals together. That could be you and/or your organization.

The Power of a Tribe

But why would you want to build your own tribe? We often tell our clients that one day soon, some outside force will have a direct (and potentially) negative impact on their business. It could be that government is considering new legislation or regulations directly impacting your business. Or the public has decided to side with third-party interests groups targeting you or your industry; or that you’re on the receiving end of a hostile takeover. You’re always at risk. In our experience, most organizations have the appropriate resources in place to do conventional corporate communications, government relations and investor relations, but few, if any, have a program to build a tribe of active supporters. And by failing to build and cultivate tribes, organizations are at risk of being outmaneuvered by tribes with opposing interests. For example, most companies wait until a legislative or regulatory crisis erupts before rallying supporters to their defence. But for such a cry to have any effect, you need to have an attentive tribe at your disposal. In today’s environment, you simply cannot do public affairs well without having a tribe in your corner. But building that tribe is a laborious exercise. So how do you get there?

Identify shared interests.

As with most things in life, the hardest part is starting out. The work of identifying your potential tribe members starts from the inside. Look around. What type of people are working for your organization or your cause? What motivates them? Why do they care about your line of work? Then work your way out. What common characteristics do your shareholders or members have? Why have they decided to align themselves with you? If you already have an online presence, take a look at your fanbase. Ask the same set of questions. Rinse and repeat and you’ll soon uncover common threads—shared interests that unite them. You may even uncover a variety of shared interests, which could be a sign that you have multiple tribes in your orbit that you could foster.

Understand the tribe’s language and speak it.

In a study by Professor Vincent Jansen from Royal Holloway, even online communities havetheir own language with a tendency to deliberately use misspelled words, much as people have regional accents when they speak. For reasons I will never comprehend, Justin Bieber fans have a penchant for ending their words with “ee,” as in “pleasee.” Of course, these are literal examples, but each tribe has its own language. They approach issues with a certain view. They have a specific vocabulary (e.g., how some right-wing activists refer to the CBC as the Communist Broadcasting Corporation instead of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or the Toronto Star as the Red Star, for their perceived left-wing bias). If you want to build a tribe, or mobilize one, you’ll stand a better chance if you’re part of the tribe. And that means you have to talk the talk. That’s where public opinion research can be your friend, especially if you tap into big data sources like Facebook topic data.

Map your tribe’s personas.

Now that you’ve gathered data you need to make it useable. That means fleshing it out and putting it in a digestible format. Using the the findings from our first exercise (finding shared interests), and the cursory information gleaned from the second exercise (getting a feel for the tribe’s language), you now need to gather demographic info that can help you paint a complete picture of all the types of individuals who make up your tribe. Can you distill that information down to easily identifiable personalities—a visual representation of who you need to reach out to with all your outbound communication efforts to make an emotive connection?

Test the messages that motivate action.

Now that you have identified the type of individuals that would be inclined to join your tribe, you need to put content out in the ether and see what sticks. You won’t have a true sense of what actually works until you put content out there, but by now you should have a sense of whether it stands a chance.

Be the glue that holds the tribe together.

As you begin to put out and test your messages, you have a much more important objective: build relationships with the people you’re courting. Keep your tribe informed about new developments; ask them for advice; seek their help when you need them to take action; and give back as much as you can. For the most part, email, private messages, and Facebook pages will be the vehicles through which you contact your tribe members. Too often, we’re so focused on trying to get something out of our “list” that we forget how exhausting it is to be on the receiving end of non-stop asks. A tribe will stick with you if you provide value and if you give more than you take.

Building a tribe and then nourishing it is tough work. It takes a lot of time and patience — two things no one can buy. But, with diligent and thoughtful work, it can be done. And these days, it should be done. Favour can change as fast as tribes can be created, and you never know when you’ll need a community in your corner.

Can Your Message Survive A Filtered View Of The Internet?

As originally published on Navigator's website.

The Promise of Information Freedom

Control was the Internet’s great promise when it went mainstream. I distinctly remember logging on for the first time in late 1995. I loaded one of the first search engines, Infoseek (this was pre-Google, of course), which aggregated popular content by subject and went click-happy exploring the “Word Wide Web.”

If you remember pre-Internet life, you certainly remember how thrilling this was. You felt like you were in the driver seat. You could explore topics and find whole websites dedicated to the same interests you had. You held the keys to an instant library curated by a community of freaks and geeks who shared your niche passions.

Within a year, our house had its first Internet-ready computer, and I would subsequently spend hours and hours after school, just “surfing” this massive sea of information. It was freedom. When Google came along and archived the Internet so that you could search just about anything, it truly felt like information freedom.  And until recently, that was always the frame I used when thinking about the Internet. It’s a place of uncensored, unrestricted, limitless information available to anyone who wants to find it.

Or is it?

The Reality of Information Overload

There is so much information on the Internet (in excess of 1.2 million terabytes, by some accounts), there’s simply no way to realistically navigate all it on our own. That’s why we have become so dependent on curators. The most popular platforms, of course, are Facebook, Twitter, and even Google.

Canadians cite Facebook as their number one destination for news. But Facebook gives us a distinct point of view on the world, one that is mostly removed from real-world realities. Its algorithm is designed to populate your news feed with content you are most likely to find engaging.  If you start liking your best friend’s baby pics, you’ll start to see more baby pics. Start an instant messenger conversation with someone and suddenly you start seeing a lot more of their status updates in your timeline. The algorithm is designed to keep you hooked with constant doses of entertainment so you keep coming back. The more effective the algorithm, the more daily users it generates for Facebook, and the more advertising it can sell. It’s a symbiotic relationships that, for the most part, keeps everyone happy.

But, does that come at a cost? Freakonomics Radio has a fascinating episode on this issue earlier this month. The episode begins with a story by Zenep Tufekci  who studies the social impact of technology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She recounts how she experienced the Ferguson Unrest of Aug 2014. When she logged to Twitter, her feed was consumed by this story—an unrelenting stream of tweets about police overreaction. When she switched to Facebook, she saw nothing about. It was as if she had a lense into two completely different universes. And in many ways, that’s each social platform: its own universe, with distinct user experiences that filter information in their own ways.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter has left its social feed largely unaltered since its inception 10 years ago; it remains an unfiltered stream of consciousness. Twitter’s most avid users love that feature, but for many, it’s overwhelming. Where Facebook has successfully grown its user base by finding more sophisticated ways displaying relevant content, Twitter has taken an approach that “Internet Freedom” advocates would appreciate: it keeps the faucet open. What comes out of that faucet is largely unfiltered, which, of course, has caused Twitter griefon more than one occasion. Cyberbullying aside, Twitter has been struggling of late, and Wall Street wants it to adopt a Facebook-like algorithm.   But even if it sticks to its guns and continues with its current feed format, it remains a biased view of the world. As a user, you can only diversify what you’re seeing in your feed by altering the list of people you follow.

The lense through which we see, use, and consume information on the Internet is increasingly—almost exclusively—a lense shaped by others, for our viewing pleasure. We let our social feeds tell us what matters, what news to read, what video clips to watch, or which Netflix series to get hooked on next. Precisely because there is so much information, it’s easier to embrace a socially-validated news feed. If our social networks, and the social platforms we use every day do all the hard work of finding the content that resonates most with us, who are we to stop them? It’s too convenient; it simplifies our life.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve reverted to the passive consumption that the Internet was supposed to free us from. In 1995, I took delight in having complete control (or what felt like complete control) over what I consumed. In 2016, I’m so damn busy, and have so much information to sift through, I love having all that hard work done for me through a couple apps on my phone. But I concede that in embracing this reality, I’m letting others tell me what information to consume. And by doing so, I’ve given up control as a consumer of information.

As we consume an Internet that is curated by a small group of highly-influential companies, we should remember, the Internet looks the way it does because we want it to look that way. We can’t fault Facebook, Google, or Twitter for serving up content its users want to see. If we don’t like that idea, we should stop watching cat videos or opt out of the platforms altogether.  Right — so that won’t happen any time soon — which means that as professional communicators, we need to crack the code and find ways to make our content pass the rigorous demands of Facebook’s algorithm, or Twitter’s finicky user base.

How to crack the code

In truth, we shouldn’t even focus on cracking the code. Curated social feeds only work if they display content people want to consume. Our goal should be the same. Admittedly, this is no easy task when it comes to public affairs content. In this space, we’re typically dealing with matters that have some regulatory, legislative, or public administration concern to them.Snooze! Who wants their social feed experience disrupted by content that deals with such serious, and potentially boring issues?  In a universe where people would rather watch clips from the Late Show, inserting ourselves in that space with a serious, cognitive, or alarmist message is jarring and typically off-putting to most people. That’s because they turn to their social channels for distraction or to connect with others, not to hear about why they should sign your petition demanding the government sets a renewable energy target of 100% by 2050. But we know that people will engage on these issues. However, it takes a thoughtful approach, and one that meets people’s expectations for what they will see on these platforms. So, how can we get people to respond to “boring” issues that typically rely on the cognitive side of the brain to make the point?

1. Lead with motive and make it emotional

People are naturally cynical, which means we need to lead with motive and be completely transparent about it.  But to make your message a one-two punch, you need to avoid cognitive arguments as much as humanly possible.  Our brain is wired to ignore the boring and respond quickly to novel, concrete, visual, and high-contrast messages instead. Eventually, you can speak to the cognitive side of the brain with compelling facts and figures, but before getting to that point, the brain needs to be primed. After it’s primed, It will respond much more quickly and be motivated by emotion. When in doubt, remember, people care about people. Obviously, they care about themselves, but they also care about their identity – the tribe with which they associate.  Appeal to both their self-interests and the interests of the communities they align with.

2. Make it enjoyable

Even if you’re campaigning on an issue that will get people worked up, present yourself as a happy warrior. Have a little bit of fun. People go online to have fun, and if you’re going to serve up your message in that context, make sure you fit in. If fun is completely off-brand for you, or if you worry about it backfiring—always a real possibility—then the rest of the user experience needs to be completely engaging. Even on serious issues, make your campaign video absolutely moving from the first frame to the last one. The creative should be beautiful, and any video should be immaculately composed. The copy should read flawlessly. All aspects of the campaign should have an attractive design aesthetic. We’re bombarded with facts and figures all day; we rarely come across quality content. So when quality appears in our feeds, we react.

3. Make it novel

When we’re scrolling through our social feeds, we’re looking for something different—something unexpected. We want something to grab our attention. As communicators, getting that attention is one of the most difficult assignments we could ask for. We literally have split seconds to grab someone’s attention. As Chip and Dan Heath taught us, “before your message can stick, your audience has to want it.” So, spark their curiosity. Shine a light on your audience’s curiosity gap, then immediately fill it.

4. Keep it simple

This is an easy one to get wrong. When we think about keeping things simple, we often think about the KISS method, (Keep It Simple, Stupid), which actually takes us down the wrong path. It gives us the wrong impression that we need to dumb down a message. However, the problem with dumbing down the message is that we look like we don’t have anything to back up or point or that we have something to hide. We should never hide. For our message to have credibility, it needs to be complete. So rather than try to dumb it down, we should focus on the priority that matters most. What’s the core message? That’s what we communicate.  Ah, if only it were that simple, right?

5. Use vivid imagery

People need to visualize our message. They need to see what a perfect world looks like. The best way to help them visualize that future is to paint a picture with language that is concrete. Don’t force the viewer to work hard to imagine the end-state. Show it to them immediately so that the cognition doesn’t get in the way of emotion. Help people “see” what you’re saying.  

Political Traction 017: What Do You Do With A PM Once He Stops Being PM?

Parliament was on break this week, but lots still happened. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Japan for the G7 Summit – where he managed to fit in some anniversary time with his wife – and both the Conservatives and the Liberals held their conventions over the weekend. On top of that, there was media speculation that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to resign his seat in the House of Commons.

Allie and David talk about these issues and the last bit of news on Elbowgate 2016, and Allie talks with regular on the show, Will Stewart, about Stephen Harper and his possible career outside of politics.

Political Traction 016: Elbowgate 2016

‘Twas the elbow felt around the nation. On Wednesday, May 18, 2016 there was an event of epic proportions in the House of Commons…kind of. Elbows were misdirected. Words were thrown. Insults abounded. And we are all left to consider the aftermath.

In this week’s episode, Allie and David discuss the incident in the House of Commons that resulted from rising tensions over Motion 6 and what is being considered the government’s attempts to curtail debate. Allie also talks with Randi Rahamim on the event and the NDP and Conservative parties’ response.

Political Traction 015: Whose Money is it Anyway?

Lately the government has been getting some heat for how it is spending taxpayer money – specifically with the size of the delegation Justin Trudeau took to the state dinner in Washington. Is the Liberal government spending money inappropriately?

This week, Allie talks with regular Colin MacDonald about this issue and about our Canadian “First Lady.” Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau requested extra assistance to help with her engagements as the Prime Minister’s spouse, which has resulted in some outrage, and Allie and Colin talk about why that is.