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Cultural Intelligence: Engaging The Loudest Voices Online for Big Impact


Like a whisper versus a shout, or a warning whistle versus a siren’s song, in today’s internet, not every voice has the same influence, and not every engagement is equal.  Some voices – even though they may come from small fringe groups – are way louder than others, with the power to shape your brand reputation and influence your customers.  So how do you find these small-but-powerful tastemakers, and engage them authentically?  Instead of studying clicks, scrolls, or shopping cart behavior, you’ll want to discover and understand their attitudes, shared ideologies, and the power of their networks.  But how?

The answer is Cultural intelligence, or the ability to interpret a person or group’s unfamiliar gestures in a way that someone might who was already entrenched in that group.  

To better understand how Cultural Intelligence can help differentiate your brand, let’s first dispel three myths about how online narratives are spread, as we did during a recent Masterclassing session (watch below).


“Demographics and purchase patterns yield the most meaningful customer segments.”


Segmenting around shared cultures, passions, and ideologies can be a far more powerful tool in customer intelligence.

The reality is the demography of the web is defined by groups of people with shared beliefs, not by traditional demographic attributes.  We call these culturally aligned groups “factions,” and we can find them using Cultural Intelligence.

Recent studies show that people want to buy from businesses that they feel culturally aligned with.  In fact, 87% of Americans will buy a product because its parent company advocated for an issue they care about.  What purpose is your brand tied to?  How do you declare that purpose across your marketing and advertising?  This is especially relevant inside of a pandemic and major socio-political shifts, when many consumers are looking to see which brands advertise their values over their product.


“The number of likes, shares, and mentions are good indicators of what will trend next or go viral.”


A small subset of the online community can and does artificially engineer ideas to look like popular opinion, expert analysis, or celebrity endorsements.

We see that the majority of agenda-driven conversations that go viral start in fringe channels (think subreddits and Facebook groups.) These channels are continuously developing new tactics to influence the brands they care about, so look to them to see what is coming before it trends.  This is a power that can be harnessed, but beware – it can backfire if you approach these groups inauthentically.  Remember the fallout from Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad?  Or consider Ash’s encounter with the Necronomicon – you really need to use the right words or very bad things happen.  

So what words do these fringe channels use when they are talking about topics of interest to your brand?  What are their standard communication styles and norms?  Do they use specific differentiated punctuation?  Spellings?  Emojis?  A rose isn’t just a rose anymore.  And an eggplant when you really meant a real-life aubergine could get you into trouble. Cultural Intelligence to the rescue!


“Engagement volume and number of followers is equal to influence online.”


Influencer ≠ influence.  We see that a mere 1% of groups online can drive 70% of a conversation, causing significant shifts in public opinion and consumer behavior.  Understanding how networks of groups influence one another and amplify a story is vital. 

So, how do you find today’s tastemakers?

The influencers and tastemakers of today are very different from traditional celebrity influencers. They’re often “famous” in a small circle that happens to be connected to larger circles with greater followings.  Creating a marketing relationship with these types of influencers requires a shift from connection through a payment to one of purpose and passion.

Helping brands to discover these untapped, influential, niche consumer communities (factions), the themes they care about, and product opportunities therein requires cultural intelligence, including interests, motivations, engagement behaviors and trends.  

The Yonder Social Intelligence Platform uses machine learning to analyze how narratives are spreading (and who is spreading them) across online social platforms, and then what their potential brand impact might be using a myriad of derived insights, including:  

  1. In-group signaling, use of language, and ideological distance between groups to point us to the potential virality and trajectory of online influence.
  2. Identification of  conversation or narrative originators (often found in fringe parts of the web) that have the ability to influence “amplifier” factions, which then have the ability to push the message, perspective or belief into the mainstream.
  3. Identification of misinformation or disinformation tactics potentially being used.

Looking beyond common online narrative myths and employing fresh methods of “influencer” identification are keys to driving successful communications and brand strategies for today’s internet.

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