Narratives are nothing new. The way we build them, share them, and consume them, however, is updating constantly. New iterations of social networking have caused a massive disruption to how we receive and disseminate news stories. This fast-paced environment has given birth to widespread misinformation and the instantaneous circulation of important news stories, both of which affect outcomes.
And while the medium changes quickly, the influence that the narratives have on business decisions, public opinion, and government policy does not. It's crucial for our analysis and understanding of narratives to keep pace with the constant evolution of how narratives are shaped.
That is part of EdgeTheory's mission, and what has led us to conceptualize what we call the Cycle of Narrative-Based Influence. We'll define that in a moment, but it's important to note that this cycle isn't just a framework for news. At EdgeTheory, we use this cycle as a methodology to build our technology because we believe that narratives need to be understood in order to actively and authentically participate in conversation, and drive positive outcomes.
Back to the cycle: we define narrative-based influence as the coordination by a person or organization to impact the perception of a given issue through narratives in order to drive a favorable result for the coordinator.
Narrative-based influence can be broken down into four general steps: trigger, chatter, narratives, and effect.
A trigger is simply what initiates the conversation. Russia invading Ukraine, the SCOTUS leak, coronavirus outbreak– all of these are examples of triggers. Most of the time those seeking to influence a narrative are not involved directly with the event itself, but are rather taking advantage of the event to start influencing the conversation surrounding pertinent issues.
Directly following the event is the reaction of the event. To be clear, the real world is not as clean and neat as this diagram; often chatter and narratives happen simultaneously. Sometimes news breaks first, sometimes a grassroots response makes waves online first.
What is clear is that chatter and narratives are distinct. Chatter is decentralized and high in volume. It's the collective opinions of individuals expressing themselves, often in short statements like tweets (though we also categorize media like personal blogs as chatter). Altogether, chatter is seldom authoritative when it comes to shaping the narrative, and is typically highly biased since it fastens closely to public opinion. Chatter is effective for getting a pulse on the public's view, but analyzing chatter cannot give a diagnosis of the root issues of the narrative.
Narratives consist of structured news stories from an organization or organizations with a clear goal in mind. Though they are often just as biased as chatter, narratives are more clearly stated and fleshed out, and thus lend themselves to deeper analysis. By analyzing the full text of a news article, for example, you can determine the publisher's position, their reach, and the trends they have in common with other news outlets. In this way, you can filter out the chatter and get straight to the source of the narrative, who's pushing it the most, and maybe even determine why they're pushing it. We call this narrative intelligence.
Effects are real-world consequences that follow narrative influence. Currently, the most prominent effect of narratives on social media is to create division. We see this often with foreign malign influencers spurring controversy to further fracture political parties. Global economies can be sent into flux over narratives surrounding any number of threats, be it a pandemic, a war, or otherwise.
Effects can be lifesaving or devastating. To prevent disaster and ensure positive effects, key decision makers of all industries should analyze and prioritize narratives, not just to stay in the conversation, but to impact outcomes positively for their company, constituents, or the general public as a whole.
Narratives are powerful. Those who understand them can defend against misinformation and proactively shape the narrative. If you'd like to learn more about narrative intelligence, check out EdgeTheory to see how we use cutting-edge technology to help organizations understand and participate in the narratives that shape their world.
Want an example of how we visualize narratives? Here's one of our narrative briefs on U.S. Media's coverage of Ukraine: