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Separating Signal From Noise: How to Better Track Cultural Change

What’s the Big Idea?

The increasingly fluid cultural landscape and an overabundance of information call for new ways to gather useful business intelligence. 

In our hyper-connected world, ideas, data and conversations move at warp speed. We find ourselves in a churning sea of complex references, remixes and fast moving cultural bits.


Keeping up with societal changes and cultural phenomenon that will affect your industry can seem like an impossible task. Exploitable cultural activity and trends are rarely linear, slow moving waves that can be observed at great distances and neatly planned for. The traditional life cycle of a cultural object or movement has been sped up and the possibility space has expanded exponentially due to communications technology. Think of the rapid-fire spread of Internet meme culture versus the relatively slow spread of a movement such as punk rock or a fashion trend.

To address this challenge, we've built a new methodology to map and examine dynamic cultural webs of bursts and trends. We call them Content Networks.

What’s the Significance? 

For any business looking to better synchronize with culture in order to make more strategically informed decisions, the Content Network mapping method provides a useful system to track change. 

Below is an outline of the four basic steps we use to gather, organize and deploy
cultural intelligence on behalf of our clients. Use the Content Network mapping method yourself to attain better situational awareness of the current cultural environment. 

1. Track and Sort:
You need to digest as much information and data as possible to see early signals, bursts and emerging trends - they can come from anywhere. Look online, read magazines, talk to diverse groups of people and gather from a wide pool of resources. Collect the data points and observe where they are grouping together and gathering momentum. These clusters of manifestations make up the Content Network. With practice you will be able to separate signal from noise and notice nascent Networks that are relevant to your industry.

2. Rank:
How hot is the item? Can it be acted upon now? How will it progress over time? What is the “DNA” of the Network? Using a scoring and sorting system will help to identify cultural bursts or waves that are ripe with immediate opportunity (fast culture) versus longer term trends that will play out over time (slow culture). Understanding all of the component elements of the Network can also signal if the Network activity is something with which your brand will naturally align.

3. Connect:
How does each Content Network link up with others? What trends or bursts are accelerating or balancing the Network? Connecting the Networks together helps you to identify subtle associations and hidden opportunities. 

4. Synchronize: 
From ahead of the curve inspiration for product development to timely and relevant communications messaging, there are many ways to translate insights gained from the Content Network mapping method into direct, focused action. The key is to determine a concrete vision for your own goals, remain vigilant about monitoring and mapping culture, and maintain an open-minded approach to where your best opportunities may arise. 

sparks & honey is a next generation agency that helps brands synchronize with culture. Download our Fall 2012 Content Network report here.

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