The Ultimate Guide to Narrative Intelligence

Narrative Intelligence (noun): The strategic solution organizations use to detect, decipher, and defend their reputation from online narratives. 

Information moves fast in our always-online world.

For companies and government organizations looking to preserve their brand and reputation, the speed and virality of internet discourse can be threatening.

Misleading, untrue, or conspiratorial narratives go viral every single day. And a single public relations mishap — an offhand comment taken out of context, a well-intentioned but misguided advertising campaign — can spawn thousands of negative replies and conversations. Once a narrative gets rolling, it’s hard to stop.

The wrong narrative at the wrong time can be extremely damaging for a company or government organization. Everything is at stake: brand credibility, financial stability, and most importantly — your people.

We don’t need to look far for examples. No one is safe, whether you’re a multi-national corporation or a government organization.

Wendy’s CEO accidentally started a wave of public backlash and snarky memes when his comment about “dynamic pricing” on an earnings call spiraled into a conversation about unfairly priced burgers. Faked and misleading videos are muddying the waters in conflicts in the Middle East. These are just two examples of the viral and often-uncontrollable nature of online narratives. 

All of this begs the question: what are you doing to safeguard your brand, reputation, and people in the age of information chaos?

For leading organizations, the answer is narrative intelligence.

Narrative intelligence: The key to reputation management

What’s your reputation worth?

The answer, for many, is everything. This holds true whether you’re a public figure, corporation,  or government agency.

Reputation is paramount. In this digital world, it’s also more fragile than ever. Organizations need access to tools that help them protect their reputation — at the speed of the internet.

“Today, consumers are making more demands, employees are more vocal and investors are scrutinizing every aspect of a company’s behavior. Corporate reputation has become the determining factor for the products they choose, and the stocks they invest in.” - USC Annenberg 2023 Global Communications Report [1]


The financial impact of reputation

  • Reputation accounts for 63% of a company’s market value [2]
  • Misinformation costs organizations $78 billion annually [3]
  • Online and social media attacks affect 46% of organizations [4]

An introduction to narrative intelligence

Narrative intelligence takes a data science and intelligence lens to reputation management. It touches every department of a business, from the C-Suite, to corporate comms to cybersecurity and IT.

To embrace a narrative intelligence strategy, it’s important to first understand a little more about how information spreads online.

What is a narrative?

A narrative is a collection of ideas — phrases, sentences, social media comments, or full articles — that emerge over time about a related subject or event. Narratives provide context, meaning, and emotional resonance to information online, thus influencing how individuals interpret and engage with the topic.

Anything that’s discussed in the news or on social media will typically have a variety of narratives swirling around it. These narratives are essential in shaping public perception, influencing behavior, and driving action for readers and consumers.

A narrative isn’t inherently good or bad. However, deceptive or misleading narratives can be damaging to an organization’s reputation and bottom line.


Themes vs. topics vs. narratives

Themes, topics, and narratives are often used interchangeably. However, each of these elements plays a distinct role in the online discourse.

Organizations that understand these subtle differences will have a better understanding of how information flows online.

Themes vs. topics vs. narratives (2)

A theme is an overarching idea that’s discussed in the news or on social media.

Example: “Employment rights” is a broad theme that serves as an umbrella term for various discussions around minimum wage, unions, health benefits, and more.

A topic is a specific subject or storyline within a theme.

Example: Under the umbrella of “employment rights” lies the topic of Starbucks worker unionization. This ongoing storyline will generate future content, articles, and discussions.

A narrative is a collection of sentiments and reactions related to a topic. 

Example: The Starbucks unionization topic could spawn several narratives. “Starbucks is anti-union” or “Starbucks is not anti-union, but is being portrayed as such” are both examples of narratives that have emerged.

Narratives usually contain a point of view. They leave room for interpretation amongst their audiences, which is part of the reason why they’re difficult to predict.

Narrative intelligence involves detecting emerging narratives, enriching them with context, and taking necessary steps to direct the discourse to minimize reputational damage.


What is narrative intelligence?

Narrative intelligence is a strategic solution organizations use to detect, decipher, and defend their reputation from online narratives. By analyzing how narratives form and spread across the internet, narrative intelligence empowers brands to gauge threats, shape effective response plans, and make informed decisions swiftly.

Narrative intelligence involves identifying patterns and trends within the digital information flow. Whether leveraging data to gain a holistic understanding of narratives at work for your brand or tracking narratives around your industry, competition, and leaders, organizations can leverage data to get the whole picture. The insights they generate using narrative intelligence help them detect emerging narratives, enrich them with context, and provide a “threat score” to each. Once these threats are prioritized, organizations can take necessary steps to direct the discourse — before narratives cause major reputational damage.

Narrative Intelligence: A New Approach to Reputation Management

Narrative Intelligence_ A New Approach to Reputation Management (3)

Why is narrative intelligence important?

Narrative intelligence allows organizations to turn chaotic data into clear insights and proactively address reputational risks — so they can spend more time shaping narratives around their brand. A robust narrative intelligence strategy is key to managing organizational reputation in a fast-moving online world.

The speed, quantity, and virality of online discourse can often feel overwhelming. Narrative intelligence is designed to help organizations actively navigate the challenges of this complex landscape.

Who should be focused on narrative intelligence?

For many years, media monitoring and reputation management were siloed activities — only viewed as the responsibility of communications and PR teams.

Narrative intelligence embraces a much more holistic approach. Managing your reputation requires effort from every part of the organization:

guide to teams using narrative intelligence

C-Suite Leadership

Company leaders are often seen as the faces of their organizations. As the people most likely to speak publicly about their organization, C-Suite leaders must have a robust understanding of the narratives at play. And that doesn’t just mean the narratives around their brand; it’s important to understand the buzz around your competitors, industry, and broader business/political landscape.

Reputation is closely tied to another “r-word”: revenue. Organizational reputation has a proven impact on share prices and bottom lines.  C-Suite leaders are responsible for enhancing brand resilience and reputation — which will ultimately drive consistent revenue.

Comms and PR Teams

Comms and PR teams are no longer alone in the world of narrative intelligence — but they are still key in managing organizational reputation. These teams must proactively monitor industry and brand narratives, guide decision-making and stay ahead of threats. Beyond understanding which narratives are surfacing, these teams must also gain insights into why and how they came to be. 

Deeper context and understanding allow for better recommendations when it comes to reputational decision-making.

Social Media Teams

Social media teams are responsible for identifying and analyzing rapidly spreading narratives in real time. Of course, major platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, X, and Reddit will be top of mind. But conversations on less-heralded platforms – Telegram, VK, Weibo, etc. — must also be captured and understood. Narrative intelligence tools extend beyond just social listening. They help teams understand the narrative taking shape around their industry or brand while also streamlining the manual aspects of monitoring various channels.

Analytics Teams

As we’ve mentioned, narrative intelligence takes a data science lens to reputation management. Analytics and data science teams can help use quantitative analysis to surface actionable insights with speed and at scale for executives and company leaders. Methodologies such as narrative machine learning can accelerate manual sentiment analysis to help organizations respond to narratives faster.

Security Teams

Narrative intelligence is a strategy that helps protect an organization’s brand, reputation, and people. CSOs and CISOs can leverage the insights gained from narrative intelligence to uncover misinformation and disinformation threats and protect their organization from a cybersecurity standpoint. With a proliferation of hacks and data breaches these days, narrative intelligence helps organizations safeguard from emerging online threats.

How to enhance your organization’s narrative intelligence strategy

Narrative intelligence is an important part of your reputation management toolkit. So what’s the best way to enhance your narrative intelligence strategy across your organization? Here are three ideas:

Provide employee education on narrative intelligence strategies.

Managing your organization’s reputation is an “all hands on deck” type of effort. Anyone responsible for reputation management should have access to robust narrative tools. That means we should also educate employees on how to interpret and leverage this data to protect their organizations.

Emphasizing the importance of reputation — and providing educational resources — can help every employee take part in your narrative intelligence strategy.

Combine a qualitative and quantitative approach.

Data is great. Data with context is even better.

Simply gathering large volumes of data isn’t enough. Company leaders need to invest in understanding how audiences spread narratives, identifying why those narratives are gaining steam, and discerning the credibility of sources. Combining a qualitative and quantitative approach will help organizations react to narratives quicker, and make better decisions as they shape the narratives around them.

Implement AI and ML to augment human analysis.

The outdated approach of analysts manually combing through countless press clippings or social media posts and relying on complex "boolean" queries needs to evolve. Organizations must be able to react in real-time — at the speed of the internet — to shape decision-making around emerging narratives.

Narrative machine learning technology offers a solution by automating this process and analyzing vast amounts of data to pinpoint emerging trends. This frees up human experts to focus their efforts on addressing or responding to the identified narratives. It also means organizations don’t have to wait weeks for reports, which might be outdated by the time they’re produced.

This holds true across virtually every industry; let's allow AI to handle the grunt work and reserve our human workforce for tasks that require their expertise.

PeakMetrics: The leading narrative intelligence solution

The way that organizations monitor and manage their reputation needs to change. An increased volume of data — due in part to the emergence of generative AI — has given life to a new breed of digital threats. Leadership teams need new strategies that help add context, understanding, and action to the crowded information landscape.

PeakMetric’s narrative intelligence framework unifies the three key elements of narrative intelligence within one solution:

detect. decipher. defend. framework

Detect emerging narratives.

The first step involves identifying emerging narratives around your brand, industry and competition in real-time. There is truly so much content out there — social media conversations, online news articles, TV broadcasts, etc. 

PeakMetrics offers the most comprehensive dataset in the industry, allowing you to monitor more than 1.5 million media sources and social media platforms in realtime. 

Using narrative machine learning, our solution will help your team understand the narratives surrounding your brand, industry, and competition to gain insights into the authors and domains behind the conversation. PeakMetrics will surface instances of digital deception and media manipulation to help you follow the forces at play within each narrative.

Decipher their significance.

Identifying narratives is an important part of the puzzle — but you can’t stop there. PeakMetrics works to analyze these narratives and prioritize the ones you should focus on.

Using our platform, you’ll generate AI-Driven threat scores to evaluate the risk associated with each narrative — helping you distinguish between smoke and fire.

PeakMetrics is also integrated with key partners to add additional context and understanding to the data you gather:

  • NewsGuard: Acquire credibility insights around the websites driving online narratives.
  • Reality Defender: Combat digital deception and deepfakes at scale.

Defend your brand.

Once you’ve detected and deciphered the most pressing narratives, our solution helps you take action.

Receive actionable insights to guide your response planning. From takedown notices to new talking points, PeakMetrics has you covered.

Your team will support efficient decision-making with in-depth intelligence reports from PeakMetrics’ expert analysts. This means you can move fast even when resources, expertise, or time are limited.

Brands and governments use PeakMetrics to turn chaotic data into clear insights and proactively address reputational risks so they can spend more time shaping narratives around their brand.

Detect, decipher, and defend against online threats to your reputation with PeakMetrics.

Request a demo

] USC: 

[2] Weber Shadwick: 

[3] CHEQ/University of Baltimore: 

[4] Edelman: 

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