New York Times READ

The Brand Marketer’s Secret to Social Influence: Talkability

Published by Engagement Labs August 15, 2017

They’re three very different brands, but Apple, USAA and General Mills have a few things in common. Most recently, we identified them as “Movers and Shakers:” the consumer brands that showed the most improvement over the past year in driving the quantity and quality of consumer conversation – offline and online.

These brands stand out because they truly understand how to drive social influence. In our analysis of 500 consumer brands, they achieved the largest increase in their TotalSocial® scores, which measure the most important drivers of a brand’s social marketing performance in social media and word of mouth conversations.


The brands on our “Movers and Shakers” list are very diverse. Among the top 10 are technology and entertainment companies, which many might assume are the categories that would have the most buzz. But also included are insurance firms, travel services and food brands. And there’s a mix of new products, such as the Apple Watch, and well-established companies, like USAA.

As different as they are, they have a key factor in common, and it’s why they’ve all earned a top spot in our rankings. That factor is talkability, which is the ability to motivate consumers to discuss and share news, marketing and other information about your brand.

This is a notable aspect of the number one brand on our list, the Apple Watch. The launch of the Apple Watch 2 created a significant amount of consumer buzz, causing it to move up more than 100 spots on the TotalSocial 500 ranker this year – quite an improvement.

The most interesting observation about Apple’s rise is that they really understand who their consumers are and what motivates them to talk. For example, they know who their early adopters and influencers are, and they leverage this group by seeding it well in advance of a new product launch with bits and bytes of information to create suspense.

By contrast, USAA is a more traditional brand that ranked third on our “Movers and Shakers” list. And let’s face it: insurance, banking and investment services aren’t considered “sexy products” that people want to talk about. But USAA understands its audience of military personnel and their families - and what motivates them. It appeals to them emotionally by creating marketing campaigns and advertising that focus on patriotism.

This approach has given them greater “talkability” and it has worked: A rise in people talking offline about their advertising and marketing is a large part of their overall increase in its TotalSocial performance.

So, what can brand marketers learn from these “Movers and Shakers?” Here are three best practices they follow to create talkability:

  • They measure the conversations about their brand in both social media and real life. These conversations are important because they predict brand performance and provide insights that enable brands to optimize their marketing strategies in both spheres.
  • They develop talk-worthy campaigns. They may use humor, or appeal to a specific emotion that resonates with their audience. Or they might have a unique product, or launch it in a newsworthy way.
  • They take risks. They create campaigns that align with their brand but are also innovative and sometimes controversial – as General Mills did with their “Bring back the Bees” campaign.

Do you know who your influencers are and how well you’re performing in both social media and real-life conversations? We can help you answer that question. Schedule a 15-minute briefing with us to find out how to improve your TotalSocial score.

And, check out our e-book "Lessons from the Leaders of Social Influence, Brands that Crush Their Category and have Consumers Talking" to learn more about how to motivate consumers to talk about your brand.