As humans, we’re wired to socialize. Even in the modern, digital age, 42% of people still prefer in-person interaction, which trumps technological connections like texting, email, and social media. No matter how digitalized we become, the inherent desire to connect with others remains.
A big part of effectively engaging and interacting is possessing “social intelligence”, a term which was first coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920. Improving your social intelligence is beneficial in many ways, including developing a better marketing strategy.
What is social intelligence?
Initially, Thorndike defined social intelligence as “a person’s ability to understand and manage other people, and to engage in adaptive social interactions”. However, the definition was tweaked slightly in 1987 by social psychologists John Kihlstrom and Nancy Cantor to refer to "the individual’s fund of knowledge about the social world.”
Whichever definition you prefer, social intelligence essentially boils down to knowing one’s self and others, and being able to relate, build relationships, and navigate social situations.
In his book, "Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships", science journalist Daniel Goleman explains that the human brain is designed to form and optimize relationships - and he offers some specific examples.
For instance, our brains contain more spindle cells, a neuron that’s linked to socializing, than any other species. We also have mirror neurons that fire when we observe another person performing an action. Mirror neurons are what enable us to understand the actions of others, and compel us to subconsciously imitate them. For example, we have a tendency to mimic body posture, where we subtly sit or stand in a way that reflects another person's posture.
The bottom line is that we’re inherently social creatures, and mastering social intelligence is what helps us interact fluidly, and build meaningful relationships with others.
What kind of decisions can social intelligence influence?
The key components of social intelligence, such as understanding and being able to relate to others, are also directly applicable to marketing.
“A brand needs to not only understand its own vision, mission, core benefits, and differentiators internally, but it must also understand its customers, competitors, and market,” explains content marketing specialist Graeme Anderson.
First, social intelligence gives you a better understanding of your customers. When you’re in touch with your customer base, and are able to put On a more granular level, you can also understand individual personalities, interests, hobbies, and so on. It can additionally make you aware of any friction points which could disrupt the customer journey, so that you’re able to adjust sales model, branding, advertising, and content to better meet the needs of your customers.
Social intelligence also factors heavily into brand success on social media. Some 90% of social media users communicate with businesses through this medium, and 63% now expect brands to offer customer service through it. Being socially adept is critical when engaging with customers through social channels, as it will better enable you to anticipate their needs, address their concerns, and provide outstanding customer service.
It’s also helpful for efficiently interacting with leads and capitalizing on sales opportunities at the right time. In one case study, a financial services firm that was missing out on sales opportunities because they couldn’t immediately detect changes in a prospect’s lead status used a web data integration solution to streamline the process.
More specifically, they used it to feed updated data to Salesforce so that they were always current on each prospect’s lead status. In turn, leads were either updated or eliminated each day so that their sales staff could pounce on hot leads and focus their attention on prospects that were most likely to convert.
Finally, it can play a significant role in performing competitive analysis. Understanding the behavior, logic, and strategies of your competitors will enable you to get 'inside their head', which can have some major benefits. You can figure out their strengths and weaknesses, better predict their future strategies, and identify untapped market opportunities.
This will put you in a position to fine-tune your own marketing strategy, and accelerate business growth.
Who has used social intelligence well?
One example of a brand that’s thrived using social intelligence is UK-based eCommerce fashion company ASOS.
Two of ASOS' biggest markets are the UK and the U.S. - which, as the company found out, are quite different in terms of demographics, professions, and interests.
ASOS’ objective was to better understand their loyal customers in these markets and adjust their marketing efforts accordingly. One of the key differences they found was that a large percentage of UK customers were students, who, as a result, were more active at later times of the day when school was over.
After gaining this insight, they adjusted their social media activity, and were more active later in the day to better suit the needs of their customers and ensure a fast response. This is key, considering that 85% of customers on Facebook expect a response from companies within six hours.”
As for U.S. customers, ASOS discovered a trend where this audience spoke frequently about events and celebrities.
The following illustrates commonly-used words that differentiate the two customer bases:
Using these insights, ASOS varied their marketing approach. They focused on event sponsorships and celebrity endorsements to reach their U.S. audience and partnered with influential bloggers to reach their UK audience.
Another example is the online restaurant reservation service Bookatable - they use social intelligence to perform competitive analysis so that their social media manager is automatically alerted whenever someone mentions a top competitor on social media. As soon as he’s notified, he instantly jumps on and starts a conversation to get Bookatable on the radar of targeted leads.
Business apparel company Cintas also uses social intelligence for competitive analysis, but in a slightly different way. They use it to see what mistakes their competitors are making so that they’re able to learn from them and improve the customer experience. To do this, they monitor what their competitors’ customers are saying about them and what their overall sentiment is, which can be done with sentiment analysis tools.
Being book smart is important, but having street smarts is equally – if not more – important.
Social intelligence is largely what facilitates street smarts, and applies to many facets of life, including marketing - not only can it help you better understand your customers and interact with them seamlessly, but it also provides insights into your competitors, and their strengths and weaknesses.
By developing your social intelligence, and using relevant data solutions, you can refine your marketing strategy and enhance the customer experience.