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crisis management

With Thanksgiving just past, most brands can probably agree to be thankful for the amazing opportunity social media affords them – until a crisis hits, that is. Like a strong wind fanning a wildfire, social media makes brand crises that much harder to contain. But protecting your brand from the worst isn’t impossible – it’s all in how you apply Social Analytics.

This is Part 6 of our Complete Analytics Guide series. This series forms a comprehensive Social Media Analytics Guide, with in-depth discussions about the following facets discussed in the previous weeks:

  1. What is Social Media Analytics?
  2. What is Social Media Monitoring?
  3. How to Analyze Social Media Analytics
  4. Competitor Analysis & Executive Reporting
  5. Customer Retention & Community Management
  6. Crisis Management & Response <Currently Viewing

Each section explores how to use Social Media Analytics tools to achieve specific brand goals and maintain optimum brand health. Even when you find yourself under fire.

Facing reality – crises will happen

No brand wants to find itself at the center of a controversy like Barilla did a few years back, or fighting to regain consumer trust the way Samsung is now. CEOs speaking off the cuff and product issues aside, the nature of social media – and the potential for even a single tweet to take on viral life – means all brands are at risk.

samsung tweet


Reputational threats abound online – and any one of them left unchecked can turn into a crisis, the repercussions of which can be longstanding. What do you do when the worst happens? We’ll get to that. First let’s look at your best line of defense – avoiding a crisis altogether.

“No news” is dangerous – stay in-the-know

A single negative tweet isn’t a crisis – but ignoring it could turn it into one. Brands focus a lot of energy on what they’re putting out, but it’s so much more important to pay attention to what’s coming in from the consumer side.

Social Media Listening isn’t about hearing how much your fans and followers love you – though that’s nice to know. It’s about learning what makes them tick, what they want, and how they feel – when they’re happy, and most especially when they’re not.

This is why Sentiment Monitoring is such a key part of Social Analytics. Negative emotions shine a spotlight on areas of opportunity for your brand to address, while positive emotions reveal potential allies in your fight.

Establish a baseline so changes are easy to spot

You can’t know if sentiment is off unless you know where you stand on a typical day, so you’ve got to track overall brand health regularly. Use Social Listening software to monitor the specific metrics that matter most to your brand. Follow everything from core issues to emerging themes, and view via customizable visual dashboards so it’s easy to see what’s happening at a glance.

Using Sentiment Analysis, analyze highly positive posts to find potential influencers – active users with at least 500 followers who will help keep the conversation about your brand positive.

stalley stance

Engage with negative voices before things spiral out of control by empowering a social customer service team with the tools to handle social complaints when they first appear.

Be ready for disaster – even when everything’s great

Most customer complaints can be handled without escalation. True crises come from social posts that gather steam quickly – sometimes before you even know what’s happening. That’s what you always want to avoid. Being prepared with a Social Crisis Plan is how. Here are the components you need:

1. Set up real-time alerts

The worst thing you can be when a crisis strikes is unaware. Every minute you don’t respond is a minute for the crisis to gain momentum. Use real-time monitoring to track changes in social conversation and sentiment, and to identify emerging themes with damaging potential.

Set up alerts for hot button keywords so you know immediately when brand conversation has taken a turn. You can also use alerts to keep you apprised of key influencers to engage when a crisis hits. These alerts can come through your brand’s Social Media Command Center, or be delivered to your laptop or mobile device.

2. Analyze social data to understand what’s driving consumer sentiment

When a crisis breaks your first instinct might be to speak – to apologize, explain, inform. It’s certainly necessary to do this at some point (most of the time), but you don’t want to speak blindly. You can easily make a crisis worse by responding unnecessarily, or by saying the wrong thing.

Ronn Torossian, Founder, President, and CEO of 5WPR, advises, “PR experts should not only decide their stance based on the brand’s look on the issue, but also based on what the public is already saying. This is where social media comes in, giving brands immediate access to invaluable feedback across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more.”

You’ve got to know what’s behind the negative sentiment to be able to effectively address it. There will be times when it’s better to keep quiet in the short term – like agency Camp + King did when fans of the Sacramento Kings reacted to a leaked version of the team’s new logo design. They knew when the actual design was released days later the fervor would die down.

Conversely, drive-thru restaurant chain Checkers was slow to react to a damaging employee video, which had a huge impact on public perception. Brand sentiment – measured on a scale of -100 to +100 – dropped from 58 to -85 during the worst two days of the crisis.

Take the time to sift through social conversations to identify the core issues keeping the crisis alive before making any kind of response.

3. Decide who is doing what – and when and how

Because crises spin out of control so rapidly, it’s important to know who is responsible for analyzing incoming data, who needs access to the data, and who decides what course of action to pursue based on the insights coming through.

Your team could comprise anyone from a single social analyst to an entire crew manning a Social Command Center capable of providing key stakeholders with all they need to know to take action.

Ad agency McCann has experienced the benefits of making Social Media Monitoring a broad operational concern with their “McCann Always On” initiative. Their team has grown from three members to 30, allowing them to grow their business by providing accurate real-time insights to support the growth of their brand clients.

This works for brands as well as agencies. The data Social Analytics offers informs strategy well beyond the marketing department – so you’ve got to share information with the entire C-suite so overarching decisions can be made.

How is that information shared? Ideally in real-time, and visually – for an immediate, but comprehensive, understanding of what’s happening. That’s not to say weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual reports are no longer useful – of course they are. But it’s the real-time data that keeps you safe from sudden disaster.

4. Craft your informed response

Once you have consumer sentiment insights about the crisis, you may have to respond. Part of creating your Social Crisis Plan should be designating team members whose job is to engage with customers. There’s no right answer here as far as how many people will cover this job – it’s about what makes sense for your brand, and the degree and type of communication anticipated during a crisis event.

What does matter is clarity of message and timeliness of response – which requires some thinking ahead. You want to create guidelines for customer-facing team members to follow, and be ready with workflow approvals and access rights for all concerned. And having a way to track communications to examine after the fact is also smart.

You won’t always know what to expect when a crisis occurs – as they hardly unfold with any kind of protocol – but some potential issues are predictable. Use them as a framework as you prepare your team.

James Madison University, for example, knows there are certain hot-button issues they’ll always have to contend with – like affordability and campus safety. They use NetBase to quickly sift through social conversations by audience segment – current students, alumni, and the public – to assess levels of concern for these key topics. This allows them to spot reputational threats early, and defuse situations before they reach critical mass.

jmu tweet

Forewarned is forearmed

Being proactive is super important when it comes to protecting your brand’s reputation online – and using comprehensive Social Media Listening tools to cultivate accurate insights is the best investment you can make for your brand’s health.

The good news is, all your social listening and analysis lends itself to all aspects of your business – so you’re actually saving time and money by not recreating the wheel department by department.

You have the benefit of historical data, of course, to see how consumer attitudes have evolved over time, and to better predict where they could be going. But you also have the benefit of real-time data for spur-of-the-moment course corrections to your ad campaigns, or to alert you to customer service and reputational issues. And that could mean everything to your brand’s longevity – because what you don’t know can definitely hurt you.

Let us help keep you in-the-know with our suite of Social Media Monitoring tools – just reach out for a one-on-one demo.


Image from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers