Gini Dietrich

Six Ways to Use Social Listening in Crisis Communications Planning

By: Gini Dietrich | March 29, 2017 | 
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Six Ways to Use Social Listening in Crisis Communications Planning

Yesterday we began our three-part series about how to use data and analytics in crisis communications planning.

The first focused on Big Data.

If you missed it, go ahead and click on that link above and read it.

We’ll wait.

Good? Good!

The second part is social listening, which is the proverbial canary in the coal mine, when it comes to identifying a potential crisis in the making.

The Canary in the Coal Mine

There are 2.1 million negative social mentions about brands in the U.S. alone—every, single day.

If you are not mitigating the unflattering social chatter about your brand, you risk exposing the digital nastiness to customers who are just looking for service.

Preventing this is crucial when it comes to maintaining and strengthening customer relationships, and building loyalty.

That’s why listening is so important.

We instinctively know this, but how often do you go to a brand’s social networks, only to see comment upon comment without interaction from the organization?

It happens way more often than not.

Social Listening for Crisis Communications Planning

Social listening only works, however, if you are really listening.

That means having a process in place for listening to what your customers—and your detractors—are saying, and analyzing that data at scale.

When you are actively engaged in social listening, it can help you:

  1. Provide an early warning system
  2. Determine scale of the problem
  3. Identify the most appropriate response
  4. Spot trends and predict crises before they happen
  5. Respond quickly and sensitively to the situation
  6. Start to rebuild or repair

Let’s go through each.

Provide an Early Warning System

With the help of Big Data, social listening will enable you to monitor online conversations.

It also provides a trigger and notification if social signals indicate if someone is unhappy or a rogue tweet is gaining momentum.

For your crisis communications planning purposes, this can indicate a crisis is brewing.

During Social Media Marketing World last week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel with Justin Levy from Citrix and Brooks Thomas from Southwest Airlines.

Justin told a story about how they knew something was going to erupt into a crisis versus it just being some boycotters trolling their page.

Their social listening told them there was going to be a boycott of companies that supported Rush Limbaugh.

So they knew that was coming.

But what put their crisis plan in place was that a reporter from MSNBC was tweeting about it.

Had they not been listening, they would have been blindsided when the story ran.

Instead, they were prepared and, while the crisis had them working around the clock for 96 hours, it was mitigated fairly quickly.

All because they had that early warning system.

Determine Scale of the Problem

You can use social listening tools to create alerts based on spikes of activity or specific keywords.

This allows you to check for significant or sudden changes in conversation volume or sentiment around your brand.

If there is a sudden drop in sentiment, you know something is wrong.

As you work through crisis communications planning, figure out what the percentage of sentiment is your benchmark.

And then determine what kind of drop will take you from issue to crisis.

Determine the Most Appropriate Response

In social listening mode for crisis communications planning, you want to look for signs, warnings, and patterns that may include one or more of the following:

  • Frequency and intensity of conversations
  • Sentiment or tone of posts and patterns
  • Key fans or critics, and frequency of their posts, and what their key message is
  • Incorrect information, misquotations, and slander
  • A pattern of comments that uncovers an organizational blind spot or a “ball that has been dropped”
  • Legitimate requests for information in a crisis
  • Negative incidents that could bubble up into a crisis
  • Breaking news concerning the brand, especially from influential non-mainstream media

Spot Trends and Predict Crises

If you’re only following metrics such as brand mentions and impressions, you’ll never know when sentiment around your brand is starting to devolve.

Conversely, if you’re paying close attention to the conversations surrounding your brand—and your competitors—you can spot the warning signs of potential trouble before they pick up steam.

A few negative voices left unchecked are all it takes for things to snowball.

The sooner you can spot them and shut things down, the better.

Respond Quickly

In the heat of a crisis, it can be difficult to identify the protocols of who needs to be involved and what the chain of escalation should be.

That’s why you’ll want to identify and document your social media response framework as part of your regular crisis communications planning.

However, it’s not enough to just respond. Once a crisis is underway, it is possible to make it worse if your brand doesn’t respond in just the right way.

Luckily, social listening platforms with natural language and sentiment analysis capabilities provide all the raw data you need to craft the perfect response.

Part of the data you’ll monitor through social listening is the intensity of emotions being shared on social.

The most extreme, negative voices are the ones you have to address first.

You’ll also want to take note of the most passionate, positive voices—these are the ones who can help you defend your brand, if and when that’s what’s needed.

The important thing is not to guess what consumers need to hear to amend the situation.

Social listening gives you a full and precise picture of your audience and how they’re feeling so you don’t make a misstep when you’re already on shaky ground.

Rebuild and Repair Your Reputation

The crisis communications storm is over.

But your social listening work isn’t done.

Consumer sentiment analysis helps you understand how to rebuild your reputation, by revealing consumers’ concerns and opinions.

When you address these concerns in the right way, you can repair an individual’s relationship with your brand.

And, if you pay attention, you may make their relationship with your brand even stronger.

To effectively engage with social listening, you need to use a social listening platform of some type.

This will allow you to create alerts based on spikes of activity or specific keywords.

By monitoring this over time, and setting benchmarks for normal activity, you can then monitor against that benchmark for significant or sudden changes in conversation volume or sentiment around your brand.

Getting Started with Social Listening

To get started with social listening, you’ll need to build a listening dashboard.

Regardless of what platform or combination of apps you use, you’ll follow these five steps:

  1. Create a dashboard to benchmark and track mentions over time.
  2. Set up your software to alert you to positive and negative mentions. This will help you set benchmarks, and then monitor for changes. A crisis usually occurs when an abnormal number of negative social comments are made.
  3. Identify key conversations so you can monitor what new and traditional media, influencers, competition, and industry leaders are saying. Monitoring social networks will give you a decent idea of how far and wide things have spread once a crisis is upon you, and whether it has been picked up by any media outlets.
  4. Develop a risk matrix that measures things such as volume of posts, audience reach, and whether media has picked up on any abnormal activity.
  5. Technology only goes so far—you need human beings in there to have conversations and make people feel like they are being heard.

Tomorrow I’ll give you an example of the risk matrix mentioned in the fourth step above.

Tools to  Create Your Social Listening Dashboard

For now, let’s work on building your social listening dashboard, with the soul purpose of providing you insight for crisis communications planning.

You can create a social listening dashboard regardless of your budget.

Here are some tools I recommend, grouped by expense:

  • Free: Hootsuite, Google Alerts, Talkwalker Alerts, Social Mention
  • Some Budget: Sprout Social, Hootsuite
  • Large Budget: Cision, Salesforce, Zignal Labs

By tomorrow, you’ll be ready to schedule a meeting with your clients or executives to devise the crisis communications plan.

But do yesterday’s and today’s work first.

Then we’ll get into how to hold that meeting, and what you should have by the end of it.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • I used BrandMentions for free listening with my education association. While comprehensive, I was (at the time) unable to filter out the adult-related tweets so it made for interesting reviews. I forget the keywords I was using.

    • You are the third person in as many days to mention BrandMention to me.

  • Another good listening tool with which I’m playing these days and I like it very much is Mediatoolkit.

    Very easy to use. And I like their customer service…a lot!

    • That recommendation is coming tomorrow, with the media monitoring section. So I agree!

      • Looking forward to that post. I try to subscribe to industry media that we want to advertise in or submit an article to. I like HARO, yet it can time to weed through everything. My group covers three SaaS lines so there is a lot to keep an eye on!

        • Holy hell. My head wants to explode just thinking about that.

          • Yeah, I guess we’re like a mini-internal agency. Corporate handles press releases and other things. It’s been interesting for sure.

  • Edward M. Bury

    Excellent commentary on how to diffuse an emerging crisis. Along with strategically building positive awareness for the client or organization, an equally vital and important role for public relations professionals is to identify threats and work to mitigate the crisis promptly and effectively.

    • And, as you know, most people think a crisis plan is a nice-to-have. Until they’re knee deep in a crisis and don’t know what to do.

  • heidicohen

    Gini–I agree–don’t wait until you need a plan. Be prepared. It’s what we learned in elementary school as scouts. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen – Actionable Marketing Guide

    • You were a scout?!

      • heidicohen

        Yup at least for about 3 years in elementary school. My mom was even the scout leader! Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • paulakiger

    Is there any role for Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. reviews in the social listening matrix? Or are they a whole different factor? Thinking of my friend who owns a frame shop and has shared with me how hard it can be to navigate — i.e., you can pay Yelp for placement and be featured more prominently, one bad review (possibly unjustified) can mess you up unfairly, etc.

    • Yes, all of this monitoring will look at those sites, too. You’ll get an aggregate of everything. Some of the software is even beginning to pick up “dark” social with private Facebook groups and Slack.

    • Yelp is a major problem for a lot of business owners. I know this tends to particularly be an issue with people who have participated in Groupon or some sort of discount site. Which is another piece of interesting commentary on the role perceived value has.

  • paulakiger

    This is a bit of an aside & it’s related to different industries, but I have been struck by this article about how two different pilots had two different outcomes because of their mental modeling, preparation, and how they incorporated teams, preparing them for any eventuality. It seems like it could have a parallel for crisis communications — the the organization and its image being the plane, us being the pilots, and the crisis du jour being the defective engine or other potentially catastrophic failure: http://legalexecutiveinstitute.com/charles-duhigg/

    • This article made me go down a rabbit hole. Did you see Sully, about the plane crash in the Hudson River? It’s a pretty fascinating look at how the human error saved lives, but also got him in a lot of trouble.

      • paulakiger

        I didn’t see the movie but I read the book so I understand where you are coming from.

        • OH…I was just reading an article the other day about natural tendencies people have in crisis and how to be prepare for them. Basically this same thing: Why some people survive against ridiculous odds, and some people don’t, even in pretty mild situations. I’ll have to see if I can find it. So interesting.

  • Cris Hay-Merchant

    Great post, Gini!

  • This post came at a great time, @ginidietrich:disqus. I shared it with students in my Social Media Analytics class at the University of Maryland. We’ve been discussing Monitoring versus Listening. During lectures, I’ve stressed that listening is a greater responsibility than monitoring. If you are listening, your number one item- an early warning system-can be exactly what is needed to prevent an epic crisis. Anyone can monitor a Facebook page, Twitter account, or Instagram. But, if you truly listen to what people are saying, a crisis can be doused.

  • Susan Stoga

    Great tool and thorough analysis @ginidietrich:disqus. All communicators should have this at the ready, whatever level they are at in their careers.

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