The cost of managing an online crisis or reputation issue can seem limitless: PR, advertising, loss of sales, lost productivity, distracted executives, competitive maneuvers, additional customer service, litigation—all can burst budgets.

Worse, bad news travels online at turbo-charged speeds: A negative tweet or nasty video can end up on mainstream media within hours. Think Domino's pizza prank, Kenneth Cole's Cairo tweet, or Gap's logo redesign.

A 2011 global study on crisis preparedness by Burson-Marsteller & PSB found that 79% of business executives expected a crisis within 12 months, about 59% had experienced a crisis in their current or previous company. Yet, although 81% said digital and social media increasingly influence reputation during a crisis, half the companies polled still didn't have a crisis plan.

Companies know to factor in social media as a key—if not foundational—element of a reputation monitoring strategy, but they fall short in having a systematic approach:

  • What to listen for
  • How to structure crisis listening
  • How to identify critical issues

What to Listen For

A proactive reputation and crisis monitoring strategy requires that marketers monitor all key social media channels using keyword searches, and analyze conversations for baselines, trends, and triggers. In particular, you should pay attention to the following:

  • Quality of response. If many people are saying the same thing about your company or brand, that's something worth noting. Are they a mob following each other, or individuals independently discovering something worth examining?
  • The "out of line" response. Someone on the edges of typical responses could offer valuable insight.
  • Source and bias. Who's seeking attention? Who wants favor with listeners or has an agenda?
  • Things you don't want to hear. Such messages offer some of the most important information you can glean, especially for averting or managing crises.
  • More than just opinions. For those with innovative ideas and product plans, find relevant ways to build relationships.
  • Evangelists. Find and nurture those who would defend you should a crisis occur.
  • Reports to relevant stakeholders. Sales, customer services, product management, R&D, etc. can benefit broadly from digital conversations.

Tune In to Crisis

So where do you start? There are three universal human motivations for digital (and offline) activities that you can readily track, quantify, and respond to. Focusing social media monitoring on these will help filter and organize conversations into more manageable segments:

  • Information: I want to know about...
  • Transaction: I want to be able to...
  • Support: I want help with...

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image of Wilson Raj

Wilson Raj is global customer intelligence director at SAS. He is responsible for collaborating with industry leaders, customers, and alliances, and sales, marketing, and product teams, to establish and evangelize SAS's customer intelligence solutions.

LinkedIn: Wilson Raj