Crisis Communications Series, Part 1: Listen Before You Speak: Using Social in Crisis
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Chris Syme, former Montana State assistant sports information director and an expert in crisis management planning and social media policy, is the founder of cksyme.org and trains organizations to be their own media, control their own message, and prepare to navigate the deep waters of crisis communications. She is a frequent contributor to CoSIDA.com and a presenter at CoSIDA conventions and in online continuing education sessions. Syme is writing a series for CoSIDA.com on successful crisis communications called "Listen, Engage and Respond."
You can also follow Syme on Twitter.
When it comes to successful crisis communications, planning is the key. To be prepared, use a strategy called, “Listen, Engage, and Respond.” In addition to helping you develop an effective crisis communications strategy, this strategy will help you build and deepen your two most overlooked assets in a crisis - public trust and reputation. Today, we'll look at the listening piece.
First, design a system to listen to the conversations surrounding your brand. You need a feel for the landscape before you start planting. An effective listening strategy has several primary benefits:
• Discover early warning signs of negative or false information that can trigger a crisis if left unattended.
• Uncover ethical blind spots your organization may have.
• Keep tabs on your competitors and find out what is engaging and trending in your sector.
• Find out who your key influencers and ambassadors are.
• Find out who your key critics and watchdogs are.
• Create a culture of value by listening to your internal constituencies. Find out who your best in-house advocates are.
• Find out which social media channels will best suit your organizational culture, and which ones your stakeholders use.
There are six key conversations you should monitor to build your crisis communications strategy. We’ll talk about how to set up some tools to accomplish this later.
1. Brand: Digital Media: What is being said in the digital space about your brand? It’s important to track sentiment as well as messages.
2. Brand: Traditional Media: What is being said in print, radio, TV and other traditional channels about your brand? Again, tracking sentiment is important
3. Core Stakeholders: Identify people who sing your praises, come to your defense, or simply recommend you to others.
4. Internal: What do your employees think about you? Do they have the freedom to speak on your behalf? Identify internal constituents that can become ambassadors
5. Competition: What is your competition up to? Who is recommending them or criticizing them? How are they handling that? Are they talking about you?
6. Sector: Who are the leaders in your sector? Are they saying anything or recommending resources that can help you? Do you follow your sector’s news?
Listening tools can be elaborate or simple. They can be free or expensive. We recommend starting with free tools for a short time and evaluate what people, time, and resources you can dedicate to listening before buying an application. The time frame for experimentation can be as short as a month while you gather information on what pay-per systems are available. Also, check with other organizations that are similar to yours and see what they are using.
No-cost tools are plenty, but you will need a suite to do the work. There is no one all-purpose listening tool that is free. Here is a good list of what is available at the entry level (note these are not all free of charge). We usually recommend a combination of HootSuite, Social Mention, Google Alerts, and Facebook Insights to begin with. This gives a basic overview of the time and effort involved in reading and analyzing data.
Altimeter just released a report in January 2012 on social media management systems (SMMS), many of which have strong monitoring components. Some vendors are missing from this list (notably Meltwater Buzz and Sprout Social), because they do not offer all the components of a true social SMMS, but the report is a good place to start to find a vendor that fits your needs. Look at the column marked "intense customer response" for those that have a monitoring component. Several vendors give breaks to nonprofits and educational institutions.
It is important to set up a monitoring system for your organization. Now is the time to plan for the inevitable before it catches you unaware and unprepared.