The definition of a crisis is “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.” To effectively monitor and manage a crisis, you need to be plugged into the online conversation. Strong, strategic social listening in a crisis ensures you know a crisis is brewing before you get a call from your president, allows you to monitor the issue in real-time to inform your PR response, ensures campus safety, and mitigates brand impact.
If you're always listening to your campus conversation, you'll be ahead of the game when a crisis rises to the surface. One campus example occurred when two baristas working at a coffee shop on the Duke University campus, lost their jobs after a faculty member observed “inappropriate” music being played on the barista’s Spotify account. The case study explores a social media crisis where there was a disconnect between the university's actions and the public's perception of what was right. Social listening might have allowed the university to better understand the public's thoughts and feelings to inform their response. What would you do in this situation? Are you ready to respond when your online conversation spikes to more than 100x normal volume and celebrities, news organizations, and politicians decide to weigh in on the issue by broadcasting it to all of their followers? In order for social listening to have strategic impact in a crisis, you need to be listening before something happens.
Why Online Crisis Communication Is Important
It’s terrifying for modern communication professionals to not be intimately familiar with online conversation, especially in a crisis. In 2017, for example, incidents at United Airlines (a passenger dragged off an overbooked flight and the death of a beloved pet forced to be placed in an overhead bin) were shared, tweeted, and re-tweeted across social media channels. Clearly, the general public knows online conversation matters, as the social media chatter around United Airlines impacted the airline’s brand, reputation, and revenue. Simon Barker, a Managing Partner at Blue Moon Consulting Group, considers social listening a key input into decision making in a crisis:
“Social media is one of the most important tools we have to engage with our varied—and often far-flung—audiences. Any institution that is not engaged in strategic, consistent, and aggressive listening is missing perhaps the most valuable part of what social media can do for us. Whether it's becoming aware of a problem before it becomes a crisis, tracking which messages resonate and which fall flat, or just building a better understanding of who our audiences are and what they want from us, social monitoring provides the best real-time answers to all our burning questions. Too often, colleges and universities wait until they're in crisis to pay attention to social media monitoring, but the savviest institutions understand that there's something to be learned every day through thoughtful, targeted, and sustained listening.”
Erin Hennessy Vice President, TVP Communications
“Social media listening can be a useful tool to understand stakeholder expectations. But its real strategic value is when those insights are brought back to the decision-making table, to inform and alter the approach the institution needs to take. Spending a lot on 'listening' without, apparently, actually 'listening' is the challenge here.”
Simon Barker Managing Partner, Blue Moon Consulting Group
Six Social Media Crisis Metrics
Especially in a crisis, the volume and complexity of social listening data can become overwhelming. Whether your role is to work with leaders to inform campus response, respond to individuals on social media, or work with campus safety, there are key social media crisis metrics that allow you to use the data to identify actionable insights.
- Crisis Conversation Volume: This is the first metric you should measure—it's the number of online mentions related to the crisis. It can be tracked in real time and reported in hourly or daily increments. It identifies all conversation about the crisis—not just the mentions of your campus—and provides you with the full context of the conversation. Over time you can benchmark this metric so you can quickly compare new issues to those you’ve already experienced.
- Crisis Share of Voice: The percentage of the crisis conversation volume that references your campus or individuals associated with your campus. This metric provides important context to the conversation to determine if your brand is synonymous with the crisis, or just a secondary actor.
- Sentiment: The percentage of the conversation that is positive, negative, or neutral. Most social listening software automatically tags mentions for sentiment, but it uses algorithms that are imperfect. Sentiment is only perfectly measured if you have a human reviewing individual mentions using agreed-upon guidelines.
- Top Topics: The words or phrases most often mentioned in the conversation. Word clouds are a quantitative representation of qualitative data, powered by a data table. The frequency of each word or phrase in a data set is counted to create the word cloud. Access to the quantitative data in addition to the qualitative representation helps your team understand exactly what people are talking about in the crisis conversation. This allows you to prioritize messaging and identify threats to campus safety or misinformation.
- Media Mention Volume: The amount of articles published about the crisis. This metric can be ranked according to website traffic, MozRank, or social shares of the articles.
- Individual Mention Volume: The amount of people talking about the crisis, removing mentions from the media or other organizations and focusing on the humans engaged in the conversation. This metric helps you assess the public awareness of the issue.
Strategic Value of Crisis Social Listening
If your campus is experiencing a crisis, there are five questions you should be able to answer at any point. The questions will help you keep key leaders updated on the situation and gather the information you need to inform your crisis response.
The first two questions help you focus on the crisis conversation and understand how intertwined your brand is with the crisis. Question 3 is crucial—it allows you to gain a true understanding of the crisis conversation. Once you understand what the conversation is and who's talking about it you can determine the general sentiment of the conversation and the questions people are asking. The final question can help you understand who is spreading information about the crisis.
Over time, you can benchmark crisis conversation volume for your campus so you can quickly compare new issues to those you’ve already experienced. For example, you could determine if the crisis sparking conversation is roughly equal to the controversial public art displayed on campus last year, or if it’s closer to the time you had to lock down campus after false reports of an active shooter, and react accordingly—if at all.
Benchmarking a crisis helps you understand it in context and how the volume of the conversation compares to past crisis situations that your institution faced. This can inform your response to the current crisis.
Consider Fake Content
Finding factual inaccuracies in the public or media and knowing what to correct is key in a crisis. It's also important to keep in mind that real people ultimately interact with fake content, so even inaccurate information can drive the conversation. Ultimately, it's important to determine who's influencing the conversation so you can correct the information. Analyzing mentions can help you identify influencers and any non-human elements of the conversation (e.g., bots, fake accounts, etc.).
How to Use Social Listening in a Crisis
When a crisis occurs on campus, use social listening to keep key leaders updated on the situation and gather the information you need to inform your crisis response.
Step 1: Create Your Crisis Search Query
Once you're aware of a crisis, build a search query that finds all relevant crisis conversation. This allows you to focus on the crisis, and ignore the other conversations related to your brand that happen on a regular day. It also allows you to understand how intertwined your brand is with the crisis (e.g., do all crisis conversations mention your brand, or only a small percentage?).
This search query may have up to four components that need to be identified. It's important that the search be accurate and comprehensive in order to avoid finding only a portion of the conversation. If you're using social listening software, you can write this query and find results across all online sites, including Twitter, reddit, YouTube, news media, blogs, forums, and Instagram. If you don't have social listening software, you can use a mix of advanced Twitter searching and Google.
Step 2: Create Contextual Crisis Search Queries
Step two is crucial in gaining a true understanding of the crisis conversation. Not every mention will match your first search query, in fact it's common for people to state their true feelings on an issue without rehashing the subject in their message (also known as subtweeting). To find mentions like this, create a separate search query that includes links to all the media stories you found in step one, as well as any hashtags that emerged that are specific to the crisis. Combining the results of your first search query and your contextual search query will allow you to uncover relevant insights.
Step 3: Analyze the Individuals Driving the Conversation
The next step is to determine what tweets are being retweeted, what news articles are being linked to most often, and what journalists, thought leaders, or celebrities are involved in the conversation. This analysis is constant and should continue as long as the issue is considered a crisis. Being aware that a journalist is soliciting quotes from the public, or that an expert released an opinion can give your media relations team the information it needs to identify more breaking news before it happens.
Step 4: Monitor Conversation for Changes and Trends
With a steady stream of new mentions from your search queries, it's important to have at least one person monitoring the new conversation and reporting on trends. How often you do this depends on the size of the conversation and the sensitivity of the crisis. Your goal here is to see if any of the answers to the five crisis questions change in order to anticipate the need to adjust your crisis response strategy.
Social listening is invaluable as part of your crisis communication strategy. If you continually monitor your online conversation, you'll be more prepared for any issues, crisis or not, that come your way.
As part of our issue monitoring service, we analyze strategic issues on your campus so you can focus on messaging and taking action. If a crisis looms, we focus on data gathering and reporting, providing you with the information you need to inform your response. When we monitor a crisis, we guarantee 24/7 monitoring at the start of the issue, automated alerts, daily reports (e.g., volume, source, sentiment, topic), and a summary report. Learn more or contact us to request a consultation.