March 22, 2012 2 Comments
It used to be that a corporate crisis was triggered only by major events involving top executives, global scandal or industrial accidents. The media would relay the news at best on a daily rhythm and giving company spokespersons as much coverage as the news itself. The public would get daily updates from a limited number of sources, most often TV, maybe the morning radio and a newspaper. Coverage would be very similar, providing incremental information in a linear fashion as time went by. Only the amount of coverage in a given publication or program would determine how much of the story people got to read or watch.
Contrast this now with a classic social media outbreak such as the Domino’s Pizza or United Airline broken guitar videos. Created by amateurs – employees for Domino’s Pizza and a disgruntled customer for United Airlines – these received millions of views on YouTube in only a few days, spread from friend to friend every minute and got relayed by mainstream media, sometimes without the respective companies having their say.
Both videos triggered response from the highest levels of management in spite of the original incident being fairly minor : yes, the Domino’s Pizza video was disgusting but the gravity of the facts pale in comparison to what would have been necessary to generate as much noise only 10 years ago. And the United Airlines example – and its almost 12 MILLION views – highlights the possibility for the dissatisfaction of a single customer to find a great echo with the other members of the public when the heat would previously have been kept private.
Given that the probability of positively resolving a crisis decreases in time, with simultaneously increased crisis management costs, this greater propagation speed not only means more frequent crises but also more complex and costly resolutions. An efficient monitoring process and well rehearsed response plans are the best safeguards against this phenomenon.
Here are 10 ways media monitoring will help you avoid the worst before, during and after the crunch :
- Knowing you natural channels. The most effective crisis management device, bar none, is a favourable terrain. Surveys show, year after year, that a company with a good reputation will be much less affected by bad news than another with a low trust capital. Pretty obvious but not always acted upon. Cross-channel media-monitoring will tell you exactly who is talking about you and where discussions are taking place. Also what media and what channels are covering you.
- Closing the gaps. Conversely, by monitoring your competition and industry topics, you will also find who isn’t talking about you, but should be. This lets you start conversations and begin building trust in other important corners of online and social media.
- Understanding propagation. If, through your monitoring, you’ve been paying attention to what the information propagation patterns are in your industry, you’ll have a pretty good idea of who starts rumours, rants and misinformed discussions. And of who amplifies news, who defends your positions or corrects errors. Not only should this provide you with plenty of ideas for engagement before a crisis, it will also help you react much more efficiently when red alert is sounding.
- Understanding pain points. You might be surprised with the topic that ignites a crisis. There probably was no way for Domino’s to anticipate the coup-d’éclat of their employees but, in most cases, it’s pretty easy to understand what the main pain points are for your customers (or partners, or employees …) and prepare for disaster in that direction.
- Detecting a problem early. If my lengthy intro tells you anything, it’s that speed is an essential ingredient for success. Frequent feed updates will give you an early start and the ability to at least establish an official presence in the discussions very early on to correct mistakes or, at worst, simply say “I don’t know, but we’re looking into it”. In the example below, catching the opportunity to speak out on the 25th is a lot better than a few days later. Real-time is better still.
- Fostering engagement. In the first phases of a crisis, it is important to understand where the threat is strongest. The most angry and most influential relays need to be addressed very quickly. Even if you have very little to offer, identifying the greatest detractors and simply acknowledging you have heard their complaint and are doing everything to look into it, is a great help. This stops the flame wars and buys you (a little) time to prepare for the next step. Since you cannot respond to millions in a few hours, your monitoring must help you pinpoint the most important stakeholders to talk with.
- Planning a response. Your monitoring will then tell you what the exact complaint is and how it is being discussed in the media. What terms are being used? Who is being mentioned? What are the undesirable associations with your brand? … Share these insights quickly inside the company and prepare a response plan.
- Measuring progress. As you reply to angry comment and gradually feed in information, measure how the crisis topics you previously identified are rising or falling in ‘popularity’. Are opinion leaders picking up your information or are crisis related terms still gaining. Monitor constantly and adapt your strategy accordingly.
- Monitor side issues. If you’ve been listening carefully to your communities and to internal discussions, you’ll know what other pain-points are likely to be picked-up as extra fuel in the crisis. Are any of these flaring up ? Prepare responses for all of those that are related to the current hot-topic.
- Checking for secondary flares. I come from the South of France, where the summer time is a period of constant battle against forest fires. After a long day or week of extinguishing the main fire, an intense watch is set up at many peripheral point to be ready for spontaneous re-igniting. In a dried-out landscape, a single incandescent log forgotten under ashes is enough to start the fight all over again. Crisis management follows the same logic. And when the main combat phase seems over, you need to be particularly watchful for new spikes. So keep the monitoring very regular and use what you learned in the previous phases to monitor the terms most likely to mean trouble.
- Rebuilding trust. If all goes well, your side of the story should progressively get greater share of coverage. Measure how consistently you messages are relayed and how the tone relating to these gradually shifts to green.
Effective crisis management consists if many successive phases, including:
- Comprehensive pre-crisis engagement to establish a favourable terrain
- Immediate response, if only to establish a corporate presence, even if you don’t have the answers
- Laying out of a plan and swift communications about it
- Walking the early road to recovery by providing information on how the plan is unfolding
- Re-building trust, which can take 4 years
In today’s instant-information and connected world, mapping cross-channel monitoring to each of these will go a long way towards dealing effectively with the worst the web can offer.
How is your company preparing for such crises ?