Predicting a Social Media Crisis Doesn’t Require a Crystal Ball

One common thread in most of my initial visits with crisis clients is their confession that they did not see it coming. After a quick risk analysis of their online media tactics, I can understand why. It’s a rare client that comes to me because they see a storm brewing in the distance.

Even though organizations may fret and wring their hands about the possibility of getting blindsided by a social media crisis, it is possible to not only see them coming, but prevent them in many cases. . Altimeter research found that as many as 76 percent of crises they studied could have been averted or diminished. Here are three common characteristics many blindsided organizations share, and four quick tactics to get you on the road to predicting if a negative event will grow to a magnitude that requires a response.

Commonalities of the Blindsided

  1. No social or online monitoring tactics in place. This is by far the most common characteristic of the blindsided. Some really believe that if you don’t listen, it means people aren’t talking. They may even have a full stable of social media tools in place, but nobody is listening.
  2. No regular risk or blind spot analysis. Organizations get used to their own bad habits. As long as they are successful and all looks well, they just keep on. Regular risk analysis is a smart business practice. And this isn’t just operational or asset-related. This means reputation as well. After analysis, cautionary road signs should be erected to signal trouble that everyone can recognize.
  3. Misunderstanding of how specific social media tools should be used. I have found that people who get blindsided don’t understand the intricacies of social media channels and how to use them well. They don’t usually get that social media, if used well, has the power to build advocacy that can protect reputation, not just sell widgets.

Four Ways to Start Predicting Now

  1. Set up a basic social media monitoring system that tracks your brand, your competition, your advocates, and your detractors. This can be as simple as using Google Alerts strategically or as sophisticated as subscribing to an SAAS such as Radian 6, Meltwater Buzz, or Sprout Social (affiliate). Our agency provides monitoring services for brands that are very cost effective. You can do it yourself, or you can outsource it. Whatever you do, start now.
  2. Make a list of issues in your organization that need oversight and set up a system now. This could take the form of an initial SWOT analysis, internal staff interviews, or a customer satisfaction survey. Take some initial tactical steps to make this part of how you do business. If you have customers and you don’t have a feedback mechanism for them in place, get one set up. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Put together a non-threatening feedback protocol for internal staff. Make sure they feel their input is valued. If necessary, bring in at outside agency to perform an initial analysis and recommend action steps.
  3. Get some social media help from a reputable agency that understands advocacy and reputation strategies. The new wave in social media is reputation protection through advocacy. Smart organizations are finding ways to build strong armies of advocates that become a marketing force and reputation shield. We are learning that the term online reputation is misleading. It isn’t a matter of having the right search terms in place or manipulating online data to push down a negative event, it’s having live bodies that will back you up when you need them.
  4. Train people to use social media responsibly and to understand what an appropriate response is. Besides getting a monitoring system in place, this is the next step our agency recommends to help prevent a crisis. We have a new workshop training called Practice Safe Social that helps organizations train staff to use social media to build advocacy and reputation. We also work with organizations to understand appropriate response so that they don’t create a crisis where this is none. Every negative event is not a crisis. Front line social media people need to be able to recognize when to respond and how to triage online trouble to the appropriate people.

A crystal ball won’t help you see a social media crisis coming, but implementing these four tactics at some level will. What tactics would you add to the list?


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