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Social Spikes: an Early Crisis Warning System

By Jonathan Bernstein | Small Business

Keep your ear to the ground and catch the need for crisis management early on

The earlier you detect a building crisis, the more effective your crisis management is able to be, but how can you catch a crisis that’s barely beginning to bubble up?

These days, social media serves as the world-wide watercooler, fostering conversation, debate, rumors and even revolution, so what better place to look for indications that trouble’s on the way?

In the following quote, from a Business2Community blog post, social media expert Jasmine Jaume describes what you should be watching for:

The most obvious method for determining possible crises is to monitor the volume of conversation about your brand online.

If a sudden peak occurs, or conversation appears to be increasing at an unusual rate – especially if it is of negative sentiment – take a look into what that conversation is about.

By looking into the conversation you will have a greater understanding of why volumes have increased and can then act on it appropriately before it escalates.

It’s really not terribly complicated when you get down to it. Set up whatever your chosen social media utility is to track mentions of not only company account names, but also your key terms, your competition’s names, you get the idea. The goal is to catch any bit of talk that could remotely affect your organization, and to catch it long before it’s the trending topic du jour. Will there be a load of results that have little to no significance? Absolutely, but you’ll also catch the social spikes that indicate the early makings of a crisis.

For example…

This is certainly work, and you’ll need someone who knows both your business and at least the basics of crisis management to properly keep a handle on the social buzz, but compare these two situations and see which you’d prefer.

Scenario one: A wheelchair-bound customer visits your flagship retail store, only to find that a great deal of it is inaccessible to those with disabilities. They turn to social media to vent their frustrations, and friends pick up the cause, crying out against your organization and its unfair practices.

Your name starts to pop up left and right with negative hashtags trailing every post, but you never even see them, further increasing the anger level in everyone involved. Civil rights groups pick up on the chatter, and the next thing you know your poor architectural planning has sparked Facebook hate groups and you’re being painted as inhuman and uncaring all over the evening news.

Scenario two: A wheelchair-bound customer visits your flagship retail store, only to find that a great deal of it is inaccessible to those with disabilities. They turn to social media to vent their frustrations, and friends pick up the cause, crying out against your organization and its perceived unfair practices.

Now, here’s where watching for social spikes comes in!

Your social media monitoring catches the uproar and you quickly step in to apologize profusely and announce plans to install ramps and elevators in major locations. In a few short weeks you invite the offended customer to test-drive the new store layout and the local media turns out to capture a feel-good story while you rake in the praise on social media.

Is there even any question of which one’s the better situation for everyone involved? If you take a few moments to look at many major crises, you will see that the tipping point came when early concerns went unaddressed, causing them to flare up into majorly negative sentiment.

Active social media monitoring will help prevent crises, as well as better positioning you to make the ultimate crisis management coup – turning crisis into opportunity. Watch for social spikes, and be ready for action when they appear. That’s not all there is to it, but it’s certainly an strong start.

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For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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By Jonathan and Erik Bernstein

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