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Triage Improves PR Crisis Management

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Social media monitoring can alert brands of customer service problems and potential reputation-damaging crises. But not every problem or negative exchange is a crisis.

Some companies may feel compelled to react to problems with a public statement or social media post. Ironically, that can draw more attention to the initial issue and inadvertently increase reputational damage.

A poor review or disparaging social media post does not qualify as a crisis, at least not usually or initially. Triaging, or sorting issues revealed through social media listening, is the first step in determining the appropriate crisis management response. It’s essential to recognize what’s a crisis and what’s merely an issue needing a resolution.

Convince & Convert cites three elements that can transform a social media problem into a PR crisis.

Lack of information. If you know less than your critics or people at the scene of an incident, you have cause for concern. Such lack of knowledge creates a dangerous information dissymmetry. Once you gain information, the crisis eases.

A substantial change. Some brands routinely receive criticisms — typically the same critiques from the same people. For instance, Nike and Chick-Fil-A routinely receive criticisms due to their positions on political and social issues. A decisive change from the established volume levels or patterns of information signals potential trouble. Watch for new issues and a sudden increase in the volume of negative comments.

A highly undesirable outcome. An issue that impacts a substantial portion of customers or prompts broad interest can lead to long-term reputational damage. “A highly undesirable outcome means that the issue affects or is of interest to a very large portion of your customers or prospective customers and has potential to do lasting brand damage,” state Jay Baer and Lauren Teague of Convince & Convert. “Thus, if you’re a regional or national company, local shortcomings don’t usually signify a crisis, unless the underlying issue is not geographically specific.”

Who is Talking?

Some companies establish an average volume threshold of negative mentions for the brand. Media monitoring can trigger a warning when mentions surpass that mark. Many companies measure volume or the number of media mentions, even in a PR crisis. But it’s often more important to determine exactly who is saying what. How are clients and influencers reacting to the crisis? Their reactions will have the most impact and may require targeted responses.

Katie Goodale, associate director of PR and social media at Hiebing, defines three tiers of crises in a crisis management guidebook. Each calls for a response. They include:

Multi-channel crises pose the greatest risk. Allegations of workplace harassment allegations, product recalls or corporate impropriety attract extensive negative media attention and social media commentary. They call for multi-pronged responses on the company website, social media as well as responses to media outlets. A well-developed crisis response plan is the best defense for such crises.

Emerging crises, typically customer complaints, can likely be diffused if tackled quickly. Sometimes the one-on-one approach of contacting the complaining customer directly is preferable to a community-wide response. “Always monitor all social channels so that when criticisms emerge you are prepared to respond immediately to that specific person, or people,” Goodale stresses. “This way, your company can remain in charge of the narrative and can ensure the issue stays small.”

Industry-adjacent crises are typically crises by association. If a vendor or competitor experiences a problem, it may also infect consumer opinion of your company. The key is to be proactive. While you are monitoring your own social channels, make sure to monitor those of any competitors or vendors whose crises could reflect negatively on your organization. Once you become aware of an incident, release statements as quickly as possible that distance your brand from the problem.

Bottom Line: Not all negative brand mentions call for a full-blown PR crisis response. Over-reacting to potential issues can aggravate the situation. Organizations can determine their level of response by using both news monitoring and social media monitoring to categorize the severity of potential problems.

William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.