A reputational crisis can be triggered at any time in the digital age. Due to the internet and social media, the risk that one comment, one rumor, or one fake news item could go viral is very high. Each industry faces completely different threats: What can be considered a reputational risk for one company can be just another day for another. In this context, not being able to distinguish a potential crisis from isolated negative media coverage can be counterproductive; misreading a situation can open the door to a reputational threat.
Having a crisis strategy is a must-have for every communication department. Nevertheless, the real challenge is detecting when a real crisis is going on. How can you do this? When is it necessary to implement your crisis protocol? Below are some tools that could help you answer these questions:
1. The data: the canary in the coal mine for comms professionals
Nowadays, making decisions without having tangible and clear numbers is like trying to measure the speed of the wind by lifting one finger. Having a media monitoring tool that allows you to track the performance of our media coverage is crucial. The collected data gives you an opportunity to have a broad view of the perception of your brand. For instance: which media outlets cover your brand the most? Which ones are hostile and which ones are allies? Which are the most visible topics related to your brand? And so on.
Data can also provide us with an idea of how your industry (stakeholders, competitors, suppliers) is perceived by public opinion. Having this information will help you establish a benchmark and determine what is a normal coverage and what is not. In other words, monitoring your own industry will give you a point of reference.
2. Determining clear and measurable KPIs
Based on the data collected by your monitoring tool, you will be able to set some Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that will show when it is time to activate your crisis strategy.
Here is a list of some KPIs that could help you determine if you are, indeed, facing a reputational crisis:
Negative coverage is not always synonymous for crisis. In some industries or domains (not all), it is normal to have a certain percentage of constant negativity; especially in services intended for a very large clientele. So, how can you determine yours? It depends on your industry. Constant and judicious measuring of the sentiment toward your brand (products, spokespersons, leaders, related brands, etc), as well as your industry (competitors, stakeholders) can give you a baseline of an acceptable negative percentage.
If there is such thing, of course.
Having negative coverage from the most read newspaper is not the same as having one from a barely known blog on the internet. In the same way, receiving a negative tweet from a user with 200 followers does not have an impact as much as receiving one from someone with 3000 followers. Being aware of the reach of negative coverage is key to determine the existence of a real reputational threat. Before taking any action, it is important to assess the reach and set an acceptable threshold in order to predict whether more media will replicate the information or not.
Negative coverage in the most read newspaper is never a good sign, but the real question you should be asking is: Will the story attract the attention of other media outlets? Will it last? Sometimes negative stories can have a very short lifespan. Taking precautions before releasing a press release is highly recommended. An official communication too early may prolong the life of a negative story by giving more information than needed to the media.
You must know how to choose your battles, and sometimes silence could be the best solution for negative coverage that won’t last too long. Always keeping a close watch on the evolution of a negative story in terms of numbers- how many media outlets have replicated the story, for how many days?- is imperative.
To conclude: Dissecting the data
The immediacy imposed by the digital age requires everyone to monitor and analyze in real time the visibility of their brand in order to be prepared for a crisis situation. A rigorous data analysis that takes into account the aforementioned KPIs, as well as a good ongoing monitoring platform, can enlighten any team as to how and when they should activate their communication crisis protocol.
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