Developing your Social Media Crisis Radar

An angry tweet directed at your brand. An unflattering photo of a broken product or promise on social media. Demanding DMs in your inbox. Any seasoned social media or communications pro knows the many forms of negative customer posts well.They also know that with a touch of sensitivity and maybe a coupon code, they can win over a disgruntled user. Or can they?

Many a social media crisis started out looking like the above scenario – before becoming something bigger. Only those with a well-developed radar for crisis will be able to tell.

What is “Crisis Radar?” It’s the ability to know the difference between negative chatter and true chaos. Someone with a well-developed Crisis Radar can catch a blowup when it’s just a spark. They can see a negative mention and know if it’s something more. That way, they can score the biggest possible advantage in crisis communications: early awareness.

Understanding the difference between chatter and crisis

Social Media Crisis CommunicationsClearly, two columns are not enough to contain all of the negative attention one can experience on social media. But these two distinctions do create a useful spectrum. The more a post has in common with the left column, the more likely it is just typical chatter. The more it has in common with the right, the more you have to worry about! These distinctions will typically exist even at the first few negative mentions.

The core difference between social media chatter and an early-stage social media crisis is the strength of the emotional reaction. The closer to a person’s moral center the offense is, the more likely they are to be upset. If the norm or moral offended is common, even if just in your audience, the more of a possibility of crisis.

It can still be challenging to tell if an unhappy user had a bad day or is about to burn your business down. That’s why your next step in honing your Crisis Radar is to understand what specific crisis your brand is at risk for.

Sketching out crisis scenarios

The ability to identify red flags is a foundation of Crisis Radar. To do so, research and analyze what has gotten users to engage and react in a negative capacity before. Go back into your data and see what has generated negative mentions in the past. Pay especially close attention to any crisis that has already happened.

Don’t just pay attention to crisis that has impacted your brand, scope out the past crises of your competitors too. The factors that caused any of these past crises are often able to create risk of another disaster. Any long-standing issue, such as unethical labor practices, can continue to produce upset.

You can even drill down and understand the crisis potential for each segment of your audience. Just divide the data and analyze accordingly. You can segment by gender, age, geographic location, etc. Most native analytics platforms offer some capacity to segment your data.

Recognize the themes in the sentiment of very negative posts from the past. Ask yourself, “What were the issues causing the most upsets?” Use this as you brainstorm a list of scenarios that could result in a fiery social media crisis blowup. As you imagine each scenario, picture what red flags could appear on social media before the conversation explodes.

Let’s try an example:

Imagine you are the community manager for a health food brand. Your company produces wholesale products and has a few brick and mortar locations as well. Your most loyal fans perceive your food products to be produced with their health in mind, which to them means organic farming methods and unprocessed foods.

As a group, they have an abnormally high interest in ethical food production. They prize the feeling of eating food that they perceive to be “the best” for their body and makes them feel like they are doing good in the world. Let’s dream up ways your brand could accidentally piss them off, shall we?

Social Media Crisis Food SafetySocial Media Crisis Animal CrueltySocial Media Crisis Hidden Ingredients

Identifying pre-crisis posts is easy when you map out possible scenarios beforehand. This way, you can recognize any red flags immediately. You’ll then be well on your way to the most effective crisis intervention possible: early intervention.

Understanding negative mentions.

The growth in negative mentions is a key point of interest in crisis diagnosis. When negative mention growth quickly rises outside of normal territory, this is often a sign of worse things to come. Someone able to recognize this in their social media data will be able to take action as soon as possible.

With any brand, some negative mentions are par for the course. Consequently, there should be a relatively stable amount of negative mentions you can expect in a day or week. The amount will vary by brand type and size. Recording the amount of negative mentions for a few months should give you a good idea of what to expect from your brand. The larger the date range you observe, the better.

Once you understand what is “normal” negative mention volume in your community, you’ll know what “abnormal” growth looks like. You want to pay attention to both the size and speed of growth. When negative mentions grow unusually large and quickly, that’s when alarm bells should go off for any community manager. It could signal a reputation-endangering event creating an uproar.

Let’s take a look at how to find the cusp of a social media crisis graphically.  Imagine a medium-size brand with a typical negative mention rate of two to four per week. This is how chatter and impending crisis differ graphically for that brand:

Social Media Crisis GraphSocial Media Crisis Negative Mentions

We see that the graph on the left is fairly even, almost flat. The amount of negative mentions on any given day is unchanged from the norm. The graph on the right shows a different story. Negative mentions are steeply increasing, starting on Tuesday. It would be a good idea to examine what issue may have come to light on that day and deduce if the uptick in negative mentions is related.

Add this data awareness to your monitoring approach, and your Crisis Radar will thank you. The secret to catching disaster early is monitoring, monitoring, and more monitorin.! Remember to combine it with the practice of sketching out crisis before they happen, so you know what red flags to watch for. You’ll then know when you have chatter or social media crisis on your hands.

Wondering what to do once you actually have a crisis? We’ve counseled many brands on how to handle their crisis communications, and we’re happy to help you too. Contact us here.

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