Digital Marketing Strategy

What to listen for to safeguard your reputation

Experts on a recent panel for Ragan’s Crisis Communications Virtual Conference talked about what advanced monitoring looks like in the post-COVID era.

When responding to a crisis that threatens your brand, media monitoring and social listening are essential tools. With today’s technology, the ability to get direct insights into consumer sentiment is unprecedented—yet, more important than ever.

Not only do consumers expect you to listen to what they have to say on social media, they expect you to take action on their complaints. However, not all of your audiences are listening closely—or demand the same response.

Shannon McClendon, public relations manager for the American Nurses Association and panelist for Ragan’s Crisis Communications Virtual Conference on June 10, offered a blueprint to think about how to monitor your different audiences.

McClendon’s advice on creating media monitoring lists: “Keep it very simple.” She broke down your overall audience into three groups of expanding concentric circles:

In your center, existing contacts with a direct relationship to your organization/topic; people you already know and have a relationship with. “These are key contacts because you want to get your point of view out there quickly,” she says.
Outside that center is your existing contacts who aren’t tied to the issue/organization. Perimeter contacts with tangential audiences who can help reach a broader audience.
On the far outside are at-large media who you don’t have any connection with—the people covering an event in real time. This comes last, because you should not be doing this leg work during a crisis, McClendon says. Go to existing contacts first.

Panelist Mark Weiner, chief insights officer, Cognito Insights, added to the conversation that this audience segmentation should be complete well in advance of a potential crisis.

“We have to understand who out target audiences are,” Weiner said. “The more work you can do in advance, the faster you can move.”

[RELATED: Keep your skills sharp with the comms industry’s most comprehensive online training. Learn more] Preparation provides context

The reason you want to have listening in place before a crisis hits is to be able to provide context to what data you receive during a crisis scenario. Without an accurate baseline, you don’t know what impact your actions are having (or not having). This point was driven home by the session’s third panelist, Theresa Souza, head of sales with measurement and listening platform Signal AI.

 “So much of being prepared is ensuring you understand the context in which you are operating,” said Souza. She advises PR pros think beyond the here and now and ask: “Where is our business going? Do I have mechanism that catch things broadly?”

Of course, broad monitoring is a double-edged sword—the more threats you identify, the more work you create for your comms team. It’s here where the context becomes all important. Without it, your team could be chasing ghosts instead of focusing on issues that matter for your organization.

As a team, thinking about preparedness, Souza recommended you ask: “Do I have the infrastructure to scale and make sure that I get what I need without wasting my time?”

What about automation?

Can machine learning and pattern recognition help your organization process more media alerts? There are tech advances every day, but the final call is still a decidedly human task.

“No tool can replace a strategy of a comms pro,” said Souza, but a framework where your tool box can help process some of your incoming data is crucially helpful as data sets get bigger and bigger.

“Do you have a framework to take on some of that heavy lifting so that the time that you do spend is on analyzing and making strategic connections … and then making business decisions?” Souza asked.

From PR luddites who fear the replacement of human intelligence with machine capability, the panel dismissed the idea that this latest technology is different from other tech advances.

PR has always relied on technology, according to Weiner. “A typewriter was a technology … a telephone was a technology.” Yet for all that the new automation tech can do, human judgment is still irreplaceable in your crisis response.

Weiner gave a client example for how human ability to challenge assumptions can make all the difference in media monitoring. A luxury car manufacturer client was looking to boost sales and “their idea of PR was taking luxury car magazine writers out to a racetrack and having them do laps.” What Weiner learned from the data is that “the penetration for car magazines among people who intended to buy luxury cars ranked 50 out of 100.” Instead, the best media outlet that was read by potential luxury car buyers was “Martha Stewart Living”—a fact that had Weiner’s clients pulling their hair out.

It’s the human ability to think outside the box that provides value to clients and organizations—and could make all the difference in a crisis. Weiner summed up: “Sometimes contrarian thinking is required.”

Marrying data to human insights

The job of a PR pro in a data rich environment is to pull out those essential insights from the overwhelming heaps of numbers that can drown decision makers.

“Eight in 10 execs say they have more data than they know what to do with … there’s frankly too much data for any one person to go through,” said Souza.

“I think about how there has to be a marriage between the data and your insights,” said McClendon. For example, after the murder of Geroge Floyd, McClendon said the ANA knew that it had to make a statement from its audience data on how nurses felt about social justice.

“We know what our audience cares about, and we knew we had to say something but we had to find our lane and use the data and the insights to drive the response,” she said.

It’s this strategic advice that PR pros can offer that makes them indispensable counselors in the current moment when audience are looking to the business community to lead on social issues from racial justice to climate change.

“This is a moment for public relations,” said Weiner. “Companies know they need to say something … they don’t know what to say and they don’t know how to say it.” His point: Data can inform your message, but it is a human response that is required, and it is a comms person who is providing guidance in crafting that message.

When data doesn’t provide the answer

One topic arose in the session’s Q&A that poses a problem for communicators. What should you do when stakeholder sentiment and the data aren’t aligned? When, for example your employees want to make a statement on racial justice, but your consumer data doesn’t prove a definitive reward for such action?

Part of leadership is being in front of a changing social contract or national trend, and not all of your stakeholders have the same position on every social issue. For comms pros, it’s essential to focus on top leaders and make sure that internal statements and actions are at least aligned.

At the minimum, make sure the organization is prepared to respond to an issue, even if you can’t justify a proactive statement, Weiner says.

McClendon advised PR pros to lean on core values to make the case for how to respond to inconclusive data.

“Go back to our values … what do you believe in,” she said. “You can’t make everybody happy, but you have to do what is right.”

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