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Modern Listening for the Modern PR Crisis

It wasn’t too long ago that disseminating information at a scale required access to a printing press and newsstand distribution, a radio mast, or TV network. 

Today a story published on an obscure blog can achieve global reach thanks to the ubiquity of the internet, the propulsive power of social media, and a growing number of messaging apps. 

Dubious influencers aside, one outcome of this digital revolution has been to give the public at large greater opportunity to hold organizations and institutions to account. Bad actors are now far more likely to have their transgressions published and openly debated. 

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These dynamics present growing challenges for those tasked with managing corporate reputation, especially as a story doesn’t need to be true to gain traction. To paraphrase the famous adage, fake news gets halfway around the world before the truth has put its boots on. 

So what can organizations do to address these challenges and stay on top of reputation across the vast media landscape? The answer lies in the right combination of technology and human analysis. 

Media Monitoring to Avert PR Crisis

Clearly, in any potential crisis situation, time is a crucial factor. The more time you have to analyze the issues and prepare a response, the better it is. To aid this process organizations are turning to monitor technology to capture brand mentions automatically.  

Technology does much of the heavy lifting to gather and sort vast quantities of articles and social media posts at speed. This makes getting to the stuff that actually matters easier and isn’t just useful in a crisis,  but helps inform organizations how they are positioned on a day-to-day basis. 

Avoid scrambling to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted and taken full advantage of the technology available to spot the signs of crisis early. Start monitoring now if you are not already. 

Engage your Media Intelligence Provider 

If you work with one, make sure your crisis plan includes your media intelligence provider. The plan should detail all the steps they will take when a crisis happens such as supplementing your standard daily coverage reports with real-time WhatsApp alerts and triggering additional issue reporting. With your provider focussed on delivering the insights, you can focus on preparing your response. 

Human Analysis is Crucial 

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Media monitoring technology delivers data, but it won’t do the critical thinking for you. Very often automated dashboards will aggregate data in a way that hides valuable nuggets of information. This can result in missed opportunities to identify potential crisis areas and course-correct before they develop further. 

While much is made of the exciting potential of AI, most people procuring media monitoring technology for PR teams are not computer science graduates and don’t always understand the limitations. 

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In a recent Lunch with the FT, British mathematician Hannah Fry proposed the following test to sniff out the chicanery of those promising great things from AI. “If you take out all the technical words and replace them with the word ‘magic’ and the sentence still makes grammatical sense, then you know that it’s going to be bollocks.”

Human analysis is vital to decide what is important and to distill that data into actionable insights. Attractive dashboards are useless in a crisis unless they are telling you something you can action. 

Often, human efforts are also required to access the data gaps technology cannot cover. This doesn’t have to be in some dark corner of the internet, it might simply be a post on LinkedIn which can only be captured manually. 

Two ears and one mouth 

If a crisis is brewing you need to know the full extent of the situation – it may not be as bad as you think. In most cases the reputational impact of an individual social media post is negligible, but this is where human judgment is key. The credibility of the author, the number and type of followers they have, the volume of engagement and the nature of comments should be considered along with the content and sentiment of the post itself.  

Reporting should include the main drivers of discussion, which platforms and stakeholders are influencing the narrative, and who the advocates and detractors are. This will arm you with the insight required to decide exactly how to respond. If you decide a response is necessary you also want to keep track of its impact to see how the narrative is shifting. 

Finally, once the initial stages have passed a follow-up reputational study will help evaluate the effectiveness of the response and the long-term impact of the crisis. This process forms a feedback loop for future communications and crisis planning.   

In Conclusion

Embrace media monitoring technology, but understand that simply having access to more data isn’t a solution to measuring reputation. Technology has limitations and understanding human communication is a massive challenge even for cutting-edge AI. 

Include your media intelligence provider in your crisis planning and build plans that specify the action you need from them if a crisis occurs. This will save valuable time when you need it most. 

First-rate reputation management combines the best that technology and human analysis have to offer. Understanding how to apply the strengths of both is the key to staying on top of an increasingly complex communications arena.  

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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