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The Importance of Digital Listening

Crisis management is an art that takes experience and intuition to be successful. With the rise of big data in recent years, this process can now be expedited to reach valuable conclusions based on analytics and facts. The rise of social media and organizations’ involvement in it creates an immediate, two-way path of communication that has to be monitored constantly. It can be daunting, but a communications team that understands these key purposes will be able to elevate their brand in ways not possible only a few years ago:

  • Measure reputation against competitors
    • You may be doing well, but are you doing as well as your direct competition?
  • Anticipate and track issues
    • Are you able to pick up on stories before they hit the news cycle?
  • Engage with messages
    • What are the most important positive or negative events that you need to be responding to?
  • Identify influencers
    • Who are the movers and shakers for your organization outside of your organization? How can they help or hurt you?
  • Change culture within an organization
    • Are there members within your own organization causing misinformation or creating a negative image of your brand?

You can’t just start tuning in to your audience when a crisis occurs. You have to have a general baseline that you’ve developed to understand the normal volume of activity you normally generate. The longer you’ve had this baseline, the easier it will become to notice spikes or dips and deep-dive into the possible causes of this unusual activity.

This concept becomes especially beneficial when in an industry where you have a high likelihood of consistent, small crises. Think of an airline company as an example. They may have thousands of flights each day, and they may be dealing with delays or security issues every single day as part of this. Having an idea of what sorts of crises get what sort of traction will allow you to recognize when there is a possible crisis worth responding to. This alone will save you time and resources almost immediately.

Another benefit of digital listening is the ability to do a surface-level dive into other breaking stories at the time of your own crisis. What other headlines are circulating while your organization’s events are being publicized? Often when a crisis is occurring, it seems to surround your every move. You think, “wow, everyone must be talking about this!” But without having a grounded understanding of the amount of traction it is getting in relation to other stories, you could end up doing more harm than good by blowing it out of proportion. We often see leaders that want to rush to defend themselves or their team against the negative press and end up fanning the flames when the story would’ve otherwise died down. It goes back to the infamous Barbara Streisand effect, whereby in an attempt to hide or combat a piece of information, you could end up publicizing it more widely.

Digital and social listening does not guarantee that you will be ahead of the curve every time, but if you are not consistently listening to what your brand reputation is in the public forum, you are guaranteed to be behind. This is the first rung in the ladder of public relations, and all the insight you gather to make thoughtful decisions in the future needs to come from this key action.

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