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Monitoring Social Media to Prevent a Crisis

Last week I started a series on how to include social media in your crisis communications plans. Part one of the series outlines the five necessary elements every crisis communications plan should include. This week we'll tackle the first of those five elements: monitoring social media to prevent a crisis. Let’s start  by looking at key conversations you need to monitor to head off a potential crisis.


People are talking about you whether you are listening or not. Your presence is not a requirement. The first step in crisis communications planning is learning to listen. An effective listening strategy has several benefits:

  • Discover early warning signs of negative or false information that can trigger a crisis, if left unattended.
  • Identify your key critics and watchdogs; key influencers and advocates.
  • Identify which social media channels best suit your organizational culture, and which ones your stakeholders frequent.
  • Follow your competitors and discover what is engaging and trending in your sector.
  • Uncover ethical blind spots your organization may have.

There are six key conversations you should monitor in your listening strategy:

1. Brand (in New Media): Listen to what is being said in the digital space about your brand? It’s important to track sentiment (do people speak positively or negatively about you?) as well as key messages.

2. Brand (in Tradition Media): Listen to what is being said in print, radio, TV and other traditional channels about your brand? Again, tracking sentiment is important.

3. Core Influencers: Listen to identify people who sing your praises, come to your defense, or simply recommend you to others. This is your influence graph. Know your enemies as well. They are the dark side of your core influencers.

4. Internal: Listen to what your employees think about your organization. Do they have the freedom to speak on your behalf? Identify internal constituents that can become ambassadors.

5. Competition: Listen to what your competition is up to. Who is recommending them or criticizing them? How are they handling that? Are they talking about you?

6. Sector: Listen to the leaders in your sector. Are they saying anything or recommending resources that can help you? Do you follow your sector’s news and influencers?

Set Up a Dashboard

How are you going to monitor those conversations? First, set up a monitoring dashboard. Hopefully, you already have a system for monitoring mentions of your brand online, but if you don’t you’ll need to set one up. To streamline your social media operations, use a system where you can monitor, post, and measure all in one spot.  The object of this system is to cover as much of the web as possible including blogs, news services, and all the social media channels.

There are tools for every budget. An overview follows. I do want to mention that this is not an exhaustive list and I suggest you do your homework.

No Budget: Hootsuite, Google Alerts, Social Mention, and others

I’ve found that Hootsuite  is the most comprehensive (and reliable) free tool for monitoring basic social media chatter as of this writing. Hootsuite also has  good applications for tablets and phones. The service is “in the cloud,” meaning it isn’t housed on your device, so you can login to your account anywhere, at any time, and from any device.

With the free version of HootSuite, you have the ability to monitor accounts from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,  and Google Plus. There are also apps for Instagram, YouTube, Evernote, and others.  You are allowed one admin to control those accounts, and you can monitor (and post to) a maximum of five social media accounts.  Also, HootSuite offers some very basic tracking analytics if you use the service as your SMMS. More tools are offered through a paid upgrade.

Google Alerts and Google Analytics are easy to set up and cover mentions on the web, but the search giant is not as strong for social platforms. Google does not monitor individual Twitter or Facebook posts, so you will be missing some conversations if Google is your only tool set. However, Google Analytics launched a new set of social reports in spring 2012 (link above) which can help you identify social traffic patterns.

With Google Alerts, you can schedule several keyword searches to monitor, and control how often you get notifications:  as it happens, once per day, or once per week.  If you are monitoring for crisis, we suggest you use “as it happens.”

Low Budget:  Sprout Social , Hootsuite Pro

When we say low budget, were talking less than $50 per month. Hootsuite Pro is now $8.99 per month and offers unlimited profiles in the platforms Hootsuite supports , an additional admin, integration with Google Analytics, unlimited RSS feeds, Facebook Insights integration, an archive option, and access to more data reports. A current list of what you get for your money can be found here. Hootsuite does not search the internet in general. You will need to supplement with an internet search of some kind such as Google Alerts. For me, the biggest drawback is that analytics cost extra. You receive one free report and there are additional costs for reports with the Pro Plan.

Sprout Social is an inexpensive, but expansive social monitoring and posting dashboard (CKSyme Media Group is an affiliate). Their basic plan in $59.00 per month. They have an enterprise-level plan as well. See their pricing plans here. They are a monitoring and posting tool and offer a good number of analytics reports.

There are an abundance of low budget social media listening tools out there and you may still want to supplement your paid tools. For instance, I use a service called tweepsmap to show the location of followers geographically because the basic Sprout Social plan does not offer that service.  The tools in this price category have different features, so make sure you know what you are getting. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of free and paid tools from Pam Dyer on Social Media Today.

Big Budget: Radian6, Scout Labs (Lithium),Involver,Meltwater Buzz, Argyle Social, Wildfire, Expion, and many more)

If you are an enterprise level brand, you need a plan that can accommodate your use of social media across your business operations with access for multiple admins and locations.  Here is a list of enterprise level tools from Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter) along with some good additional information on social media listening.

Listening Strategies

What are you listening for? In crisis communications, look for signs, warnings and patterns that may include one or more of the following:

  • frequency and intensity of conversations
  • sentiment or tone of posts and patterns
  • key fans or critics, and frequency of their posts, and what their key message is
  • incorrect information, misquotations, and slander
  • a pattern of comments that uncovers an organizational blind spot or a “ball that has been dropped”
  • Legitimate requests for information in a crisis
  • Negative incidents that could bubble up into a crisis
  • Breaking news concerning the brand, especially from influential non-mainstream media

The next step is setting up a response protocol for your social media. That’s our topic in the next piece. As always, please leave your thoughts and comments below.

Join The Conversation

  • ChrisSyme's picture
    Apr 28 Posted 3 years ago ChrisSyme

    Thanks for the link to that info, Justin. 

  • Justin Belmont's picture
    Apr 28 Posted 3 years ago Justin Belmont

    Great article! It's true that with social media, a small problem can turn into a huge one in a matter of seconds.  You really have to pay attention to what's being said, and keeping a close eye on all of your accounts is crucial, so that you don't ignore people when they give negative feedback on your page.  Once you realize the problem, get it taken care of immediately in the most friendly and professional way possible. Here's one of blog posts that talks about the importance of conversing with customers:

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