How to survive a brand crisis with social listening: A step-by-step guide

How to survive a brand crisis with social listening: A step-by-step guide

Brand crises can emerge and escalate at lightning speed. One controversial tweet, insensitive ad campaign, or customer service mishap can ignite public outrage and seriously damage a company's reputation in mere hours. At Buzz Radar, we've seen firsthand how social media crises can blindside even the most established brands, and it’s something we think about a lot when talking to new clients.

Social Listening can help brands prepare for, identify, and effectively respond to social media firestorms. By continuously monitoring online conversations, analysing sentiment, and extracting actionable insights, social listening enables brands to stay one step ahead of potential PR disasters.

There are countless real-world examples for this. One of the most famous came in April 2017, when Pepsi faced significant backlash for an advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner, which was criticised for seemingly trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad showed Jenner handing a Pepsi to a police officer during a protest, suggesting a fizzy drink could resolve serious societal issues. The response on social media was swift and overwhelmingly negative. Recognising the gravity of the situation through social listening, Pepsi quickly pulled the ad. It issued an apology, stating, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologise.” This prompt action helped contain the damage and demonstrated the critical role of real-time social media monitoring in managing brand crises.

In this guide, we'll walk you through a step-by-step social listening strategy to help your brand navigate crises with confidence.

Step 1: Set up a robust social listening infrastructure

The first line of defence is not just reacting to crises but being proactive in preventing them. This starts with implementing a comprehensive social listening solution like Buzz Radar. Our advanced tools allow you to track brand mentions, keywords, hashtags, and competitors across social media, news sites, forums, and blogs in real-time. Be sure to customise alerts for spikes in activity or sudden shifts in sentiment. Having this foundational 'radar' in place is critical for spotting the early warning signs of a crisis.

Step 2: Establish clear crisis protocols

Before a crisis hits, assemble a dedicated cross-functional team and document a detailed crisis communication plan. Outline specific roles and responsibilities, response timelines, approval processes, and message templates. At this point you can start to think through how social listening insights will inform and trigger each phase of your crisis response. Have this plan on hand and periodically war game crisis simulations to build muscle memory.

Step 3: Proactively monitor for red flags

With your social listening tool humming in the background, keep a vigilant eye out for any red flags such as:

  • Sudden spikes in negative mentions or sentiment
  • Emerging customer pain points or FAQs going unanswered
  • Misinformation or false claims gaining traction
  • Influencers or media outlets picking up on a negative story
  • Viral memes or videos attacking your brand

By proactively identifying these smoke signals, you can often get ahead of a crisis before it spirals out of control. Sometimes a speedy reply or authentic apology is all it takes to put out a spark before it becomes a raging inferno.

Step 4: Rapidly investigate and assess the situation

When a full-blown crisis does erupt, time is of the essence. Dive deep into your social listening dashboard to quickly piece together what happened, where the conversations are happening, who the key players are, and how the story is spreading. Look at metrics like mention volume, engagement rate, reach, and sentiment to gauge the scale and severity of the issue.

Step 5: Craft your strategic response

Armed with this real-time data, work with your crisis comms team to align on a strategic response. Carefully tailor your messaging to address the specific concerns being raised, and adapt your response to the nuances of each social platform. In most cases, it's best to respond quickly, transparently, and empathetically. Acknowledge the issue, take responsibility, and clearly communicate how you're making things right. Of course, every crisis is different, so carefully weigh the pros and cons of different response options - and don't be afraid to course correct as the situation evolves.

Step 6: Deploy your response and actively engage

Once you've crafted your key messages, it's time to deploy your response through the appropriate channels - whether that's an official statement, a social media post, a press release, or a combination. Use social listening to continually track the response to your response. Are sentiment trends improving? Are detractors being converted into advocates? Jump into the conversation to actively answer questions, counter misinformation, and rebuild trust one interaction at a time.

Step 7: Learn, recover, and evolve

After the dust has settled, the work is far from over. Leverage social listening to conduct a thorough post-crisis analysis. How did the crisis start and spread? How effective were your response efforts at quelling the negative sentiment? What could you improve for next time? Feed these insights back into your crisis playbook and broader social strategy. Never waste a good crisis - use it as a catalyst to learn, evolve, and build back stronger than before.

Example 1#: How to manage everything badly

To illustrate the importance of social listening in crisis management, let's explore a cautionary tale of a fictional company, Acme Apparel. Acme, a trendy fashion retailer, found itself in hot water after releasing a new ad campaign that many consumers deemed culturally insensitive. The backlash started with a few critical tweets from influential fashion bloggers, but quickly snowballed into a full-blown PR nightmare.

Acme's first misstep was not having a robust social listening strategy in place. While the criticism was spreading like wildfire across social media, Acme's marketing team remained blissfully unaware, focusing their attention on pushing out more promotional content. By the time they realised they had a crisis on their hands, the story had already been picked up by major news outlets and the hashtag #BoycottAcme was trending.

In a panic, Acme hastily issued a generic press release apologising for any offence caused, but failed to address the specific concerns being raised by their customers. They then went radio silent, hoping the controversy would blow over on its own. However, without actively monitoring the social media sentiment or engaging with their critics, Acme let the narrative spiral out of their control.

As the crisis dragged on, Acme's lack of social listening left them flying blind. They had no real-time insights into how their response was being received, what key influencers were saying, or where the conversations were happening. As a result, they missed critical opportunities to course-correct their messaging and rebuild trust with their audience.

By the time Acme finally got a handle on the situation, the damage was done. Sales plummeted, partnerships were lost, and their reputation was left in tatters. The road to recovery would be a long and costly one - and it all could have been avoided with a proactive social listening strategy.

The lesson here is clear: in today's digital age, neglecting social listening is a risk no brand can afford to take. By continuously monitoring online conversations and sentiment, brands can spot potential crises early, respond with agility and empathy, and emerge with their reputation intact. At Buzz Radar, we've seen time and again how social listening can make the difference between a PR win and a PR disaster.

Example #2: How Savvy Social Listening can turn a crisis into a win

In contrast to Acme's cautionary tale, let's look at how another fictional company, Zephyr Fitness, deftly navigated a potential social media crisis with the help of savvy social listening.

Zephyr, a popular fitness equipment brand, faced a sudden deluge of customer complaints when an influential fitness YouTuber posted a scathing review, claiming their latest treadmill model had a dangerous defect that caused her to fall and injure herself. As the video racked up views and alarmed comments poured in, Zephyr's reputation hung in the balance.

But unlike Acme, Zephyr had a well-oiled social listening machine in place. Their team was alerted to the video within minutes of it being posted, thanks to their real-time monitoring of brand mentions and sentiment. They quickly huddled to assess the situation and craft a response strategy.

The first thing Zephyr did was reach out to the YouTuber directly, expressing their concern for her well-being and their commitment to thoroughly investigating the issue. They then issued a public statement acknowledging the incident, outlining the steps they were taking to ensure customer safety, and promising transparency throughout the process.

Behind the scenes, Zephyr used social listening to monitor the unfolding conversations. They monitored keywords related to the incident, tracking sentiment trends and identifying key questions and concerns raised by their customers. This real-time feedback loop allowed them to refine their messaging continually and address the most pressing issues head-on.

As the investigation progressed, Zephyr kept their customers updated with regular social media posts, video updates from their CEO, and a dedicated FAQ page on their website. They transparently shared the findings of their safety tests, which concluded the treadmill met all industry standards and the incident was an unfortunate accident. They also deployed new user instructions that emphasised the safe use of their equipment.

Throughout the crisis, Zephyr's social media team worked overtime to respond to every single customer inquiry and comment with empathy, transparency, and helpfulness. They even turned some of the most vocally unhappy customers into brand advocates by going above and beyond to address their concerns.

In the end, not only did Zephyr emerge from the crisis with their reputation intact, but they actually saw a surge in positive sentiment and brand loyalty. Customers praised their handling of the situation, with many saying it increased their trust in the brand. The YouTuber even updated her review, commending Zephyr for their customer-centric response.

By leveraging social listening to quickly identify the crisis, shape their response strategy, and engage authentically with their audience, Zephyr turned a potential PR disaster into a shining example of customer service excellence. It's a powerful testament to the crisis-busting potential of social listening when integrated into a holistic communications strategy.

Your next steps

At Buzz Radar, we've helped countless brands weather social media storms by harnessing the power of social listening. From proactive risk mitigation to real-time crisis communications to reputational recovery, social listening is an invaluable tool in the modern marketer's arsenal. The key is weaving it into a holistic, well-oiled crisis management strategy.

Want to see our social listening tools in action and level up your crisis preparedness? Reach out for a free demo today. Together we can ensure your brand is ready to navigate the stormiest of social media seas with poise, grace, and data-driven confidence.

Published on 2024-05-02 16:48:02