Three steps to spot brewing social media crises

User generated content (UGC), like tweets, blogs or videos, which criticise brands, can spread widely and quickly. If marketing managers leave these conversations unattended, they can go viral, and threaten the brands; whereas handling the negative UGC will reassure other customers (including potential ones) that the company listens, cares and is in control. So, brands need to proactively monitor social media conversations to spot any brewing problems.

 

Here is how.

 

Screen UGC across the relevant social media platforms

Social media users favour particular platforms for specific activities – for instance, users may talk about their consumption experiences on Facebook, but use Twitter when they want to engage with the brand and solve a problem; they may use Yik Yak to alert other users to problems with a local company, but take to YouTube to voice their frustration with a global brand.

 

Therefore, to effectively monitor UGC, firms must first recognise and understand the social media landscape. This includes the technical aspects (i.e., what type of content may be shared), as well as the sociological ones (i.e., user preferences, and the mechanics of content dispersion).

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Monitor changes in consumer sentiment

A crisis, by definition, is an event which threatens to harm the company. So, companies need to detect sudden changes in sentiment towards the brand, and/or a sudden increase on the volume of messages about the brand, and/or negative attention originating from online influencers.

 

For that end, firms need to regularly monitor the sentiment of online conversations. This gives the firms a temporal perspective of the baseline feelings and opinions about the brand and its marketing activities (product, advertising, customer service, etc…).

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Analyse UGC qualitatively and in context

In addition to considering sentiment polarity and how it changes, it is important to analyse the values of the message. Messages focusing on core reputation elements (e.g., food safety for restaurants, user privacy for health or financial service providers, and so on) are very damaging for brands; as are messages that trigger emotional responses (disgust, despair, …). A comment stating that the pictures on the wall at a restaurant are disgusting is less serious than a comment expressing disgust with the food. Likewise, describing a venue or a tune as ‘sick’ may actually be a compliment if the social media user is young, whereas it will most certainly be an insult if coming from someone middle aged.

 

So, managers need to actively monitor the topics being discussed, paying particular attention to keywords associated with the core reputation elements of the brand, to emotionally-charged words, and to how certain user groups use language.

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If this topic interests you, check the paper that I co-authored with Dirk vom Lehn, Finola Kerrigan, Cagri Yalkin, Marc Braun and Nick Steinmetz, available here (open access).

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