•Michael Young, global insights manager, Ford Motor Company
•Johna Burke, global MD, AMEC (the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication)
•Paul Quigley, CEO, NewsWhip
To kick off the recent webcast, Reimagining Crisis and Reputation Management, NewsWhip CEO Paul Quigley turns to a popular TV program to illustrate a less-than-ideal reaction to a fairly common scenario.
Too often, he says, comms pros react the way the character Greg Hirsch does in the HBO series Succession, scrambling to get a handle on a damaging incident while in the back of a limousine.
“We don't want to be Greg in that situation, overwhelmed with a wall of noise,” suggests Quigley.
Fortunately for comms pros, most of them know this. Better still, technology is “very good at detecting things quickly and quantifying them, so you can assess the velocity at which information is spreading and through which media,” he adds.
“We've all been in Greg’s situation,” says AMEC’s Johna Burke. “These resources must be in place long before you need them.”
SIX STEPS TO SUCCESS
Assessing velocity is the first of six key steps Ford Motor Company’s Michael Young outlines for reacting to a crisis.
“To assess velocity, how fast and big this is growing over a short period of time, you need to know what normal social engagement looks like,” he advises. “There are tools out there that can generate that normative measure and give you the ability early in a crisis to understand if your brand is over-indexing against the norm and to move quickly.”
Young’s five additional steps are:
•Continually assess the larger news cycle – both in your industry and in general.
“Being able to quantify that general news cycle is really important. If the news cycle is crowded, you might have a little bit more time to react.”
•Set up and continually tweak automated alerts.
“I’m always amazed at how little people utilize this functionality. I encourage you to set up alerting functions with appropriate searches for keywords and thresholds.”
•Utilize omnibus survey research when available.
“Having a bank ready to go with your survey research partner is money well spent. If a crisis occurs, you’ve got to test recall out there.”
•Get your dashboards going.
“A focus on the short (social, news coverage) and medium-term (monthly health trackers) coverage over the course of a few months provides an assessment of how something affects the brand long term.”
•Combine your metrics.
“Comms metrics combined with transactional data help you tell a larger story.”
Burke doubles down on the crucial need to assess other elements.
“When you have communications data in place, you can coordinate with marketing and advertising,” she advises. “Being data-led gives you the tools to use your resources in a meaningful way and reduce the effort needed by your customer service, internal staff and comms team. That's real money to the bottom line. These solutions are absolutely critical for the business function during a time when you absolutely need it.”
Webcast participants were (l-r): Young, Burke and Quigley
THE DREADED “M” WORD
Misinformation about a brand or industry is an issue that keeps comms pros up at night. According to a recent NewsWhip/PRWeek survey, PR professionals overwhelmingly recognize social media as the biggest source of misinformation.
Recognizing the problem is one thing. Solving it is something else. To that end, webcast panelists look at various types of misinformation, the threats they pose, and the best strategies to combat them.
“Understanding how your audience is seeing information is another piece of the puzzle,” notes Burke. “You have an obligation and ethical responsibility to your brand and to your C-suite to follow adverse stories through and clarify the record.”
In fact, the public clarifying of the record then becomes part of the record.
“When someone is doing a search three or six months down the road,” she continues, “they also see your brand’s responses, early and high in those result records.”
The importance of being proactive and prepared is also a key necessity.
The adage “the best way to deal with a crisis is to avoid it and the best way to avoid it is to have a plan” is more appropriate than ever. “A big part of the comms professional’s job is being proactive,” says Burke. “AI can help with that.”
Quigley stresses the importance of monitoring narratives about your industry, company and brand. He also offers an example of how getting in front of misinformation proved critical during the pandemic.
“WHO used alerts during the pandemic to monitor misunderstandings about COVID,” he recalls. “One that people were sharing a lot was that mouthwash could prevent COVID. You have to monitor and run toward those misconceptions rather than ignore them.”
"You have to run toward misconceptions [read: misinformation] rather than ignore them," says Quigley, much like the WHO did when many were sharing the message that mouthwash could prevent COVID."
“I spend a lot of time trying to understand what's on the minds of our leadership and monitoring the industry and global news,” notes Young. “Scanning trends needs to be part of the strategy. When you set up your dashboard, look for the anomalies. That's your early indicator. Be proactive and develop a process. If you don't have a process, you won't catch things.”
Using velocity as a measurement, Young spotted a trend after Texas was hit with an unusual snowstorm in February 2021 that crippled the power grid. Social media monitoring indicated that truck owners were using their onboard generators to power their homes.
“We started tracking velocity very early on,” recalls Young. “Looking at these indicators, it was clear this was going to be big. So we started putting some things in place to create a national news story. Not only did we predict it the day before, we predicted impact on perception by looking at ecommerce data as well. When you understand what the normative looks like and things start over-indexing, you can move very quickly.”
Quigley counsels comms pros to adopt a “three Ps” strategy:
“You must be able to PERCEIVE something is happening, PREDICT where it's going (is it a crisis? A reputation opportunity?), and then PERSUADE or marshal the comms team to create action in the wider organization.”
Perception is easier when velocity is used as the core metric. “We've improved the algorithms and can predict with pretty high confidence where a story is going to land in 12 or 24 hours,” he adds.
Quigley also notes that while comms can be enhanced by AI, when data is combined with professional experience, the results are much more meaningful. “We're not just relying on algorithms,” he explains. “We're relying on the expertise of our comms professionals.”
ANALYSIS TO ACTION
The aforementioned NewsWhip/PRWeek survey also underscores a particular frustration among PR pros that existing media monitoring tools don’t deliver/inspire actionable takeaways.
Young explains that as such:
“You need data to have a connection to the business plan or key objectives. Data can also be too limited in view. Talk to the teams that have digital paid metrics, such as e-commerce, to get a holistic picture.”
And it’s important to remember that data searches can fail if they are too broad or too high level.
“If you're not seeing actionability, maybe you have to focus more on the trees versus the forest,” suggests Young, who encourages comms pros to experiment with their data.
“Have an experimental mindset. Combine as much data as possible,” he continues. “We've done experiments where combining social media engagement with conversion [when people read a media story then visit a site right after] and found a very strong correlation between the two. If you don't have the statistical means to do it, find a company that can help. You'll find some interesting stuff.”
AI can certainly help, too, all panelists agree. One such area is the identification of journalists, publishers or creators who are driving interactions with content.
“Take a mirrored approach,” advises Young. “We had been tracking journalists purely from articles they were writing and not looking at their social media presence or their networks in social media. A mirrored approach lets you dive into a network analysis.”
He also recommends focusing on relevancy measures.
“I can't stress enough the importance of talking to people in your organization and having a strong knowledge of what your leaders are speaking about,” says Young. “That's going to help you be proactive and know the issues on which you need to get in front.”
“If you're not at the point of having a full data division, go to the accounting or finance team for help modeling data that you're already receiving,” adds Burke. “When you talk to them about efficiency and savings, I assure you they’ll be very enthusiastic supporters of helping you model that data to get you those insights.”
More data and new ways to apply data enhances the function in myriad ways.
“A lot of PR people are frustrated with executives who want to appear in The Wall Street Journal,” shares Quigley. “Data can make the case for targeting a completely different outlet for a specific topic. You can even create a media plan focused on the most engaged people. Having the right data allows you to step off the normal road.”
Comms pros can use data to build relationships with journalists or even when pitching a story.
“You can target a journalist you know who is the most engaged on a topic and approach them with something you know will play very well for their audience,” concludes Quigley.
-Click here to view this webcast on demand.
-Click here to download the eBook upon which this webcast was based.