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Navigating Online Conversations in Times of Crisis: 3 Takeaways For PR and Marketing Teams


The Yonder team attended PRNews Crisis and Measurement Summit 2020 in Miami.
The event gathered communications professionals from the public sector and Fortune 2000 companies to share insights and priorities in brand monitoring, measurement, and crisis mitigation. Questions explored included:

Should we react to social media narratives? When should we hold back?
How do we find relevant data during a PR crisis?
How do we know when to move from monitoring to taking action?

An emerging theme from many conversations at the summit: A shared appetite for decision support tools that cull actionable insights from an overwhelming wealth of social data. Below are our key takeaways:

Brands are Missing the Right PR Tools to Help Them Build Trust with Key Audiences, Especially in Times of Crisis.

In her keynote, American political strategist Ana Navarro stressed that top-of-mind for consumer-facing brands is not just staying relevant, but staying ahead of the conversation and projecting leadership during crisis. Marketers care deeply about inspiring positive change, connecting with their audiences, and being trusted by like-minded communities. But who exactly are those communities? How do marketers find their tribes, and what do these tribe leaders care about?

“This generation has a nose for authenticity or being pandered to”, Navarro stated. Social media monitoring tools that help brands build trust and authentic relationships with their audiences have a major opportunity in the marketplace.

The takeaway: Brands want to be seen as thought leaders in social conversation, and they’re hungry to fill in the blanks with nuanced, contextualized insights that build trust, especially during a PR crisis.

The Primacy of Politics, Even Outside Politics

“It’s a unique perspective for brand managers — do we make a political statement or do we not? What are the consequences? What are the consequences of remaining silent?”

Navarro urged marketers to recognize that staying out of the ideological conversation by remaining apolitical is no longer viable for consumer-facing brands. Brands may not need to take an overt stance, but they must be prepared to, and act as if they’ll be expected to. She offered several well-known examples: Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart were recently forced to take positions on gun control; J. Lo and Shakira’s Super Bowl performance became a topic of intense political debate.

J. Lo and Shakira’s Super Bowl
Source: Glamour

Navarro stressed that brands must expect to be viewed through the prism of politics, because that is how their audiences see the world. Consumer-facing brands are especially at risk of being blindsided, and should act within their PR teams as if they will.

At Yonder, we have seen time and again: brands that have no ideological affiliation get blindsided by politically-motivated factions that have their own agendas. In fact, not taking a stance is often the same as having one. Businesses that fail to prepare for and proactively communicate with audiences that fall along party lines will have their party position decided for them.

Factions are groups of people online who organize around shared interests and passions, free of offline social constraints like geography or demographics. They are the invisible forces driving viral stories and narratives.

The takeaway: Consumers today make purchase decisions around their societal or political values. Brands become politicized, often without their knowledge, and must plan to be viewed by consumers through an ideological lens.

Measurement Without Meaning Leads to Information Without Action

A common frustration among brand experts that sit at the intersection of market analysis and company strategy: Just because it can be measured, doesn’t mean it’s useful. Following the early excitement about the infinite possibilities of “Big Data”, marketers today are thinking about data that matters. Too much information is little better than no information, as both scenarios lead to confusion for marketers looking for answers on when to act, and how.

In setting brand strategy and responding to crisis, communications professionals struggle with platforms that only give them half the picture. They’re looking for monitoring and analytics that cater specifically to public relations enablement — platforms that pinpoint audiences with shared values, hone in on actionable insights, and provide predictive, or at least reliable, decision support.

The takeaway: Analytics that help shape perspectives on what’s important to the business, not just what is cool, interesting, or breaking, will win with strategists hungry for actionable decision support.

Yonder is an A.I. software company that discovers the hidden groups who control and amplify online narratives, so companies can navigate an unpredictable, ever-evolving internet with confidence. We focus on:

  • Proactive insights instead of reactive analysis
  • Data in the context of narratives, not just volume and engagement
  • Understanding how factions influence one another and how their ideas spread
  • Expertise on internet mechanics, such as coordinated manipulation.

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