The internet is a diverse and complex landscape that contains unseen hazards for brands like misinformed customers, bad faith agendas, and polarized factions. Brands must understand how to navigate this mercurial environment and learn how and when to react to incidents through calculated crisis management.
New Crisis Management Challenges for Strategic Communications Teams
Communication incidents occur when a brand, or person representing a brand, faces a public challenge or criticism. Some of these disputes can originate from traditional media like print and television, however, those incidents are relatively easier to track and identify. Brands must be especially cautious when dealing with communication incidents that emerge online; those that start and spread on social media and those that play out across the greater internet.
The intrinsic, relative anonymity, and complexity of the internet can make it difficult for brands, PR experts, and marketing teams to know the origin and intentions of an incident that has started and spread online — workshopped inside of a fringe channel, dropped into echo chambers, passed around groups that share some of the same beliefs, and popped up in the mainstream.
Understanding the origin and motivations behind a narrative helps brand strategic communications teams decide if, when, and how to react to an online incident. It’s also important to remember that just because something feels like a crisis, that may not be the case. Brands and their PR/marketing teams need proper data and insight to be able to decide if an incident is a crisis and then plan and execute a meticulous crisis response.
Social Intelligence tools give brands the data and insights that they need to inform their crisis management strategy.
Don’t Get Caught Off-Guard By a Communication Incident
Online narratives can often feel like they pop up unpredictably. The truth is that these narratives are often created and incubated in fringe areas of the internet, before they make their way into the mainstream, eventually resulting in a communication incident or PR crisis.
The factions that create and nurture online narratives are much better at using the internet than the average person. Bad faith actors and factions will work to create stories or co-opt existing narratives and spread disinformation that they then introduce to the mainstream to influence public opinion or simply create chaos. These factions often target brands and their spokespeople — sometimes resulting in a crisis — because the platforms and reputation they have so carefully built are an ideal vehicle for faction-driven narratives. Brands will often feel pressured to take a stance on social and political issues or to hop on the latest trend, however, this gives factions an opening to coordinate and develop narratives. In fact, brands are vulnerable even if they opt to stay silent or not to engage. Both action and inaction can be spun by online factions to attack a brand or person.
These narratives don’t have to be a surprise to brands and PR teams. With the help of social intelligence tools, powered by AI and machine learning, brands can know what’s coming, before it devolves into an incident or crisis.
Crisis Management During a Communication Incident
Deciding when and how to react to a communication incident is essential to crisis management. Whether you are choosing not to react or are formulating the best approach for a crisis response, having access to relevant information and context about the conversation you’re getting into is essential.
What Your Team Needs to Know About An Incident
- Why is this narrative happening?
- Where did it originate?
- What is the topic or issue of the conversation?
- What are the agendas involved?
- How is the narrative spreading?
- Is it authentic or is it being manipulated?
- Has it moved from fringe sites into the mainstream?
- Who is behind the narrative?
- Do they have an agenda?
- Are they part of a faction?
- How influential are they?
- What are their go-to tactics?
- What might happen next?
- What is the likely trajectory of this narrative?
- Will the narrative die down or intensify?
- How could it escalate in the mainstream?
- How much risk or opportunity is here?
- Are our customers or stakeholders involved in the faction behind it?
- Are our customers or stakeholders influenced by the faction behind it?
- Will responding to the narrative play into the hands of the faction behind it?
- Will we be able to course-correct the narrative with a response?
Being able to answer these questions is crucial when being proactive or reacting to an incident. The more information that brands can gather, the more likely that they will be able to create a comprehensive response strategy and protect their reputation.
The Dangers of Learning About the Incident Late
No one wants to be the last to know about a communication incident or PR crisis. There are points in a crisis cycle where a narrative can be stopped, slowed, or will reach critical mass. Communication, PR, and marketing teams will want to know about these narratives first, or else risk learning about them from leadership or clients.
Ideally, brands will want to stop a crisis before it gets into the mainstream. At, the very least, they will want to be able to slow or mitigate the damage after the narrative has already gained some steam. Once a narrative hits critical mass, it can cause significant damage to a brand or person’s reputation, costing time, money, and damaging the good will that has been cultivated with their audience.
Social Intelligence gives those teams the edge when it comes to knowing about narratives first. The ability to monitor and track factions and narratives, across the internet and not just the usual suspect social platforms, gives comms, PR, and marketing teams the advanced notice that they need to stay ahead of the curve.
Crisis Control: Ignore, Monitor, or Escalate?
The ability to use social intelligence in order to properly triage an online narrative can save brands precious time, team resources, and money — because let’s face it…constantly having to put out fires is not only extravagantly expensive, but exhausting too.
Crisis control gives brands the ability to forge their own destiny when it comes to managing an online incident. When examining a narrative, brands must evaluate the situation and data to decide which reaction will have the most beneficial effect. Sometimes, this can even mean not doing anything at all. Brands that don’t ask these questions or utilize data to inform their decisions will make themselves vulnerable to an online incident or PR crisis.
Option 1: Ignore
Some narratives are best left alone. It can be tempting to address and respond to the conversations and posts that we see on the internet, but those responses can sometimes backfire.
Some bad faith narratives are designed to provoke a reaction or draw attention to the faction. By responding to those narratives, brands can unintentionally validate them or bring even more attention to them. Have you ever heard the adage “don’t feed the trolls” or seen The Streisand Effect play out? Brands must use data and information to decide when and if to respond to a narrative, or risk pouring gasoline the fire.
Ignoring a narrative is recommended when social intelligence reveals that the faction behind it won’t be successful spreading it, or that responding or engaging with it could actually make things worse. Knowing this requires context… about the factions involved, who they influence and who they are influenced by, common tactics they use to spread a narrative, and their track record at being successful in doing so.
Option 2: Monitor
While some narratives can be ignored, others may need to be monitored. Not knowing when to ignore and when to keep monitoring an incident can result in a PR crisis or online incident. Brands must have advanced monitoring tools so that they can find and monitor narratives, especially from fringe sources, and be ready to react if they are becoming a problem.
We keep an eye on narratives likely to pick up steam or to make a sudden shift in direction that could potentially damage the brand, consumers, and stakeholders. We also monitor narratives even after they’ve peaked because we know that when factions are successful at making something trend once… they’ll come back to that narrative 6-9 months later.
Option 3: Escalate
Escalation becomes necessary when a monitored narrative is gaining steam and could impact the person or brand. Communication, marketing, and PR teams will need data and information to help decide when to escalate, to whom, and give them the ammunition that they need to influence decision makers like brand leadership or their c-suite. Social intelligence tools give those teams the evidence that they need to convince leadership when and how to act.
Imagine walking into your manager’s office and telling them that a PR crisis is imminent, but you don’t have much data to back it up. Or, your CMO comes to you asking why someone is calling them out on social media and you don’t have information or answers. AI and machine learning tools can provide that data and those insights, allowing you and your team to make the most informed decisions and escalate appropriately.
We typically see brands escalating a narrative when their stakeholder or customers are involved in the faction driving it, or if they are influenced by that faction. Brands also escalate narratives when the tactics used to spread it are not authentic, meaning the conversation is not representative of the group it says it’s representing, but is actually being manipulated and being artificially spread by an agenda-driven faction.
Crisis Management Examples
Talking about using social intelligence tools for crisis management is one thing, it’s another to see the real life examples where it has made a difference for brands. So, let’s showcase some real-world situations where Yonder helped brands to prevent, mitigate, and manage communication incidents:
Telecom Company Spokesperson Targeted with Sexual Harassment
A major telecommunications company detected online narratives targeting their brand’s spokesperson with sexual harassment. The brand learned that the factions involved were known for this sort of trolling behavior and it would be detrimental to engage with them or the narrative. They decided not to respond but continued to monitor the situation.
By using Yonder’s social intelligence tools, the telecommunications company was able to identify the factions responsible for the attack as well as discover their history and derive their motive. In this case, the data showed that the best course of action was to ignore the incident or else risk giving the perpetrator the attention that they were seeking.
Fake Coupons for a Beverage Company
A food and beverage brand detected that fringe factions online were coordinating to create fake coupons for free coffee for black customers during Black History Month. The first step that the brand took was to analyze the situation. Using Yonder’s Incident Reports, they were able to better understand how the incident evolved and see the factions that created the narrative. The brand learned that the factions were using the fake coupon campaign to hurt the brand’s image and stoke racial tensions. In short, the factions were co-opting the brand’s popularity to further their agenda.
Because the bad faith campaign would result in offended customers, discussing the coupons on social media or walking into their locations to share their complaints with staff, they escalated the potential incident. Brand leadership prepared a public response, and alerted their staff to help them navigate conversations with customers at their locations. By knowing about the incident as it gestated and creating an informed response, they were able to mitigate the incident and prevent it from becoming a crisis.
Protect Your Brand with Yonder Incident Management
The internet can be a dangerous place for brands. Between bad faith factions creating disinformation campaigns or average posters regurgitating misinformed talking points, it is crucial now, more than ever for brands to be prepared and vigilant. Without advanced AI and machine learning tools, there are too many fringe areas of the internet and social media for a brand to effectively monitor.
Yonder’s social intelligence tools can give your brand the perception and information that it needs to find, monitor, and gauge factions and narratives, before they hit critical mass and do serious damage. Book an appointment with our team of social intelligence experts to see how Yonder can protect your brand with cutting-edge AI and machine learning powered services.