As public relations professionals, we are often tasked with addressing crises pertaining to clients or their brands. When these special situations arise, the first step is to do some research and provide a recommendation based on the situation and scale of media interest. This week’s Friday 5 focuses on how to use free and available tools to check the pulse on a topic, review the level and spread of conversation, and make an educated recommendation on the next steps of crisis mitigation.

1. Searching for relevant information (Google News/Blog Search/Alerts)

Checking mainstream and hybrid outlets for coverage about a topic is a good first step in assessing an emerging crisis situation online. A standard search is a good place to start, but it is also possible to dial-in on client-specific information when seeking information. Through Google, you can search news, blogs and other media types with advanced qualifiers including keywords, dates, authors or sources. Bing Social aggregates Twitter and publically available Facebook content. Google allows a user to set up alerts, or receive emails based on a set of keywords, which can be helpful in supporting monitoring before a crisis presents itself.

2. Identifying if a situation has reached Twitter (Twitter Search)

Twitter is a useful tool when assessing the scale of a situation online. While Twitter is not representative of the general public or the total media landscape, it is a simple way to assess crisis traction, or the rate at which a topic is stimulating conversation. You can narrow your search and identify only tweets relevant to the situation using Twitter’s advanced search functionality. Albeit basic, Twitter search allows the qualifier of “:)” to denote positive and “:(“ to denote negative. In addition, if you have previously identified influencers on Twitter, you can search by their handles to see if any of them have either commented on or shared an article or blog post. To see a full list of Twitter search operators, visit Twitter Search and click on “operators,” or search through Advanced Twitter Search.

3. Assessing the scale of social sharing (Topsy and Social Mention)

If there is a mainstream media article or blog post that is potentially detrimental to your brand or client, you need to know about it – and fast. Topsy is a “real-time search for the social web,” which allows a user to search the web, Tweets, photos or videos, and displays results based on what is most talked about. Topsy is also great for reviewing how an article or blog post is shared on Twitter. Social Mention acts as a real-time social media search engine and allows a user to set up alerts for social media. Social Mention monitors sentiment, however, due to the character limitations on Twitter, it is very important to consider that natural language processing isn’t completely reliable. Go ahead and try it out – paste a URL into Topsy, and you will be able to see how many times that URL has been shared.

4. Identifying influencers and influential outlets (Yahoo Site Explorer, Nielsen blog pulse)

Tracking the spread of mainstream, hybrid, and digital media is important to help provide a recommendation for a client in a crisis situation. Information spreads further and faster if the source is viewed as influential. Yahoo Site Explorer and Nielsen BlogPulse both allow the sharing of a URL to be tracked, as well as help identify authors and outlets that link to the brand’s site or content. Over the last year, Yahoo! has hinted at the elimination of Site Explorer, but currently there is no definitive end date. Often, when an author’s article is linked to by others it is deemed to have been written by an influencer on the topic. If an author isn’t influential on a topic, they likely wouldn’t receive “link love” or link-backs from the online community.

5. Next steps following initial crisis assessment (Insights for search)

Be sure to consider the key learnings from your tracking and research before crafting a response to a crisis – whether that is the statement your client releases to the public, or the conversations where a brand needs to become engaged. Where is the conversation happening, and is the crisis response crafted in a manner that will yield traction in that medium? Who is talking about the brand or the situation? Is there an opportunity to engage positive stakeholders or reply directly to detractors to correct misinformation? Google Insights for Search and Google Adwords Keyword Tool can assist in making sure your response is optimized for search, and therefore will appear in search results when consumers (and reporters) go looking for information about your client, or an issue.

    What tools do you find to be the most useful when assessing a crisis?

    Disclosure: Microsoft is an Edelman client.

    Image credit: Aaron Goselin

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