Will You Spot the Markers on an Oncoming Communications Crisis for Your Company?

Public Relations professionals are often asked to predict the future - to know how a message will play before it is released or to figure out when a problem is coming.

PR pros can accomplish this in one of two ways. The first, dumb, way is to assume that everything is a problem. You will eventually be right – even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The second way is learning to spot the signs of an upcoming communications crisis by identifying areas of communications exposure. With an eye for these markers and a willingness to look globally across communications teams, channels and efforts, you can see problems as they’re coming at your company and be better positioned to respond. (And look like the company soothsayer.)

Marker 1: Strange Social Media Activity

Are you seeing an uptick in social media comments or engagement that seems somewhat negative? Are comments coming from areas outside of your geography? Take this seriously. Social media is how your consumers can communicate directly with you and with the people they influence about your service. Respond to comments professionally and in line with your company’s social media policy, but keep a running list of particular problems.

Marker 2: Vague Media Requests

Sometimes a vague request about a general subject or to speak with a person without much information from a reporter could just be a sign that he or she hasn’t quite narrowed the topic of an article. It could also mean the media outlet is fishing for information or trying to find an in at your company for another, less positive, story. Use your PR skills to try to gather more information about these kinds of requests, so you can decide how best to proceed. Also look at the types of stories the reporter has been covering to help you get some clues.

Marker 3: Emails, Calls, Letters

Has your hotline seen a spike in calls or are more emails landing in your customer service inbox? This could be a sign of trouble. You should be tracking the topics of customer service calls and also of having chats with the people who answer your calls and emails to get a sense of what the complaints or concerns are about. Remember: your customer service folks are the face of the company to your customers or users. Arm them with good information, and let them help you spot problems.

Marker 4: Verbatim Concerns

Are you seeing a deluge of feedback that uses identical or nearly verbatim language? This is likely not a coincidence. This could be a sign that an organization or cause has armed its followers or members to write to you. Sometimes it could be a tool that blast off emails or comments. But if you’re noticing key phrases pop up in comments or feedback from consumers, someone may be coordinating it.

Marker 5: New Faces

If you’ve been dealing with certain people from stakeholder groups or media outlets for a while and all of the sudden new or different people are involved, this could be a sign that your relationship is changing. For example, if you work with a business reporter normally, but now the investigative producer is calling…that’s a sign something could be up. If local representatives from a stakeholder group suddenly are replaced in conversations by higher ranking people in the organization…that could mean that the issue is a higher priority for that group. Proceed in a friendly but cautious way until you figure out what is going on.

If you see some or all of these markers swirling around you, a crisis that you’ll have to communicate about might be around the corner. Take the approach of looking for signs across departments and teams, and your company can be prepared.

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