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It’s an unpleasant but inevitable fact that most brands, at one time or another, find themselves faced with a crisis.  Whether its an issue with a faulty product or reputational problem, a business crisis can be stressful – and can quickly escalate if not dealt with promptly.  This is why it is critical to learn how to use social listening.

But let’s take this step-by-step and begin with the basics so that you fully understand the value of social listening. This begins with understanding the potential impact of a crisis on your business.

What is a business crisis?

Essentially, a crisis is a deliberate or accidental event which may threaten the survival of a brand or business.  Business crises can be separated into three levels: 

Reputation loss

This kind of crisis is the lowest level and can result in a lack of faith in the brand for existing customers and a failure to attract new customers.  An example of this kind of crisis would be a situation whereby a brand’s product is proven to be ineffective, low quality or not fit for purpose, resulting in customer complaints. 

Financial loss

This second level crisis occurs when a brand experiences a financial blow.  This can be due to a number of reasons including fraud, increased price of materials, lack of sales and lawsuits. 

A crisis in the form of financial loss can result in redundancies and an inability to retain investors as well as a brand being unable to purchase materials. 

Public safety

The most serious crisis and, the most damaging for a brand is when a public safety issue arises. 

This can happen when a company’s brand or service is shown to pose a danger to health and safety, such as a faulty electrical product or a transport service with inadequate safety measures in place. 

This kind of crisis can be devastating for a brand as it can result in not just a loss of sales and reputation but also criminal lawsuits in the event that the issue has caused injury, illness or death. 

It’s not impossible for a brand to survive this kind of disastrous crisis in time but it will usually take a lot of work – and money – to restore faith in the brand once legal and financial obstacles have been overcome.

Crisis to opportunity

From the very start, a business should always have a crisis management plan in place as, forward planning can mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy. 

When launching a business, managers and owners need to identify any potential issues that the company may face and then put together a strategy to deal with them.

This should include thorough testing of products and industry forecasting to highlight points in the future which may affect the business or product.  By having an appropriate plan in place, a business can deal with the issue swiftly and show that it is reactive to customer complaints. 

Although a business crisis is certainly unwelcome, it doesn’t have to be terminal.  In fact, if handled correctly, a crisis can in fact be turned into an opportunity for your brand. 

How? By listening – or, to be more precise, by using social listening. Social listening works by using an online tool to scour the internet for mentions of your brand on social media, forums and other digital outlets and, sort them into ‘positive’, ‘negative’ and ‘neutral’. 

These social listening tools then allow you to engage with the people making the comments and to issue statements where necessary. The following is a guide to using social listening to overcome a crisis.

On the level

As we’ve shown above, there are different kinds of business crisis  and, within this article, we’re going to explain how your brand can harness the power of social listening in order to turn the issue around to your advantage.  Before we tackle the use of social listening, first lets take a look at the four levels of business crisis:

Level 1 – Although there may not yet be a major issue, there are rumbles which have the potential to turn into a situation. 

Level 2 – A minor issue has been identified and has the potential to become a public matter. This could include a customer threatening to go to the press about an issue with your brand.

Level 3 – This level represents a very real threat to your brand’s reputation and could include a large amount of bad publicity. 

Level 4 – The fourth, and most serious level, will almost certainly include bad publicity and amy also involve legal action.

How to Use Social Listening at Each Crisis Level

Level 1 – Averting a crisis

This is the perfect time to bring social media monitoring into play. 

At this stage, it is absolutely possible to ‘nip the issue in the bud’ by dealing with the whispers before they become a chorus. 

Set your social listening into motion to find out what’s being said about your brand on forums and social media.

Next collate this information into reports to distribute throughout your brand.  These reports will show you where your customers’ concerns lie – helping you to pinpoint the main issue.

From this point, crisis management is fairly straightforward – if the problem is the result of a misunderstanding, you can contact customers directly to allay their fears.

If, however, the fault is with your brand, this reporting allows you to react quickly in offering refunds and working on a solution to the issue. 

The major benefit to this is that your brand gains a reputation for being reactive and for caring about customer concerns, however minor they may be.

Level 2 – Time to turn things around

With a Level 2 crisis, you still have the time to nip the issue in the bud before your brand receives too much bad publicity – as long as you move quickly and decisively says PR expert Mike McCarthy of landingi.

As with Level 1, use your social listening to find out the exact nature of the issue and react quickly. A Level 2 crisis will usually involve your brand being at fault and so the best course of action will be as follows. 

Contact customers directly where possible, offering a refund and apologies as well as an explanation as to how the problem occurred and, what is being done to put it right. Put together a press release and distribute it throughout your digital presence as well as to the media where necessary.  

Your press release should include an apology as well as outlining the steps you are taking to resolve the problem.

Level 3 – Prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe

OK, we’re not going to sugarcoat it.  A Level 3 crisis presents a very real threat to your brand and, by the time the issue is identified, you may already have received some harmful publicity. 

As before, you need to activate your social listening to produce a report of complaints and general badmouthing.


This time, though, you also need to produce a report of good things being said about your brand.  As with Level 2, you’ll need to produce a press release and, you may even want to organise a press conference if you’re able to do so.

This time, your media release should include: 

  • Admitting fault
  • Taking responsibility
  • An apology
  • The steps you are taking to resolve the issue
  • The positive feedback you have received

The first two points here are of paramount importance – your customers don’t want to hear excuses and, they certainly don’t want to witness you pointing the finger elsewhere. 

At this stage, your only chance of retaining customer trust is to hold your hands up and take the blame; even if you don’t feel that it’s 100% fair. 

Although a Level 3 crisis is very serious, you can still claw your reputation back by following these steps.  In addition to taking full responsibility for the issue, adding in a few positives shows that your customers are important to you.

Level 4 – Coming back from the brink

If you’ve reached a Level 4 crisis, you’re no doubt convinced that all is lost – and, that may well be the case.  Because this stage may well include legal proceedings, you need to tread very carefully.

As before, use social listening to gather the good things and the bad things being said about your brand and follow the steps in Level 3. 

This will not, in all likelihood, save your brand. With an extremely serious crisis, you may want to consider a rebrand once the dust has settled. 

Once you’ve done this, you can contact the customers who have said good things and try to turn them into brand ambassadors by offering them advance product or asking them to become product testers.

Learn from the pros

In February of this year, athlete Zion Williamson, suffered a knee injury when a malfunctioning Nike shoe fell to pieces.  News of the incident spread rapidly across social media – even eliciting a message of concern from former US president, Barack Obama. 

Nike quickly used social listening to find out what was being said and, then, issued an immediate response expressing concern and a determination to find out what went wrong. 

Nike then sent teams to the location of the incident and, to its factory in China.

A month later, Williamson took to social media to tell his followers about the ‘incredible’ new shoes that Nike had presented him with – and publicly thanked the brand.  This story of Nike and Zion Williamson is a textbook, picture perfect example of social listening done right.


Without a crystal ball, it’s almost impossible to prevent crises completely.  You’ve no doubt heard the phrase ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’ and this is very much true in business. 

No matter how hard you try, you will almost certainly have the occasional unhappy customer – and they won’t be shy about telling the world about the problem on social media.

In an age where we rely more and more on reviews and online recommendations, it’s quite common for a brand to face ‘trial by social media’.  This is, without a doubt, stressful and frustrating for a brand, however, by intelligent use of social listening, you can turn the issue upside down – and into an opportunity.

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