Crisis. The term strikes fear in the hearts of communicators everywhere.

Brands ranging from Carnival Cruise Lines to Starbucks to Facebook have been hit by crises so far in 2018. The reality is that any brand could find itself in a crisis – at any time.

Rather than fear a crisis, savvy organizations should prepare crisis plans before they need them, so they’re ready should they find themselves in the thick of a PR disaster. Social media monitoring plays a crucial role in any crisis communications plan. While social media can fuel the spread of negative news, it also provides an excellent way to reach out to loyal fans and followers who can offer support in times of crisis. It also serves as the perfect channel to monitor for sentiment and watch for signs of danger.

“Experts usually focus more on the ‘speaking’ aspect of social media management,” said Ronn Torossian, founder and CEO of 5WPR. “However, many brands don’t realize that it is equally important to focus on moderating and listening on your social media accounts.”

Let’s look at how social media monitoring can be used throughout every stage of a crisis.

Pre-crisis: Your brand is sailing along, trouble-free, when, all of a sudden, you notice signs of trouble. Customers are suddenly complaining on social media. There’s a trickle—then a steady stream—of criticism coming your way.

Social media can help alert you to the fact that a crisis is brewing before it spirals out of control. Once you’re aware that calamity is afoot, you can quickly assess the severity and take appropriate action.

“Always monitor all social channels so that when criticisms emerge, you’re prepared to respond immediately to that specific person, or people,” a recent PR News article suggests. Sometimes a “one-to-one approach with the complaining customers is a better option to keep the problem from getting out of hand,” (versus addressing it on a larger scale). “This way, your company can remain in charge of the narrative and can ensure the issue stays small.”

Note that even before the first hint of a crisis, using social media to build your reputation and your community is vital to the health of your brand. Social listening tools allow you to consistently monitor social media for mentions of your brand so you can always know where it stands.

During a crisis: The crisis has begun in earnest. Your team is in full crisis mode. One way social media can be essential during this period is in reaching out to your followers and to influencers who can provide support and help you turn the tide of negative sentiment back in your favor.

If you’ve built solid relationships with Influencers and brand loyalists, they may speak on your behalf – many times without you even having to ask. This is why it’s so important to build that community before you need it.

“If you have loyal followers and fans, they’ll speak up on your behalf,” says Martin Waxman,  President, Martin Waxman Communications. “If a brand tries to go on the defensive, it can sometimes have the opposite effect, but if a brand’s community defends it, it’s much more credible.”

You can use a media intelligence tool for social media monitoring to see who is coming to your defense and assess the sentiment.

Post-crisis: Now the crisis has died down. You’re trying to rebuild your status in the hearts and minds of your customers. Use social media to keep an eye on how things are going during this process.

By leveraging a tool to monitor sentiment, you can see where you’re making strides—and where you might have more work to do. It may take some time, but as you move forward, social media can help you know where you stand as you get back on track.

Be Sure to Use Media Monitoring and Social Listening

While complaints can spread like wildfire on social media, it can also be used to work in your favor and help you recover faster from the crisis. An effective monitoring tool can show you where your brand stands. Leverage it to know your status at all times, be it before, during or after a crisis.

And, if you’re looking to be prepared in case a crisis should hit, make sure to download our free crisis worksheet. As the old adage goes, “Better prepared than sorry.”