There is no sharper learning curve for communications professionals than the moment a so-called crisis hits. In the blink of an eye the whole tempo of your daily work changes as you pick up your Crisis Protocol and switch into crisis mode.

A huge responsibility lands on your shoulders as failure to respond well can have catastrophic consequences for your organisation. What is important is that you keep a level head and make sure you keep everything in perspective in terms of understanding the real tone and impact of any negative reporting or comment.

In this digital age it is no longer just about how you are being reported in so-called mainstream media. You can face what feels like an onslaught as people express their outrage on a multitude of platforms. Your role is to make sense of this and understand the actual reach and impact of what is being said.

Keeping track of the impact of a crisis

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the level of comment, you need to drill down into the data and make sense of it. If you remember the conversations about so-called “social media bubbles” that took place after the EU referendum or the election of President Trump when people found that while they might have shared the views of those in their circles, these were not necessarily those of the majority. If it feels like social media is going wild, you can only truly manage this if you find out if conversations are being carried out within small groups of like-minded people preaching to their own choir or if their reach is wider than that.

This is not hard to do if you use a social media listening tool. You can go beyond looking at how often your name features in tweets and Facebook posts, to figuring out how many likes or shares a post has achieved and the level of influence and reach of those who are posting. Someone with 100 followers who posts 10 times about your brand is less of a concern than someone with 10,000 followers who posts only once.

crisis communications in perspective

It is also important to remember that not all comments are necessarily negative and you need to stay on top of the prevailing sentiment. Fortunately, you don’t need to manually assess each comment, a listening tool like the one provided by Meltwater does that for you. With sentiment analysis software you can go beyond the basic metrics of counting likes and posts to developing contextual insights.

This data should guide how you respond on social and to what extent you need to actively engage. In a perfect world supportive third parties would speak out on your behalf on an issue, as UNICEF did recently for David Beckham, enabling you to step back. But you also need to have your own statements and other content ready to share on social in response to comments.

Social listening should now stand alongside traditional media monitoring and be part of your daily reporting during a crisis.

Likewise, I would recommend that you dig deeper in your traditional media monitoring. In the aftermath of what felt like one particularly intense media storm, I commissioned an agency to run a favourability analysis. The outcome was interesting. Where we felt keenly every negative article that had been published, the data told a different story. The majority of coverage achieved at that time was either neutral or positive and focused on our broader range of work. While this should not have been a surprise, it really helped keep things in perspective.

It also serves as a useful reminder of the need to try and maintain business as usual throughout a crisis. I was fortunate at Amnesty in that I had one person with specific responsibility for crisis management, enabling my deputy to continue running our daily output with the rest of the team. I know that not every organisation has this luxury but it is ideal if you can ring-fence a clearly-designated team, and leave other staff to continue with normal work.

crisis communications in perspective

And one more thing that should be on your busy to do list is the management of internal comms. Critical articles circulate widely within an organisation and it is foolhardy to try and bury negative coverage. You need to think about how you keep colleagues and key stakeholders informed and I would advise using any of the data you have sourced to explain the actual external impact of the crisis – while remembering that this is a time of heightened sensitivity and you have to choose your words very carefully.

Of course, there are other measurements that count during a crisis. In the same way that corporates track how a crisis affects their share price, as a membership organisation, we tracked how the coverage impacted membership attrition. And it is always interesting to measure to what extent this corresponds with the volume and tone of coverage generated.

Crises can feel like a bit of a roller coaster ride but the key thing is to make sure you maintain perspective. Keep your head, monitor the data and never forget that one of the most important phases of crisis management is the final one: crisis recovery. Life goes on and, in most instances, the storm will pass and you can get back to telling the story of the amazing work your organisation does every day.

Watch Susanna’s latest webinar, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” here now!