Does Your Firm Have a Communications Early Warning Strategy?
Nothing teaches us the value of media monitoring and early warning systems quite like a crisis.
As we sit glued to news coverage about hurricanes hitting the southeast and wildfires lighting up the skies in the west, we watch social media to make sure our friends and family heed official warnings.
Somehow, it’s a whole different story when it comes to corporate communications though. Here most of the focus seems to be on crisis management, rather than prevention. We’ve seen too many horror stories of firms that wait until they are in the throes of a serious crisis before they seriously consider how to manage their communications.
If this hits a little too close to home, no judgment! Check out our previous posts on crisis communications here and here for more tips on planning for and managing through a crisis. And once you’re back to smooth sailing remember that having a strong media monitoring strategy makes crisis management a whole lot easier.
Because it’s simply no fun to learn the hard way that having a strong media monitoring strategy reduces the time and energy an organization spends in crisis mode, let’s discuss how to use communications as an early warning system.
What to Watch
Before developing the right strategy for your firm, it’s important to figure out what you should be looking for. Today, let’s focus on three key audiences to consider when developing a media monitoring plan:
2. Customers, and
It’s important to remember that each of these audiences represents a separate, though potentially overlapping, audience. This means that your communications team will need to monitor different types of media and create different types of communications targeting each group. For example, you are likely to learn more from surveys custom-designed for each major audience segment, than from one general survey sent out to your entire email list.
1. Investor Relations Communications as an Early Warning Signal
When it comes to investor relations, the early warning often comes as much from what investors don’t say as from what they do say. I’m not saying you should try to read your investors’ minds, but media monitoring around the publications your investors read can help keep you in a “ready stance.” You may be surprised at what you can learn about investors’ desires by watching subtle fluctuations in the market and media coverage of the market.
The same holds for direct communications with investors. For example, you should have a sense for how your shareholder base will respond to your quarterly earnings and incorporate that knowledge into your earnings communications. If your CEO finishes a quarterly earnings meeting and made some important announcements, but there are no questions from stakeholders on those announcements, that could be a sign that the information wasn’t presented clearly enough or that investors aren’t sure what to do with the information presented.
Investors aren’t known for being wallflowers. If there’s an elephant in the room, it’s best to face it head on, rather than waiting for someone else to bring it up. Listen carefully to the sound of silence.
2. Customer Feedback as an Early Warning Signal
We all know that listening to customer feedback is crucial for raising brand awareness. But often this type of communication comes too late to really be helpful as an early warning signal. Again, keeping a lookout for subtler hints about how customers are feeling about new products, a new marketing campaign, or a PR strategy is key.
Here, it can be helpful to consider your broader business ecosystem. What are the trade publications saying? Distributor channel publications? And, if your budget and time allows, don’t underestimate the power of focus groups before launching a major new initiative or product.
In addition, social media is probably the best way to get a read on customer perceptions in a more timely manner. But in order for this to be most useful, it helps to have a dedicated media monitoring team for social media.
Here are some items your social media team ought to take into account:
There is no doubt that social media complicates corporate communications. Although monitoring social seems straightforward, what constitutes “good listening” will depend a great deal on your firm’s particular strategy. There’s a big difference in public perception, expectations, and customer engagement with a brand, like Starbucks, that receives millions of mentions per day and with a regional brand that may only see thousands of mentions.
Also, keep in mind that your day-to-day social followers are not necessarily the same people who will come out of the woodwork during a crisis to put their opinions out there. While your media monitoring team’s goal should be crisis prevention, when crisis happens, it can be a relief to remember that the “instigators” involved may not be your regular followers and they may even use different channels from your regular followers to make their voices heard. This means your team needs to listen broadly to develop a well-rounded perspective.
3. Internal Communications as an Early Warning Signal
The final component of putting together a strong corporate communications plan designed as an early warning system is closely watching internal communications. While internal staff may not be as forthcoming with warning signals as the two groups above, there are important signs to look for here as well.
When we at Audacia Strategies work with a new client, it’s always interesting to gather information about the company’s culture. If morale is low, it can be difficult for someone on the inside to determine what’s really going on. This is where bringing in an expert team can really be of value. Quite often, the outside perspective helps companies catch issues early and make the proper adjustments.
Also, in many cases, internal staffing changes serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Data like sudden drop-offs in productivity, a decrease in retention among new employees, and an increase in whispering around the “water cooler” can be signs of bigger challenges on the horizon.
Media Monitoring Resources:
It’s important to budget for the right resources to meet your needs, but you can forget about trying to benchmark against others or buying the slickest new media monitoring software to hit the market. So don’t waste resources, while (simultaneously) being less prepared. Your best resources are a thoughtful crisis communications plan and a consistent practice of listening to your key audience.
That being said, there are several automated media monitoring systems available that could work as a first step depending on your needs. Still, bear in mind that even top-notch software won’t allow you to “set it and forget it.” Monitoring tools are incredibly helpful, but fallible. There’s no complete shortcut, but a thoughtful and strategic approach will help you prioritize your budget and your interactions.
Just as creating a game plan on the fly is not a roadmap to winning the 2017 US Open Tennis Tournament (way to go Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal!), creating a media monitoring strategy on the fly during a crisis is not a roadmap to communications success.
Companies with a record of successful communications know that media monitoring is a central part of preventing or at least, getting out ahead of any crisis. Our team is ready to work with you to develop the right strategy to create your personal early warning system. Let’s get you out of the path of your next communications crisis!
Photo credit: gaudilab / 123RF Stock Photo
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