In the social media age, PR crises can spread faster than ever before, with brand’s reputations being made (and unmade) in the blink of an eye. While platforms such as Twitter have certainly helped to increase the pace and severity of the average PR crisis, they’ve also shifted the formation of reputation into a public space, where it can be carefully supervised and ultimately controlled. As brands develop ever more sophisticated tools to manage and monitor their reputations online, we wanted to understand some of the most common metrics that businesses are using to pre-empt and predict a PR crisis:

Volumes: Mention volumes on social media represent a first line of defence against crisis situations. Effective and simple to monitor, volumes are a great way to detect the very first signs of disruption, before they’ve had a chance to transform into a full blown PR crisis. By setting up programmed alerts, brands can now notify their marketing teams should the number of mentions go above “normal” levels. Spikes in engagement may seem like a good thing, but they can be the early warning signs of an impending crisis to come.

Keywords: Keywords allow you to detect negative sentiment quickly, registering any and all derogatory terms that are commonly being used in association with your brand. By setting up an extensive list of both positive and negative keywords – along with real-time alerts – businesses can identify and pre-empt any smoking PR issues that are likely to affect their reputations online. One classic example of this was Microsoft’s AI chatbot, “Tay”. Having built its knowledge from fellow accounts on Twitter, Microsoft Tay soon found itself parroting a series of hateful remarks that would ultimately lead to the project being scrapped. Had Microsoft set up a negative keyword alert around the bot, the entire project could have been paused before it had time to escalate. As our analysis shows, expressions such as “rogue”, “racism” and “sexist” had all started to circulate long before Microsoft was able to take the bot down.

Influencers: Influencer monitoring allows businesses to keep an eye on both their existing fans and, even more importantly, the detractors that could one day represent a potential risk to their brands. While finding the right influencers to monitor requires a fairly substantial amount of prior research and data mining, the results are well worth the time commitment involved. By identifying and monitoring influencers that frequently target their industry or brand, businesses can mitigate the risk of future campaign hijacking or targeted grassroots attacks.

One recent example of a brand that failed to monitor its detractors on social media was US aquarium, Sea World. In 2015, Sea World announced that they would be putting a stop to their controversial orca shows, eliminating them from their San Diego location by 2017. While the brand was celebrating its decision in the press, it failed to notice that negative influencers such as PETA, Blue Planet Society and Sea Shepherd had joined forces on Twitter, mobilising impressive numbers of people to speak out against the brand using the #emptythetanks hashtag. With each group mobilising tens of thousands of users, Sea World’s positive message and all of its supporters were soon drowned out by a torrent of criticism.

News shares: Many people now use social media as a key way of receiving and sharing news. While most businesses will monitor their presence in the news, few consider how much further that news is boosted through shares on social media, and in particular, on Twitter. For example, according to one study from PewResearch, almost half of US Twitter users currently get their news from the platform, making it one of the most influential media outlets that a PR campaign can target.

By monitoring news shares on social media, brands can even pick up on potential crises that have stemmed from smaller, lesser known news publications. The recent Byron Burger scandal offers the perfect example of this fact. Having sanctioned a government immigration raid on its staff, Byron was faced with a hurricane of Twitter abuse, including the #BoycottByron hashtag trending online. While the story later broke in mainstream news outlets, it started out in El Ibérico, a small, London-based Spanish language newspaper with only 4,000 followers on Twitter. Had Byron been aware of this local story, it may have been better placed to develop a PR crisis plan and address the story before it had a chance to evolve.

To find out more about how social media monitoring can be used to pre-empt a PR crisis, download our full report How to detect a PR crisis in your data.

By Georgina Parsons, UK Head of Communications at Visibrain