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Gone are the days when organisations were left scrambling to pick up the pieces of a crisis, weeks or even months after the event. Digital Consultant Tracey Jarvis explains the role of social media in a 21st century crisis.

A decade ago, it would take PR teams a great deal of resources and time to manage an unfolding crisis.

As public relations and marketing professionals know, as time ticks away, the damage to brand reputation becomes harder and harder to repair.

However, with the introduction of social media listening technology, this time can be slashed to just a few days.  

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More and more, the general population is taking to social media and online forums to express its frustrations and grievances with current affairs and crisis events.

So, it is comforting to know that rapid advancements in online social listening tools are providing marketing and PR teams with greater ability to monitor online conversations and sentiment, leading up to, during, and following a crisis event.

The crisis caused by the recent Sydney train drivers’ strike is a fine example of an organisation that managed an end-to-end crisis by utilising effective social listening tools. This enabled Sydney Trains to identify main pain-point areas felt by the population throughout Sydney.

Sydney Trains could craft effective communications to the 1.3 million people set to be affected by the strike Thursday 25 January. Information is everything, and Sydney Trains kept the public informed every step of the way, so people could organise their working day with minimal disruptions including alternative travel options.

In the days preceding the strike, there were signals and sentiment from consumers displayed on social media coming off the back of network issues on 11 January. It was from this sentiment data that Sydney Trains was able to identify key areas of communication and pain points essential to overcome the planned strike.

With significant economic impact this event was predicted to have in Sydney, it required real-time, around-the-clock monitoring. The best type of crisis management is seeing the sparks and putting them out before they develop into an uncontrollable fire.

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Social listening tools allowed Sydney Trains to have greater visibility of online comments and discussions that were taking place prior to the driver strike including volumes of conversation, sentiment – negative or positive, and how that sentiment changed over time. Measuring consumer sentiment against announcements and identifying how the media influences sentiment is also key for controlling and delivering the right messages to the population at the right time.

Businesses can now use social media listening to look beyond traditional media to determine what customers are thinking and saying about their brand. The most effective crisis management will utilise both traditional and social media monitoring to make the best informed strategic decisions to manage the communication and combat negative sentiment.

With social listening still in its adoption stage, businesses are lacking the tools and trained professionals to setup and effectively monitor the health of their brand’s sentiment. Some businesses don’t know where to start, or just don’t have enough resources in their team to setup, monitor and report on the online conversations about their brand. But the conversations are there. And not acknowledging them and addressing issues relating to a businesses products and services can be damaging for a brand in the long run.

The social listening technology is available, and the conversations are there. At Wells Haslem Mayhew, we have been dedicated to finding those conversations and utilising them to make informed strategic communications decisions for our clients.