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How to Use Social Listening in a Crisis on Campus

Thanks to social media, the news cycle is now. To effectively monitor and manage a crisis, organizations must be plugged into the online conversation. Strong, strategic social listening during a crisis situation will help you answer five questions.

Hierarchy diagram of the 5 Questions to Answer in a Campus CrisisUsing Social Listening to Answer Crisis Questions

Step One: Create Your Crisis Search Query

Hopefully, your ongoing strong social listening program alerted you to the crisis in the first place. Or maybe, a crisis situation made you realize the importance of social listening. Either way, it's important to build a search query that finds all relevant conversation about the crisis. This is important for two reasons. First, it allows you to focus on the crisis, and ignore the other conversations related to your brand that happen on a regular day. Second, it allows you to understand how intertwined your brand is with the crisis (e.g., do all crisis conversations mention your brand, or only a small percentage?).

This search query may have up to four components.

  • Who—Who are the protagonists, victims, whistleblowers, accusers, accused, plaintiffs, defendants, heroes, villains, etc.? Gather this full list—a cast of characters if you will—and identify all potential spellings and versions of the names of individuals and organizations that fill these roles.
  • What—What is the subject of the crisis? Likely words in this category are lawsuit, fire, embezzlement, shooting, attack, arrest, merger, trial...you get the idea. Think about words that would likely appear in a news headline, or what someone might say when they say, "Hey, did you hear about...?"
  • Where—If the crisis isn't unique in nature, it may be necessary to include a city, state, or even street name or building in your search.
  • When—The day of the week, time of day, or even month of the year may become relevant if the crisis is the sort of thing that organizations all over the world face on a regular basis.

When these components are identified, the initial search query can be created. While this step should happen as soon as possible, it's more important that the search be accurate and comprehensive than for it to happen quickly. This avoids the potential for finding only a portion of the conversation. If you're using social listening software, you can write this query and find results across all online sites, including Twitter, reddit, YouTube, news media, blogs, forums, and Instagram. If you don't have social listening software, you'll need to make due with a mixture of advanced Twitter search and Google.

The results of the query will provide a preliminary answer to the first two crisis questions:

  • How many people are talking about the issue?
  • How many media sources are covering the story?

Yes, I said a preliminary answer. You're not done yet. Step two is crucial to gain a true understanding of the crisis conversation.

Step Two: Create Contextual Crisis Search Queries

Not every mention in the crisis conversation will match your first search query. Of course, subtweeting is real, but it's also common for people to state their true feelings on an issue without rehashing the subject in their message. For example, I might tweet, "The person in charge of this organization should be sent to jail." with a link to a news story. Particularly if I'm an influencer, the crisis communication manager should be aware of how I'm talking about the story. To find mentions like this, create a separate search query that includes links to all the media stories you found in the first search, as well as any hashtags that emerged that are specific to the crisis.

You can create a Twitter search that looks something like the one below, and the results will include all the tweets with links to the news stories.

nytimes.com/newsstory1 OR msn.com/newsstory2 OR campus.edu/newsstory

By combining the results of your first search query and your contextual search query, you'll be able to effectively answer the third and fourth crisis questions:

  • What are people saying about the issue?
  • Is the conversation growing or fading?

Relevant insights might include the general sentiment of conversation (i.e., is it positive or negative), what questions people are asking that your crisis statement and social media responses may be able to answer, and if any misinformation is being spread. In a crisis situation where thousands of conversations are happening, this can be hard to do with just a Twitter search, but some analysis is better than nothing. Social listening software and an experienced staff member will enable quick analysis of the conversation and identification of the relevant insights. This initial analysis will provide vital information to your leadership and the crisis communication team.

Step Three: Analyze the Individuals Driving the Conversation

To stay ahead of the crisis, it's important to know who's influencing the conversation. Determine what tweets are being retweeted, what news articles are being linked to most often, and what journalists, thought leaders, or celebrities are involved in the conversation. This analysis is constant and should continue as long as the issue is considered a crisis. Being aware that a journalist is soliciting quotes from the public, or that an expert released an opinion can give your media relations team the information it needs to identify more breaking news before it happens.

Another valuable analysis at this stage is to determine if the accounts posting messages are real people, or bots. Yes, this is a real thing that needs to be done. Particularly in a crisis with political implications, bot networks are regularly used to spread polarizing information. You can learn more about how to spot bots on Twitter in this guide from Stephen Waddington, a Visiting Professor in Practice at Newcastle University.

This analysis allows you to answer the fifth crisis question:

  • Who is influencing the conversation?

Step Four: Monitor Conversation for Changes and Trends

By this point, you have a steady stream of new mentions coming in from your search queries. It's important to have at least one person in charge of monitoring all the new mentions, and reporting on trends. How often you do this depends on the size of the conversation and the sensitivity of the crisis; it could require checking once or twice a day, or constant monitoring. Your goal here is to see if any of the answers to the five crisis questions change in order to anticipate the need to adjust your crisis response strategy.

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Campus Sonar Can Help You in a Crisis on Campus

If you find yourself in a crisis situation without a way to effectively monitor the online conversation, contact us at (877) 553-8308 or info@campussonar.com. In many cases, our analysts and strategists can get you up and running with a virtual social listening command center within a few hours. We provide you with real-time dashboards, trend reporting, and strategic insights during the crisis, and prepare an after-action report and presentation for your leadership team.

Also, we're working on an eBook (to be released in February) all about social listening and higher education. There's a chapter about crisis management, including case studies from multiple campuses. If you subscribe to our monthly email newsletter, you'll receive a free copy of the eBook before it's available to the general public.

Don't want to miss a single post from Campus Sonar? Subscribe to our monthly Brain Waves newsletter to get the latest and greatest about social listening in higher education delivered right to your inbox.

The post How to Use Social Listening in a Crisis originally appeared on the Campus Sonar Brain Waves blog.

Liz Gross

Liz Gross is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. A recognized expert, data-driven marketer, and higher education researcher, Liz specializes in creating entrepreneurial social media strategies in higher education. She is an award-winning speaker, author, and strategist who was named a 2018 Mover and Shaker by Social Shake-Up Show and a finalist on GreenBook’s 2019 GRIT Future List. Liz has more than 15 years’ experience in higher ed and strategic social listening programs. She received a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University, a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University, and a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

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