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What early warning system could alert me to a potential crisis?

The bad news: there’s no magic machine or formula that can detect every potential crisis before it hits. The good news: as with weather forecasting, advances in technology now allow us to better predict when potential problems are just starting to develop.

There are dozens of monitoring tools on the market that can help you see real-time conversations that people are having about your company or organization in mainstream and social media. Some are free, such as Hootsuite, Simply Measured, Cyfe, Google Trends and Google Alerts. Others – such as Nuvi, Sysomos, Brandwatch, Cision and Trackur – come with a cost. You’ll want to do some comparison shopping to determine which tool is best for your situation. Having some tool (whether you employ it yourself or access it through an agency relationship) is a wise first line of defense. With so much chatter in so many places today, it’s impossible for your staff to keep track of what people are saying about your brand without some help from automated tools.

Casting the net, however, is only half the battle. Once you’re tracking conversations about your brand, you’re going to see some chatter and wonder what you should do about it. Is one person’s negative opinion worth paying attention to or responding to? It depends on the person, what he or she is saying, and his or her prominence or reach.

Deciding what to do with the intelligence you’re gathering is still a very human endeavor. It’s often a balancing act and a timing issue. You don’t want to send off a response to every potential issue that arises (not that you have the resources to do that, even if it weren’t a bad idea). That can sometimes bring more attention to an issue. Nor do you want to let an exacerbating situation gather steam and quickly overwhelm you.  

How you determine what constitutes a real threat to your organization and which actions you should or shouldn’t take, and when, can be challenging. My advice is that every organization should have a crisis management process in place that describes how it’s going to spot, escalate, triage and respond to issues. Ideally, this process should be aligned with the organization’s values, culture and business strategy.

This is the heart of crisis management. Having a robust radar detection system, so to speak, is a terrific start. Establishing a clear protocol for how to handle the information you collect will help your organization more effectively manage percolating issues before they threaten to do real damage to your brand.

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Kevin Donahue

Senior Vice President, Managing Director – Reputation Management Group

Kevin Donahue leads the crisis and reputation management practice at Falls Communications and has helped hundreds of companies prepare for and manage high stakes issues.