Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

How Should You Measure Communications Before, During, and After a Crisis?

Although most organizations plan for crises, everyone assumes it’ll never happen to them.

They draft the plans to check that box and then intend to leave it on the shelf.

But, then it happens.

An employee acts inappropriately, or your product causes illness or injuries, or you experience a data breach, and everything hits the fan.

During a crisis, communicators’ days are consumed by drafting statements to the press, responding to people on social media, and a million other tasks that take the place of normal communication responsibilities.

With all of this added work, it’s understandable that measurement may not be top of mind.

Even on a normal day, it can be tough to find time to measure.

Measurement plays an important role, however, before, during, and after a crisis.

Having a consistent measurement plan in place can assist in crisis planning. During a crisis, measurement becomes less important, but it can still be used to gauge reputation and sentiment and to draft thoughtful responses. Following a crisis, professionals can measure and generate reports to gain the insight they need to make data-driven decisions for future crisis planning.

Before

Ideally, measurement is a regular part of most communicators’ schedules. Even if it’s not done daily or even weekly, having tools configured, namely a media monitoring tool, Google Analytics, and CRM software, allows you to collect information on an ongoing basis. This information can be extracted at any time to produce data-rich reports.

Your media monitoring tool is especially helpful in the crisis planning process. Not every crisis can be predicted, but some situations have warning signs that can be forecasted with media monitoring tools. Develop keywords related to your brand, including its name, competitor names, and your product names, to keep track of positive and negative mentions. Many crises begin at the micro level, as consumers discuss your brand on social media and blogs. Without proper attention, these mentions can escalate to more popular blogs and/or into mainstream media, causing a full-scale crisis.

Additionally, use your media monitoring tool to gauge the normal sentiment of the coverage about your brand. This can be done as an automated function or by human analysis. The automated function is, of course, faster, but sentiment analysis isn’t perfect technology, as it often misjudges sarcasm and idioms.

If you decide to forgo automated sentiment for human analysis, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to review every article that mentions your brand. Instead, you can take a sampling of the coverage to get a measure that is representative of the bulk of the coverage.

Reviewing the coverage for sentiment also allows you to gain an understanding of the type of publications that write about your brand. Identifying the outlets that discuss your organization on a normal day gives you an idea of who would be covering your brand during a crisis. These are outlets communicators should build relationships with before a crisis and reach out to during a crisis, as they may be more willing to work with you and share correct information.

During

During a crisis, measurement likely won’t be at the top of your priority list. There’s a million things that fall onto a communicator’s plate during a crisis, but some light measurement can still be helpful. Everyone is busier during a crisis, which emphasizes the importance of having a measurement plan in place before a crisis erupts.

Your monitoring tool remains a great resource during a crisis. Although you’ll likely be experiencing higher than normal volumes of coverage, monitoring tools are very flexible. You can set alerts for mentions from specific publications, allowing you to be notified immediately if important publications are discussing your brand and its unfolding crisis.

Additionally, some monitoring tools allow you to track mentions on Twitter. Tracking the online conversations of consumers allows you to tailor your responses to concerns and avoid the spreading of false information and rumors.

Also refer to Google Analytics when you can, specifically to look into metrics related to your traffic. Although it would be easy to assume that more traffic on your website means more potential customers, extra traffic isn’t always a positive thing. Especially during a crisis, elevated traffic could be attributed to users visiting the site to learn more about the crisis or leave negative reviews and comments.

As a crisis unfolds, it’s important to keep an eye on traffic. It’s also important to look into the origin of this traffic. This data indicates how many people are accessing your brand’s site and whether their traffic may be attributed to a source related to the crisis.

Google Analytics gives users the ability to look at the source and medium a visitor uses to access a site. If you navigate to the main menu on the left side of the screen in Google Analytics, click on Acquisition>All Traffic>Treemaps. The top of the page provides a large graph to visualize the percentage of traffic attributable to the main sources of traffic, namely Direct, Organic Search, Referral, Social, and Display.

If you scroll down this page, you’ll find a table that lays out metrics related to each of these sources. These sources are clickable, and clicking on them brings you to additional information about the origin of the traffic that came through these sources.

This combination of qualitative and quantitative data provides necessary insight on the origin of the traffic. Are more visitors than usual coming through referral traffic? Is the referral traffic coming from a news site that wrote an article about your organization and its unfolding crisis? What kind of keywords are organic searchers typing to find your brand’s site?

Monitoring the channels that send traffic to your site allows you to account for potentially inflated numbers and keep track of sources that are discussing your crisis.

After                 

When things finally calm down and your daily routine is returning to normal, it’s time, once again, to think about measurement. The information you gained and collected during the crisis should be reviewed and carefully considered. Communicators should consider how this data can be repurposed to facilitate better crisis planning for the future.

Review the information you collected and how your tools are set up. You may have noticed your monitoring keywords weren’t picking up every mention of your brand or were missing important content. Restructure those as needed to ensure you’ll pick up all relevant mentions of your brand, which can help identify and prevent any future crisis that may be brewing.

Create a report to analyze media coverage during the crisis, and separate it by media type. This will allow you to gauge how the conversations varied by channel and will indicate which responses resonated with audiences most. This information will give you the insight you need to rewrite crisis communications responses.

Also dive back into Google Analytics to generate some reports from there. This tool allows you to export charts that track online activity during any given time, allowing you to compare pre, during, and post crisis metrics. Is your web traffic still lower than it was before the crisis? Is a vast majority of your traffic still coming from referral sources related to the crisis? The reports will provide the insight to answer these kinds of questions, rebuild your reputation, and plan for potential future crises.

No one wants their brand to be afflicted by a crisis, but they can happen to any organization. It’s important for brands to be prepared with a crisis plan, which includes thoughtful measurement tactics throughout, to ensure the correct handling of the situation and the preservation of a positive reputation.

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