The importance and influence of listening on positive organisational reputation is emphasised in a crisis, with social media being particularly useful in this regard to help: identify emerging issues and key stakeholders and influencers; enable speedy communication during the crisis; and to provide information to improve future crisis operational and communication processes (as well as broader business operations).

Public relations listening for effective crisis management

Whilst I am an advocate of organisational change – short-term pain for long-term gain – to help create better stakeholder relationships, without the initial important component of listening being applied in an exacting, scientific manner, change and impact in any context will not be fulfilled to its best possible level.

The value of listening pre-crisis for PR and reputation management

In an issues & crisis management dimension there are a range of excellent reasons to have a sophisticated set of organisational listening protocols in place. Listening enables you to:

  • pick up on organisation mentions and the context (very important) in which this has occurred
  • identify and understand issues
  • identify stakeholders, as well as key influencers on your target audiences
  • proactively build up database of those who are either fans of the organisation and its issues, have an interest in them or who can positively influence others, enabling you to build programs targeting those receptive to information and giving you a good opportunity to amplify your content across the internet
  • identify and develop relationship management strategies for those who are critical of the organisation
  • gain fresh perspectives on how organisational and stakeholder change could occur, facilitating continuous organisational improvement (communication-specific or broader business-relevant)
  • identify topics and issues of interest to target audiences that an organisation can create communication programs from (including inbound marketing and content marketing approaches)
  • put in place planning to address potential issues come crises, including reaching out to relevant stakeholders before issues escalate into crisis territory. These potential issues could have been identified through stakeholder monitoring.

Why listening helps PR during a crisis

If you have an effective stakeholder listening process set up you will hear, and you can react to, the issue and where it came from. You can do this accurately and with speed, thus saving time and helping minimise issue/crisis escalation and negative reputation impact.

PR-driven social media helping organisations post-crisis

Social media is a boon for issues management, crisis management and continuous organisational improvement. This is because once integrated into an organisation’s listening strategy, it can provide deep information to help an organisation:

  • understand and assess stakeholder reactions to crises
  • determine what elements of the crisis stakeholders responded to most significantly (e.g. nature of organisational crisis management and response; what elements of the crisis generated greatest concern/relief)
  • who the most active commenters were (both positive and negative), thus helping determine influencers and programs that can be put in place to leverage supporters and educate/inform/build more positive relationships with negative commenters/influencers
  • prioritise stakeholders that could potentially become champions or advocates of the brand
  • reach out to stakeholders to further explore their positions
  • emphasise post-crisis organisational change that is occurring and continue the conversation
  • anthropomorphise (give it human qualities) the conversation and, hence, the organisation
  • determine the ROI on crisis actions undertaken, ultimately helping identify opportunities for the organisation to change its operations/crisis communication to create more positive relationships with stakeholders.

All of this information provides a valuable resource for continual whole-of-organisation improvement and, by extension, organisational cultural and – of course – communication change.

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What other activity can take place – communication-specific and more broadly business-relevant – as a result of effective target audience and stakeholder listening? Do you have examples of how an organisation has changed its communication and business as a result of listening to its stakeholders that you can share?

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